Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes State Park: a spectacular trail through Northern Idaho
Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes State Park provides 73 miles of scenic views and a smooth ride. It is touted as one of the most spectacular trails in the western United States and I have to say, I agree.
State Park Overview
For the most part, Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes State Park is an old rail line converted into a bike path. Because it is an old rail line, it has a gentle grade making it a 73-mile smooth, paved trail through the Idaho wilderness. What could be better than that?
Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes State Park is one of three trails in the Idaho State Parks system. At 73 miles, it is certainly the longest. There are three main sections:
- The east section of the trail is located in a mountain valley that is rich in mining history.
- The middle section follows the Coeur d’Alene River and passes around fifteen small lakes and marshes.
- The west section follows the shoreline of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
No matter which section of the trail you decide to explore, the views will be stunning. There are twenty trailheads and various access points as well as towns all along the trail. But mostly, you will find scenic views and Idaho wildlife. This trail is a wonderful way to explore a unique part of Idaho.
- Gorgeous scenery
- Easy, smooth trail
- Lots of access points
- Wildlife viewing opportunities
- Limited bike rental options
- Cold in the winter
- Busy on certain sections
What To Do
- Ride a bike. If you are feeling super ambitious, you could be one of those people that bikes the whole thing.
- Take a walk. But be sure to watch out for the bikers.
- Nordic ski and snowshoe in the winter.
This is a trail so amenities will be limited and spread out. There are picnic tables and restrooms along the route, but there may not be one when you need it. For all of the specifics as well as maps, check out the parks and rec’s website for Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes State Park.
The crowd situation will depend on what part of the trail you are on and what time of year you visit. There will naturally be more open spaces the further you get from access points and major towns. We started at one of the main towns on Labor Day Weekend. We also rode a popular section of the trail. Naturally, we saw a lot of people. However, we were still able to ride comfortably at our own pace. Avoid popular areas on popular weekends and you will avoid the crowds altogether.
Unique to Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes State Park
The range of birds you can see from the trail is quite impressive. From the Idaho Department of Parks and Rec: “The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes passes through a diverse landscape with numerous habitats making it one of the best birding locales in North Idaho….According to the Coeur d’Alene Audubon, the Trail bisects all the major low-elevation habitat types found in North Idaho. This habitat profile yields a potential list of 189 species, plus an additional 48 very rare species.” Don’t forget your binoculars!
A little history about Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes State Park
The trail is mostly an old rail line that was built to support mining (primarily silver), timber and other supply industries. The history of building rail lines is rarely pretty. When the rail line that makes up the majority of this trail was built in 1884, waste rock and tailings containing heavy metals were used and there were accidental spills of contaminated ore. All of this made for an environmentally-unfriendly, manmade structure.
One thing I find exciting about the trail is that the Union Pacific Railroad, the U.S. Government, the State of Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe partnered together to clean it up. So it is not just a beautiful trail, it is an environmental cleanup effort as well. Win-win!
Where you are at on the trail depends on how close you are to the locations listed below–the trail is 73 miles long after all.
- Old Mission State Park is minutes away from the trail.
- Harrison, Idaho, is a cute, lakeside town worth stopping at. There is good food, a few shops and lovely views.
- The trail runs right through Heyburn State Park. If you are exploring this part of the trail, you should explore the park as well.
- Wallace, Idaho, is an interesting place on the trail. Visit the Oasis Bordello Museum if you can.
- Silver Mountain Resort near Kellogg, Idaho, is good for skiing in the winter and gondola rides in the summer.
- Biking the Route of the Hiawatha Trail should be on your Idaho bucket list. It’s 12 minutes away from Mullen, Idaho, the eastern most point on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.
- Coeur d’Alene (or CDA if you think you are going to slaughter the pronunciation) is a wonderful place to explore and is just 30 minutes away from the nearest trail access. Here are some ideas for killing time in Coeur d’Alene.
- Coeur d’Alenes Parkway State Park, another trail managed by the Idaho State Park system, can be accessed just 30 minutes to the west near Coeur d‘Alene, Idaho.
Our experience at Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes State Park
Biking Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes
We stayed in an Airbnb in Harrison, Idaho. We were delighted to learn that Harrison is home to a bike shop that rents since we did not bring our own bikes on this road trip. Since we did not make any reservations because we were not sure when we wanted to hit the trail, we ended up in the bike shop at an inconvenient time. Basically, every working, normal bike they had available was out for rent. We had two options: wait a couple of hours for some rentals to come back or rent a tandem bike. Now, R and I are close. But a tandem bike experience has never been on our bucket list. The idea of waiting around for a couple of hours turned out to be the greater of two evils…so we rented ourselves a tandem bike and headed down the trail.
Two things about a bicycle built for two
The first thing we noticed on our bicycle built for two were all the grins, smirks and smiles. People cannot help but give you one when they see you on a tandem bike. I probably do it too, but I never realized. There is nothing inconspicuous about tandem bikes and while everyone is out there enjoying the scenery, they got an extra kick out of us. It was so weird.
The second thing we noticed is that it didn’t take us any longer to get to our destination (the historic and very cool Chatcolet Bridge) and back. We made excellent time! I don’t know that we will be renting a tandem bike again anytime soon, but it made for a very interesting experience.
If you want to have a similar experience (with or without the tandem bike–no judging), the bike shop we rented from was called The Cycle Haus. There are other places to rent bicycles as well, but you will not be flush with options. It really just depends on where you plan to hit the trail.
The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes State Park is a wonderful trail and a fantastic way to see northern Idaho. We are very lucky to have it as part of our state parks system.
Note: we visited the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes State Park as part of our Idaho State Parks Challenge. The challenge consists of visiting all of Idaho’s state parks in one year. We made up this challenge to see a bit more of our beautiful state and help alleviate the restlessness caused by Covid-19 travel restrictions. Feel free to join the challenge!
Related posts you might like:
Or if you want to see all of our posts, visit Past Posts.