If your mission for the day is to take a drive with stellar lake views then the Lake Coeur D’ Alene Scenic Byway is your task for the day.
Heading east on I-90, take exit 22 to start your adventure. The Byway traces the shoreline for 37 miles along Highway 97. If you plan your route around dinner time, you can make a stop at Wolf Lodge Inn Resturant, the local steakhouse that will have you craving their delectable offerings. Reservations are imperative as the word is out about their steaks. You will enjoy a busy atmosphere almost every night of the week regardless of the season, with the exception of Mondays, when they are closed.
Jump back on the Coeur D’ Alene Scenic Byway, and begin a nice meander across the Coeur D’ Alene River, following along the shoreline for a few miles. Mineral Ridge Scenic Trail is found on the left side of the road with a small parking lot outfitted with picnic tables and a pit toilet, providing a snacking spot before heading up the 2.5 miles round trip moderate trail. This trail is dog-friendly and has additional picnic tables at the top for lunch or dinner with a view. I recommend timing this hike around sunset to take in the savory view as it gets soaked in sunlight one last time for the day.
After the Mineral Ridge Scenic Hike, you’re going to want to make a stop in Harrison Idaho, about 25 miles south-west on Highway 97. It may be a small town but you definitely want to check out the Harrison Creamery and Fudge Factory. Pick out some fudge or creamery or both! You’ve earned it after the hike, right? If you go overboard on your snacking Harrison Park, a dog-friendly spot, is nearby, where you can burn off some of those consumed calories.
The Lake Coeur D’ Alene Scenic Byway ends at a fork in the road at the junction of Highway 97 and Highway 3. Follow Highway 3 to St. Maries, where you can continue on to the Emerald Creek Garnet Area, about 32 miles from St. Maries. There you can dig for actual treasure, the Star Garnet, Idaho’s state gem. Star Garnets are found only in two areas in the world, Idaho, and India.
Digging for Garnets can be quite a dirty task so bring yourself a change of clothes as you will be digging in the dirt and cleaning the rocks off in a water trough. A few things to know before you go: The site is not pet-friendly, a cash-only fee will be taken at the site before you can start digging and there is about a 1/2 mile hike from the road to the site. Camping is located nearby or hotels can be found in St Maries. The site is only open seasonally, late May to early September.
After digging to your heart’s content return back to St Maries and follow Highway 97 back to I-90. Or you can take Highway 3 back to I-90 to change up the scenery. Highway 3 treats you to the always beautiful St Joe River.
Highway 3 meets up at l-90 just west of the Old Mission Idaho State Park where you can check out Idaho’s oldest standing building. At the state park, you can explore the grounds and learn about the “Black Robe” Priests, who were sought out by the Coeur D’ Alene Indian Tribe in the 1840’s to help the tribe learn the priest’s medicine techniques.
The Byway may end once you reach I-90 but you can extend your time along the shoreline of Lake Coeur D’ Alene by taking the Coeur D’ Alene Parkway State Park. Take Exit 15 off of I-90, cross under the highway and take the first left onto East Coeur D’ Alene Lake Drive, which turns into the Parkway. There is no entry fee for this park and it provides a beautiful drive heading east to Higgins Park.
Part of the 900 mile Idaho Centennial Trail is also found here, giving you several miles to walk your dog, take a run or a casual stroll as you enjoy the lake.
The Coeur D’ Alene Parkway ends near Higgins Point. If Higgins Point is not reserved for the day, is a quiet spot located on a bluff with picnic pavilions and a well-manicured lawn along with some photo-worthy sites of Beauty Bay. Trails do lead down to the water, but unless you are in good shape, a young kid with lots of energy or two crazy dogs who love water (*cough, Boomer, and Jovi, cough*), I do not recommend making your way down to the water from Higgins Point. Easy water access can be found near the parking lot of the Parkway.