Idaho Mountain Camping Vacation

Every summer I take the family on a camping trip.  Last summer we stayed in the State of Idaho.  We made a counter clockwise route from Sandpoint to Stanley, and back through Missoula, Montana.  We were also able to visit a ghost town on the way, and see some rustic building techniques, maybe a little too rustic for some.

Rustic Log Rail Fence Stanley

Rustic Log Rail Fence in Lower Stanley, Idaho

Except for the southern central section of the state, there are not a lot of flat places in Idaho.  In fact, percentage-wise, Idaho is more mountainous than any other state.  And where there are mountains, there are rivers.  About ¾ of our trip was along some very beautiful rivers, and much of these where along Idaho “Scenic Byways”.   Many parts of these rivers are popular for rafting, and hot springs are abundant.

Our first day was spent driving down Highway 95 from Sandpoint, through Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston, along the rivers to McCall, and down to Lake Cascade.  The drive down into Lewiston is pretty dramatic.  The highway towers above as it weaves down into the city, which is hugged by the Clearwater and Snake Rivers.  We then drove up the Salmon River towards Riggins, and then up the Little Salmon River towards the beautiful town of McCall.  We finally arrived at Amanita Campground on Lake Cascade as dusk was setting in.

Coho Salmon Spawning

Coho salmon spawning near our campsite

The next morning we saw coho salmon spawning in the stream next to our campsite.  After trying some fishing on the lake, we took a side trip to visit Tamarack Resort, a golf and ski community nearby.  In addition to the golf and skiing, they have a couple of nice amenities including the lodge, a fun little chapel, a ballroom building and a meeting building disguised as a barn and schoolhouse respectively.  The golf course is a signature Robert Trent Jones II design.  A village is in a long standing state of construction as they have been in and out of foreclosure.  However, I can see that once it gets resolved they could be in good shape.  That afternoon we went swimming in the lake, and finished off the day around the campfire.

The next day we continued on our way, driving south along the Payette River towards Banks.  We had lunch at a restaurant in Banks, just south of Banks Lowman road, which overlooks the Payette.  We sat back and relaxed, while below us was a bustle of activity as Bear Valley Rafting was beginning their half-day trips down the river.  After lunch we drove up the very windy, yet scenic Banks Lowman Road.  I had to stop and get out, looking down into the South Fork of the Payette River, which is known for its white water.  It just so happened that at that spot, far below, a rafting expedition was currently carrying their rafts a short ways down the river to avoid a more dangerous stretch.

South Fork Payette River Rafting

Rafting on the South Fork of the Payette River

We made our way east past Lowman towards Mountain View Campground, where we stayed the night.  This campground doesn’t exactly have a mountain view, other than the hills on the other side of the Payette River, but it does have some great spots on the river.  There weren’t any mosquitoes, but in the evening the no-see-ums were so horrendous that we didn’t last long around the campfire.

Lower Stanley Sawtooth Mountains

The Salmon River in Lower Stanley with the Sawtooth Mountains to the South.

The next day we drove up Highway 21 along the “Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route”, and down into Stanley as we got our first glimpses of the Sawtooth Mountains.  The jagged panorama of the Sawtooths is one of the most beautiful mountain ranges I’ve ever seen.  Nestled in the valley below is  the Salmon River and the town of Stanley, Idaho.  Hardy folk live in this town, which has the honor of being ranked #1 for having the “most days with the coldest temperature” in the lower 48 states.

Salmon River

The Salmon River north of Stanley

We were there in late August, so other than a few semi-cold mornings it was t-shirt and shorts weather.  On our first night we stayed in a hotel so we could take showers and enjoy soft beds (we’re tent campers).  The next four nights we stayed south of town at Casino Creek Campground, along the Salmon River.  It was a nice spot.  The sites were fairly open and close together, but because it was late summer the campground was only about 20% full.

