Road Trip: Idaho Panhandle’s Idyllic Lake Trio

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Cheap airfare seems to be a thing of the past.  Budget around $150 and you can buy four or five first class seats in your station wagon for a family road trip.  The Idaho Panhandle is a vacation paradise if you love clear crisp lakes, majestic mountains, and endless outdoor activities.  The area consists of three lakes and the communities around them.  You can pick one or see all three progressing from the more populated Lake Coeur d’Alene, to Lake Pend Oreille, and finally Priest Lake, the least populated of the three. Read on to find out how you can hit up this lake trio this summer with your little road warriors.

Downtown CDALake Coeur d’Alene is first coming in from the south.  It will be the most crowded of the three.  Downtown Coeur d’Alene is going to be the big shopping opportunity and busiest nightlife.  There is a large amusement park, Silverwood, with roller coasters and an outdoor water park, cheaper tickets are available at Costco.  You can rent a boat or go on a sightseeing or dinner cruise in addition to all the usual mountain lake activities.

Roll in and go to:
Meltz – This cheesey cheese lovers heaven has lots of variety on the menu.  There are vegan options, many melty meat filled sandwiches and the basics for less adventurous little eaters.  Mon-Sat 11:00 am – 8:00 pm Sun 10:30 am – 4:00 pm.

GPS:  1735 W Kathleen Ave, Couer d’Alene, Id

Moontime – If you are in need of more than cheese (isn’t cheese always enough!) Moontime has a large selection of local beers on draft, nice variety on the menu and is family friendly.

GPS:  1602 E Sherman Ave, Coeur d’Alene, Id


Lake Pend Oreille, the states largest lake and nations fourth deepest will be to the east as you head north on 95.  Farragut State park at the southern tip is an excellent choice for campers or one of the private RV parks, Beyond Hope is pretty basic but has a nice beach and Ivano’s Ristorante at the campground has margaritas you can enjoy in the sand.  Sandpoint is the largest town and offers other lodging options.  As you get further north the people are less, and are often from Canada.  Boat rentals are available at various locations around the lake.  This could be where your little fisher person catches the big fish.   The two-mile footbridge makes a great biking or hiking excursion, it starts in Sandpoint.

Roll in and go to:
2nd Avenue Pizza – They also offer calzones, salads and beer.  This place has a local feel and friendly staff.  There could be a wait so calling ahead could save some time, 208-263-9321.  Mon-Thur 11:00 am – 9:30 pm , Fri 11:00 am – 10:00 pm, Sat 3:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Sun 3:00 pm – 9:30 pm.

GPS: 215 S. Second Ave, Sandpoint, Idaho

Ivano’s Ristorante – As stated, margaritas on the beach, but also enjoy dinner on the lakeshore back deck.  Pint sized diners will find digging in the sand and racing around make the wait for the food shorter and the whole evening stress free for parents.

GPS: 1267 Peninsula Rd, Hope, Idaho


Priest Lake’s shores are dotted with small resort type communities.  Here you will find the most idyllic and serene lake and a friendly mix of locals and fellow vacationers.  The pace really slows down here.  If you do not hear people talking about huckleberries then you may have taken a wrong turn, which is a big possibility on the small, quiet and sometimes unmarked roads.  Huckleberry picking is yet another option but beware because the berries are also popular with the bear community.  If opting out, there will be chances to grab a huckleberry pie or milkshake.

Renting a boat here is highly recommended.  It is the bet way to explore the tiny communities around the lake.  Boat rentals generally include a tube, a thrill that will rival the theme park.  Find a quiet place in the middle of the lake and cut the engine.  Jump out with your life jacket clad little ones, giggle and squeal with them in excitement and then enjoy the silence, as you are all awe struck by the beauty that surrounds you.  Vacation does not get any better than that.

Roll in and go to:
Leonard Paul Store – Located in downtown Coolin is a hub of small town activity.  Grab some supplies, a quick deli lunch and chat with locals.

GPS: 341 Bayview Dr, Coolin, Id

Cavanaugh’s is loud and busy lakeside dining, it has the vacation fun times vibe.

GPS:  4024 Cavanaugh Bay Rd, Coolin, Id

Where is your summer road trip destination this year?

— Kelli Kellogg

photo of Coeur d’Alene courtesy of Coeur D’Alene Cruises Facebook page