Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Riding the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes in Idaho's Panhandle

         The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes stretches across 72 miles of Idaho’s panhandle. This premier paved rail trail follows the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way from Mullan, a mountain mining town near the Montana border, to Plummer, a prairie town near the Washington border.

A rest stop on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes near Kellogg, Idaho.

        Hawley’s Landing Campground in Heyburn State Park is our base camp for two days of trail riding adventure.  Tim and I awaken before the other campers on this sparkling July morning.  The rail trail beckons; we depart from the campground on our Schwinn tandem bicycle, ready to access the trail at the south end of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Trail on the railroad bridge
spanning Lake Coeur d'Alene.

          Another few minutes and we’re on the trail which immediately crosses an old railroad bridge spanning the lake.  In the marshes on either side of the bridge are platforms topped with osprey nests.  We stop and enjoy watching the adults and chicks in the nests.  One large nest is perched on the truss above our heads and the adult osprey in residence wastes no time letting us know she’s unhappy with our presence.  She issues a verbal scolding and we decide to continue on and leave mama osprey in peace.  

Osprey nest on bridge abutment.

          This portion of the trail hugs the shoreline of the lake for 8 miles, then follows the Coeur d’Alene River through inland marshes and lakes.  We make our first stop in a pleasant rest area along the river.  We gulp from our water bottles as warblers sing out from the trees.  Leaving the rest stop we pass a field filled with grazing cows, then ride to a marsh and stop to bird watch.  The marsh is full of life today.  Western Grebes are nesting and Common Snipes are feeding.  A turtle suns itself on a log while a bullfrog croaks among the lily pads.  It’s a superb spot for wildlife viewing.

  We stop at another rest area at mile 25.8; while we relax on the bench a group of cyclists ride by and admire our tandem.  It’s time to turn around and head for home.  On the way back to the campground we stop in the small historic town of Harrison.  In 1917 a downtown lumber company caught fire and the blaze consumed about half of Harrison’s business district.  Much of the town was never rebuilt. Today Harrison is enjoying a renaissance as a tourist destination along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes; the town is now a popular place for cyclists to stop and/or stay.  Another couple with a bicycle-built-for-two is sitting outside a local bike shop and we stop to chat with them.  They inform us that the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington host an annual Northwest Tandem Rally.  We’ll have to check it out someday.

  The highlight of our stop in Harrison is a trip to the local creamery where we savor huge ice cream cones—fuel for the final 8 miles of the ride.  During those last eight miles we hear an intriguing call and discover a pair of Red-necked Grebes sailing on Lake Coeur d’Alene.  Listen to the call of the Red-necked grebe here:  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/red-necked_grebe/sounds

The trail of the Coeur d'Alenes provides stunning scenery.
  Before dinner, all cleaned up and with a fresh change of clothes, I stroll around the campground and notice an older couple traveling in a small self-contained RV; a large gray and white tiger cat is leashed to the side of the camper.  I ask the old woman about the cat:  “We’re on the road for most of the year” she said, “We just couldn’t leave Tiger all by himself at home.”  Tiger apparently loves life on the road.  Maybe someday we’ll travel with our cat too... but first we’ll have to find a cat-carrier for our bike at a future Northwest Tandem Rally.

Enjoying an evening by the campfire in Heyburn State Park.

For more information on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes travel to these sites:

Check out the town of Harrison on this website: http://www.harrisonidaho.org/

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