Sawtooth Mountains Galena Summit

Looking NW at the Sawtooth Mountains from Galena Summit, between Stanley and Ketchum

On one of the days we drove over Galena Summit to the Sun Valley and Ketchum areas, about 75 minutes south of Stanley.  On another we took a short drive north to the Bonanza and Custer ghost towns.  Being an architect who designs mountain homes, I get a kick out of seeing these old, rustic buildings.

Mountain Home Bonanza Ghost Town

A home in the ghost town of Bonanza

Bonanza is spread out with various buildings and a cemetery.  Custer is in better shape and has a nice self-guided tour, starting with panning for gold outside a schoolhouse, the first building on the tour.

Custer Ghost Town Empire Saloon

The Empire Saloon in the Ghost Town of Custer

One of the homes had an interesting roof material.  Flattened tin cans covered the whole roof, and were in great shape after 100+ years.  So if you’re willing to take the time to collect and flatten them, start saving your tin cans.  Just make sure you use a good underlayment.

Rustic Tin Can Roof Custer Idaho

This tin can roof in Custer has lasted many years.

I also found an innovative way to make a double powder room, OR double toilets in the master bathroom!

rustic double toilets master bathroom

Double toilets – too rustic?

All kinds of ideas flow when looking at this master bathroom.

Simple rustic master bath tub sitting area

Simple and Rustic Master Bath: Tub and Sitting Area

We also experienced Sunbeam Hot Springs.  Here, the hot springs mingle with the Salmon River, and there are several man-made pools, built with moveable rocks.  Temperatures vary depending on your proximity to the river. This would be a fun thing to design into a house.  Hmmm……

Sunbeam Hot Springs Salmon River

Sunbeam Hot Springs merges with the Salmon River

On our last day we caught several trout in the morning, and in the afternoon we went to beautiful (and popular) Redfish Lake, just south of Stanley.  Campgrounds and Redfish Lake Lodge and marina surround the north end of the lake.  To the west, the Sawtooths loom overhead.   A ferry ride from the lodge takes you to the base of the mountains, where there are numerous hikes and backpacking excursions to alpine lakes.  At 6457 feet above sea level, Redfish Lake is at the top end of Idaho’s Columbia River sockeye salmon migration.  The salmon enter the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean, then up the Snake and Salmon Rivers, before traveling up Redfish Lake Creek.  After traveling about 900 miles from the Pacific, the salmon finally arrive at Redfish Lake.  See a map of the quest.

Redfish Lake Idaho Sawtooth Mountains

Redfish Lake and the Sawtooth Mountains

We had a visitor on our last night after enjoying a nice trout dinner.  Apparently the smell was pretty good, as in the middle of the night I woke up to some rustling around the campsite.  I got up and sat there listening, trying to figure out what it was.  I heard the small huffing sounds that bears make, and came to the conclusion that there weren’t grizzlies in the area.  In most cases I would have just stayed there and let it pass.  However, my daughter, who didn’t want to sleep in our big tent, was in a small tent about 30 feet away, and I didn’t want the bear getting close to her tent.

I decided I would quickly get out of the tent, make a run for the minivan, jump in, and start the engine to scare it off if it hadn’t already bolted.  Just then, it brushed against the side of the tent where Annie was sleeping, and she bolted upright with wide eyes. “What the hell was that?”

I mouthed “bear”, paused, and then keys and flashlight in my hand, I quickly unzipped the tent, scanned quickly, and ran for the minivan.  I quickly grabbed the handle and pulled.  It was locked!  Cursing myself and the non-working keyless remote (which would have been useful from inside the tent), I fumbled for the right key and jumped in.  I started the car, turned on the lights, turned the car around to face the campsite, and then turned it off.  The bear was gone.

Trout Dinner on Campfire

Trout dinner. Make sure you clean up thoroughly before going to bed.

The next day we drove north up highway 93 (also called the Lewis and Clark Trail), along the Salmon River, and then up and over the spectacular Bitterroot Mountains via Lost Trail Pass.  This pass is about a half mile west of the Continental Divide.  We then traveled north through Hamilton and into Missoula, Montana, where we spent the night.  We then took Highway 200 northwest along the Clark Fork River to Lake Pend Oreille and home in Sandpoint.

