A sprawling complex of beautiful, historic buildings and surprisingly bustling streets nestled into the steep mountain hillsides of north Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains, Wallace Idaho is a momentary neck-craning distraction for most Interstate 90 travelers driving through the Silver Valley. Too bad for them, since this authentic, resilient community has successfully tapped a gold mine balance between functioning mining town and “New West” recreation and tourism hub. There are excellent breweries, restaurants, old-time taverns and a super cool wine bar. The whole town is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Mining Museum is a great glimpse back at the town’s rich and rowdy past. And there are endless ways to get out and explore the mountains, ranging from hiking trails, zipline tours, cycling paved paths, and biking the world-famous Hiawatha Trail. For history buffs who like to stretch their legs a bit, this family-friendly tour is a great way to spend a day in the “Center of the Universe.”
Hiking the Historic Pulaski Trail
Until 2003, the Pulaski Tunnel Trail, which leads to the abandoned mine where “Big Ed” Pulaski saved nearly all of his 45-man firefighting crew from being burned alive by the Great Fire of 1910 (by guiding them into and barricading the mine), had been reclaimed by the forest and was lost to hikers and the history-conscious community, except for a couple of historic markers at the trailhead. Thanks to the efforts of local volunteers in recent years, the trail was cleared and reconstructed with five bridges, four boardwalks and more than a dozen interpretive signs that tell the story of the people, trees and one big old fire that give this path through the woods such historic significance. The 2-mile trail, which begins at a well-marked trailhead about a mile south of Wallace, offers a cool, beautiful walk through the forest along Placer Creek and by a few small waterfalls. It’s only about an 800 foot elevation gain uphill to the old mine and the end of the trail. It takes most hikers about two or three hours to complete the entire hike. Both the trail and the mine are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Getting There: The trail begins at a well-marked trailhead about a one mile south of Wallace on Forest Service Road 456.
The Wallace District Mining Museum
The Wallace District Mining Museum tells the story of the local mining industry in Northern Idaho from the early gold rush days to the more recent period of world-record silver production. Artifacts, models, photographs, paintings and displays of mining activity and techniques take you back in time and deep into the history of one of the most lucrative mining districts in the U.S. Many of the exhibits are inside a timbered mine to enhance the experience. Exhibits include a large three-dimensional model of the largest silver producing mine in the world – the Sunshine Mine. A documentary video on area history is included with the admission fee. The museum is open daily all summer long, opening at 10 a.m. in May, June and September; 10 a.m. in July and August; and closing at 5 p.m. each day. It’s located at 509 Bank Street. More info: 208-556-1592.
Out on the Town in Wallace: OTM’s Picks
Stop by the City Limits Pub & North Idaho Mountain Brewery tucked away in a historic brick building just north of the Interstate. They brew their own excellent craft beer and serve up tasty meals and appetizers in a friendly, comfortable atmosphere. This is the place to stop in Wallace after a day of skiing Lookout, hiking Stevens Peak, biking the Hiawatha, kayaking the south fork or touring historical mining sites. Location: 108 Nine Mile Road, Wallace. Info: 208-556-1885. For a good night’s sleep in clean, comfortable, well-lit rooms within walking distance of Wallace restaurants, bars and breweries, the Wallace Inn is the place to stay. They have an indoor swimming pool and a love for the recreational wonders of the Silver Valley and can help you out with trail and travel advice (Thewallaceinn.com). The Wallace Visitor Center, just off the Interstate, is also an excellent source for maps and other useful information about the area’s historical and recreational attractions. Wallaceidahochamber.com. //