This post was most recently updated on September 19th, 2018
In the northern Idaho panhandle is a beautiful lake called Lake Pend Oreille. On its shore is the city of Sandpoint, and on a mountain overlooking the lake, you’ll find Schweitzer Mountain. My husband and I just experienced two magical days there, and I’m going to share what made it so memorable.
I imagine you could enjoy a visit any time of the year; our visit took place in early August. It was a little warmer than normal in northern Idaho, but that just made finding shade, fresh lake water, a swimming pool, or mountain breezes all the better. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself!
Where to start in northern Idaho
Our two-day visit to this area actually started just outside of Sandpoint at Farragut State Park. Why? This was where we would get our first glimpse of Lake Pend Oreille. It’s also a state park with a story behind it. In 1942, it was a naval training facility. In fact, because of the deep waters of the lake (1150 ft deep and the 5th deepest lake in the US), it was used for submarine training. Some of the military buildings remain. In fact, the old military brig is now a very interesting museum and tribute to this area’s contribution to World War II. Eventually, these 4000 acres became Idaho’s largest state park, Farragut State Park.
What can you do at Farragut State Park?
There are plenty of scenic drives and hiking trails throughout the park, including some scenic overlooks of the lake. There are also several campgrounds, including group campsites and individual cabins. Disc golf, picnicking, boating, swimming, and checking out the Visitor Center/Gift Shop or other possibilities. There’s even a Tree-to-Tree Adventure Park! And of course, there’s the Museum at the Brig, which is well worth visiting.
Early light on the lake is spectacular, so I highly suggest at least an easy hike — like the Willow Lakeview Loop Trail which is only 1 mile long. Northern Idaho has so many gorgeous views like this!
Sandpoint – the gem of northern Idaho
The city of Sandpoint is small (population 8,000), but it makes up for size in beauty and hospitality. Originally the home of the Kalispell Tribe of Native Americans, it became a village in 1901 and a city in 1907. Its history includes the building of a rail line, timber logging, and farming hay. Now, it is a quaint little place nestled between three mountains and a lake, with parks, a city beach, a historic theater, shopping, a vintage main street with street art and great places to eat.
First stop: City Beach
I wanted to check out the beach first! Sandpoint’s City Beach has plenty of free parking (this never happens in southern California where I’m from), grassy areas, a sandy beach, playground, tennis, sand volleyball, snack bar, restrooms, and a pier with a replica of the Statue of Liberty on it. Yes, you read that right! That was certainly a surprise to me — fun to take a few photos! I didn’t really expect such a nice beach area in northern Idaho.
A stroll down First Avenue offers many pleasant surprises. First of all, in late summer, you will see many signs offering huckleberry ice cream for sale. When it’s huckleberry season in northern Idaho, take advantage of the shakes, ice cream, jams, and syrups that are available for sale!
We also saw a lot of street art, both painted and sculpted. A placard next to the Panida Theater indicates it is on the National Register of Historic Places. From the dates on many of the buidings’ facades, I imagine many of the buildings could be.
At the end of First Avenue, we came to the Cedar Street Bridge Public Market. Oh yeah — just my kind of place! This is actually an enclosed historic two-level bridge filled with boutique shops, places to eat, and views of the river below.
We couldn’t resist the fare at the Cedar St. Bistro, which included panini sandwiches, freshly handcrafted crepes, and of course, huckleberry ice cream which was eaten too fast to take a photo!
One more surprise in Sandpoint — a historic train depot!
Time to escape to mountain breezes!
By now, it was a little too warm, and we decided it was time to get to Schweitzer Mountain. Fortunately, it’s less than a half-hour drive. We checked into our room at Selkirk Lodge and oriented ourselves to the resort. While this lodge has a ski lodge feel to it, it was also very comfortable for our late summer stay — even luxurious! Plus, it wasn’t crowded at all!
Schweitzer Mountain Resort in the summer months
To take full advantage of the mountain breezes, we first opted for a ride up the chairlift to the Sky House at the top. Oh my! I’m telling you this was heavenly. The views of the meadow and mountainside were beautiful riding up, and then the views from the top were fantastic! 360-degree views of the mountains and valleys surrounding Schweitzer Mountain — as well as Lake Pend Oreille — were just stunning! I think it’s possible to see past northern Idaho into Montana from here,
The Sky House is open year-round, and you can grab a bite to eat — or a drink, and sit inside or outside on decks with incredible views. We opted for huckleberry lemonades, saving our appetite for a full dinner later.
We noticed many people were bringing their bicycles up on the lift on specially designed chairs…and then riding down cycling paths on the face of the mountain. With views like this, I imagine this would be a popular place to ride!
Hiking Upper Grr (yes, like a bear says!)
We opted to take a hike on the Upper Grr trail. Here we saw deer, wildflowers, meadows, towering trees, and a huckleberry bush full of ripe berries!