Idaho Camping Map

A map of the trip from Google Maps. (A/I) Sandpoint (B) Lewiston (C) Cascade Lake (D) Banks (E) Lowman (F) Sun Valley/Ketchum (G) Stanley/Casino Creek Campground (H) Missoula, Montana

John Hendricks is a licensed AIA architect at Hendricks Architecture.  We are an architectural  firm in Sandpoint, Idaho, specializing in mountain style homes.  Click to Subscribe to Hendricks Architecture’s Blog

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Canadians Discover Sandpoint

This past summer in Sandpoint seemed busier than it has been in several years. It seemed like every time I went downtown or to City Beach there were always a lot of people out enjoying the great summer weather, and my sense is that many of them were visitors from elsewhere. Sandpoint’s population is always boosted in the summer by the many lakefront and vacation home owners that claim this area as their “home away from home”, and tourism has been steadily increasing in response to all the good press the area has been getting.

Sandpoint Evening

Sandpoint Evening (Canadian Selkirk Mountains in Far Right Background)

Recent examples in a long list of “best of” awards are Sandpoint’s designation as the “Most beautiful small town in America” and Schweitzer Mountain Resort’s selection as Ski Magazine editor’s pick as the “Best Kept Secret”. Sandpoint’s charm has not gone unnoticed, especially among our neighbors to the North. The number of Canadian license plates in town has increased significantly in the last few years, and this trend has been a big benefit to local business owners. Canadians have brought a welcome surge in commerce that has helped many businesses stay afloat in tough economic times.

The Pend Oreille River from Sandpoint's Long Bridge

The Pend Oreille River from Sandpoint’s Long Bridge

Apparently some Canadians have recognized that there is a lot of value in the local real estate market. North Idaho has experienced a surge in vacation home and investment property purchases by Canadian citizens, with some choosing North Idaho as a place to retire. It’s no secret that property values are low almost everywhere in the U.S., and there are great deals out there for anyone with a bit of liquidity and a positive vision of the future. In Sandpoint, we are lucky to be less than an hour from the Canadian border and a short days drive from Calgary and other population centers in Southern Alberta. Oil and gas exploration has really taken off in Southern Alberta, and the economy there is much better off than in most areas of the United States.

Sunrise over Lake Pend Oreille

Sunrise over Lake Pend Oreille (from an Owner’s Lot on Garfield Bay)

Canadians visiting the US also benefit from lower prices on goods and services here, most notably gasoline and building materials. Currency exchange rates are also favorable for Canadians, though they are down a bit from a historic high in March of 2009. I remember only about 10 years ago the situation was opposite, and shopping trips or vacations to Canada were a great way to get a lot for the American dollar. Southern B.C., Alberta, and the National Parks of the Canadian Rockies are still very popular vacation spots for North Idaho residents, and most vacations I hear about involve outdoor enthusiasts enjoying Canada’s natural treasures and great skiing.

In Sandpoint, everyone I know is glad to see that our neighbors to the north are frequenting North Idaho and discovering how much this area has to offer. We are finding that they make great neighbors, clients, and friends. When I visit Canada, I never really feel like I am in a different country, and I suspect Canadians feel the same here. To acknowledge our kinship with Canada, Schweitzer Mountain has adopted Whitewater resort near Nelson, B.C. as its Canadian sister, and is offering Whitewater pass holders free skiing if they stay in any of the resort owned accommodations.

Anyone visiting Sandpoint, Canadian or otherwise, is welcome to stop in and see our portfolio of beautiful mountain homes. We speak fluent Canadian, and would love to talk to you about designing your new mountain home.

Hendricks Architecture specializes in the design of timber mountain style homes and cabins.  Most of the homes we’ve completed are in mountain resort areas throughout the West.  If you are interested in a mountain home, or you have any other inquiries, please contact us.

Tom Russell, Architect LEED AP

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Schweitzer Opens Early

Inland Northwest skiers & snowboarders got an early treat this year when Schweitzer Mountain Resort opened the weekend before Thanksgiving. It is considered to be a good year if they are able to open on Thanksgiving weekend, and that happens roughly 50% of the time. This season was looking kind of weak for early season snow, though it was cold enough that the conditions were good for making snow. Everyone had their fingers crossed, and mother nature delivered some mid November storms that made for excellent early season conditions.

Schweitzer Bowl

Schweitzer Bowl – The front of the mountain

Opening day at Schweitzer was November 19th, and even though the terrain was limited the conditions were great. There was even some fresh snow to get everyone excited! Schweitzer closed again during the week, with a promise to reopen the day after Thanksgiving. The big surprise came a few days before Thanksgiving – a two day storm event that dumped several feet of heavy, wet snow and provided excellent coverage on the entire mountain. A few days later temperatures cooled down, 8” of light snow fell, and the day after Thanksgiving looked like a mid-winter powder day. A lot of the front side was open, conditions were excellent, and everyone was smiling!

From what I have seen on other ski area websites, we have about the best conditions in the country right now. The Lake Tahoe region (Kirkwood, Squaw Valley and Heavenly Valley) has very little snow, Alta and Telluride are reporting less than a 30” base, and the central Colorado areas of Vail, Aspen, and Summit County are all hurting for snow. Even further north in Sun Valley and Big Sky, snow depths are thin and the ski resorts are barely open.

Closer to Sandpoint, Whitefish Mountain Resort had to cancel plans to open the first week in December due to lack of snow. 49 Degrees North is open and has almost as much snow as Schweitzer. North of the border, Fernie has a decent amount of snow, as do Red Mountain and Schweitzer’s Canadian sister resort of Whitewater. However, only Fernie is open this early in the season and the terrain is limited.

I have been seeing a lot of Canadian license plates in the parking lot at the ski resort, and also in town. The Canadians I have talked to are coming here from Calgary and other cities in Alberta, as well as from Southern British Columbia. It seems that word is getting out up there that Sandpoint in Northern Idaho is a wonderful place and that the skiing is pretty darn good. It probably doesn’t hurt that property is less expensive here, our taxes are lower, and the exchange rate is favorable too, eh. Whatever the reason, we welcome our visitors from Canada and are glad to be close to Southern B.C. so we can visit there as well.

If you’re looking for some great early season skiing, come to Sandpoint and check out Schweitzer Mountain Resort. The entire front side (see trail maps – Schweitzer Bowl) is open now, including some excellent tree skiing for which Schweitzer is famous. You’ll find out why Schweitzer was the Ski Magazine editors pick for the best kept secret, but you have to promise not to tell anybody! Hope to see you there, and while you’re in Sandpoint stop by and see our portfolio of beautiful Mountain Homes.

This post was written by an author at Hendricks Architecture who wishes to remain anonymous.  We are mountain architects located in Sandpoint, Idaho.  Click to Subscribe to Hendricks Architecture’s Blog.

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Selkirk Loop Vacation in British Columbia

One of my favorite things to do with the family is to take loop camping trips in the mountains. Living in the beautiful Northwestern U.S., and close to the Canadian border, there are endless routes to choose from. Last summer I could only get away for a few days, so we chose a modified version of the International Selkirk Loop from my hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho to Nelson, British Columbia. This is one of the more popular scenic loop trips in both Western Canada and the Western United States.

Garfield Bay Sandpoint Lake Pend Oreille

Garfield Bay near Sandpoint on Lake Pend Oreille

We set out on a Friday morning from Sandpoint. Sandpoint is about 45 miles south of the Canadian border, and was recently voted Most Beautiful town in the USA by USA Today. After being through the border from Seattle to Vancouver many times before, we found this border to be a breeze in terms of crowds. There were only about five vehicles heading into Canada, whereas there were about fifty entering the United States.

We had lunch in Creston, BC, and then headed up the eastern shore of Kootenay Lake to catch the ferry. Kootenay Lake is a very long and narrow fjord-like lake surrounded by the Purcell Mountains on the east and the Selkirk Mountains to the west. The beautiful, winding drive up the eastern shore to the ferry landing at Kootenay Bay is lined with roughly 40 miles (64 kilometers) of waterfront homes, resorts and parks. The toll-free ferry is a treat for the kids (and adults). Mountain fresh air, a glistening blue lake, and awesome views of the Purcell’s come with the 35 minute ferry ride.