The trail was easy to hike and oh, so pretty. It was the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Occasionally we’d see a few bicyclists, but not many hikers. With so many beautiful trails to choose from, you can enjoy a quiet disconnect from the world.
Dinner at the Chimney Rock Grill
The huckleberries just whet my appetite for dinner on the mountain, which was accommodated very nicely by the Chimney Rock Grill. I was surprised it wasn’t crowded, but I guess that’s another benefit to visiting a ski resort during the summer. Our waitress was lovely, and our dinner superb.
The perfect after-dinner activity for us was soaking in the hot tub behind the Selkirk Lodge! Again, we pretty much had it to ourselves…
Sunrise on Schweitzer Mountain
If you are an early riser (and even if you are not!), I highly recommend getting up early enough to watch the sun rise over Schweitzer Mountain. There’s something intense about seeing the resort in darkness and then watching it slowly come to life with light and color.
I watched the ground squirrels playing in the meadow and occasionally popping their heads up close to see what I was up to.
The wildflowers only added to the burst of color that the sun added to my morning.
I really enjoyed this tranquil scene, and it was the perfect precursor to our horseback-riding adventure!
Horseback Riding at Schweitzer Mountain
After grabbing a quick breakfast-to-go at the Mojo Cafe, we met our guide, Matt, at the horse corral. Doesn’t riding a horse on mountain trails in northern Idaho sound amazing? That’s what I thought, too! We were fortunate to be part of a small group who had opted for a morning ride to Picnic Point and back — a 2 1/2-hour ride. Each of us was assigned a horse based on our weight and riding skills. My husband and I rode Budro and Iko, and they were good to us.
With a few instructions from Matt (how to hold the reins, how to keep the horses from eating the plants along the way, and how to sit in the saddle), we were soon on our way. The trails were well-groomed and easy to ride. Matt was great about answering all of our questions along the trail. I learned there are lots of deer and moose on the mountain, and that it starts snowing in late September, although it can and has snowed every month of the year!
We were often surrounded by trees but occasionally there would be clearings that allowed us to see the views below. There were fires in New Hope, Montana, and that made the skies a little hazy, but we still enjoyed seeing the valley and lake below.
Pro tip: If you plan to go horseback-riding, be sure to wear closed-toe shoes, comfortable clothing, and don’t bring anything with you. If the horse trots (and he probably will), everything will be shaken off of you! I tried bringing my cellphone in a lanyard so I could take photos. Even that nearly hit me in the face a couple times!
What else can you do in the Schweitzer Mountain Village?
Much more than I expected!
I was surpised to learn that Schweitzer Mountain holds summer camps for kids (so family-friendly!) and they have so many fun things for kids to do. With a gold-panning station, rock-climbing wall, trampoline, playground, photo vignette, ziplining run, life-size checkers and chess games, the kids will have a blast! The Selkirk Movie Theater has free movies playing three times a day, and there’s a treasure hunt that begins at the Activity Center and ends with a prize. You can also join in on a photo scavenger hunt, so grab your camera and you won’t go home without great pictures. You can also check out board games, hoola hoops, and books or purchase party buckets and craft kits.
Huckleberry-hunting excursions in the late summer include a shuttle ride to a hot picking spot that requires very little hiking. Just bring your own bucket! And reserve ahead of time because this is very popular.
On cooler evenings, they have village campfires so you can cozy up with your hot chocolate and roast marshmallows. Saturday mornings include yoga classes at the Solstice Spa. There are also boutique shops that sell souvenirs and clothing, market items, and art.
What is winter like at Schweitzer Mountain?
Well, I hear this is the place to be in northern Idaho during the winter. While I haven’t experienced it for myself, I can well imagine all 6 lifts, 92 trails, and 2900 skiable acres! Schweitzer Mountain is home to Idaho’s only 6-person high-speed chairlift. There’s twilight skiing as well, and also a tubing run.
I’m sure that a stay at Selkirk or Pine Lodges in the Schweitzer Mountain Village would be cozy and inviting. I know our summer experience was!
Why northern Idaho?
I do hope you’ll consider a visit to northern Idaho. We chose it because of the pristine forests, mountains, and lakes. I can never resist a beautiful photo op! Once we were there, we also noticed how friendly everyone is, and how nice it is without the crowds we have in southern California.
Our northern Idaho reprieve ended all too soon, and we had to head back home. An easy drive to the Spokane airport didn’t have much traffic at all. All in all, we enjoyed relaxing, taking in all the gorgeous landscapes, and even a few adventures, too. If you’d like to see what else we did while in northern Idaho, check out these articles:
As is common in the travel industry, I was invited to visit Idaho for the purpose of sharing my experiences with you. A great big thank you to Visit Idaho is in store, and I assure you I have shared with you honest summaries of my visit.