Kootenay Lake Ferry

Kootenay Lake from the Kootenay Ferry

Once we landed in Balfour, we headed north along the west side of the lake to look at campgrounds, with the idea of staying at one and going to Ainsworth Hot Springs the next day, before camping at Slocan Lake the next night. However, the campgrounds we saw were a little too open and populated for us, so we decided to head straight for Slocan Lake.

Slocan Lake

Slocan Lake

We drove north to Kaslo before turning west. Kaslo is a very pretty town situated around a small bay. We would have liked to explore it more, but we wanted to make sure we found a campground and were set up before dark. We headed west, climbing over the Kootenay Range. Near the top a tourist on a slow motorcycle heading east took too long a glimpse of a waterfall and fell over in front of us. After helping him get his bike up and making sure it wasn’t scratched (it was a rental), we drove down into the town of New Denver on Slocan Lake.

We were one of the last to get a spot at Rosebery, a campground just a couple of minutes north of town. We were right on Wilson Creek, so the kids really enjoyed it. The next day we strolled around New Denver, a quaint, rustic town on the east side of Slocan Lake. New Denver is in a beautiful setting and is up there on the list of the most scenic towns. There are plenty of outdoor activities, including hiking, cycling, boating, fishing, etc. We explored the Silvery Slocan Historical Society Museum, which has some interesting artifacts dating back to the 1800’s. We also ran across the Villa Dome Quixote, an interesting complex with a lodge and cottages.

Villa Dome Quixote

The Villa Dome Quixote in New Denver

That afternoon we took it easy and hung out on the beach on the north side of town. My daughter is an avid swimmer and convinced me to swim with her out to a floating platform. The water was actually much warmer than I expected it to be. It was also crystal clear as I could easily see the bottom, which must have been at least 5 meters deep below the platform. However, when I tried diving down the water was mind-numbing so I quickly turned back.

Slocan Lake from New Denver

The north side of Slocan Lake from New Denver

That evening we played charades around the campfire. Charades is a very entertaining game when you have small children. Our youngest boy is a big fan of pirates. Here is one of his turns.

“Three words. It’s a person. A person on a pirate ship.”

“Is it a pirate?”


The next morning we set out for Nelson. The drive down the eastern side of Slocan Lake has some great views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

Nelson Fire House

Nelson Fire House, featured in Roxanne

Nelson is ANOTHER beautiful town, though much bigger at just over 9,000 people. It’s set at the end of an “arm” that comes off the middle of Kootenay Lake. The town’s main street has an impressive collection of buildings from the days of the silver rush. The Steve Martin film Roxanne was filmed here. Much of the film was shot at the firehouse, shown above, where Steve Martin was the fire chief.

Nelson Court House

Nelson Court House

After a great lunch at the Twisted Tomato, we headed toward the waterfront and took a restored streetcar to Rotary Lakeside Park. This park has everything; a great playground with modern equipment that I enjoyed almost as much as the kids, a beautiful beach with Laser sailboats frolicking offshore, tennis courts, and playfields among others. One of our favorites were the modern exercise stations on the west side of the park.

Nelson's Rotary Lakeside Park

Nelson’s Rotary Lakeside Park

In the late afternoon we headed back towards Sandpoint. It was a great trip for a 3-day weekend, though we could have easily stayed longer. A map of our trip can be seen on this Google Maps link.

Tom Russell, an architect here at Hendricks Architecture, took a longer trip up Banff and Revelstoke which included passing through New Denver and Nelson on the way back. You can read more about his trip under our blog post Mountain Vacation in Southern British Columbia and Alberta.

John Hendricks, AIA Architect

Hendricks Architecture is a mountain architecture firm located in Sandpoint, Idaho. Subscribe to Hendricks Architecture’s Blog.

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