Where to Stay and Trails to Ride
In recent years, the latter half of Northwest summers have been plagued by days or weeks of wildfire smoke, which can make many outdoor recreation activities like biking more challenging. The silver lining is that autumn has become a prime time to beat the summertime smoke, heat, and crowds. As an added bonus, many North Idaho trees and shrubs begin to put on a show of brilliant orange, gold, and scarlet foliage. September is the perfect month to plan several days of biking around the friendly, historic North Idaho mining town of Wallace, especially on the world-class 73.2-mile paved Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and 15-mile Route of the Hiawatha gravel surface trail.
Wallace, Idaho, is a great stay-and-play hub for it all. Located along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and mere miles from the Route of the Hiawatha, Wallace serves up quality Northwest amenities like pubs, eateries, and comfortable lodging options and Old West charm. North Idaho is rich with historic landmarks, museums, and events, like the Wallace Idaho Fall for History Festival. Play off the biking path on nearby rivers like the St. Joe and North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene, which offer excellent fall fishing. Read on for many more ideas to help you plan the perfect fall cycling getaway.
Explore the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes
One of the Northwest’s longest paved biking trails will have you pedaling past lakes, along a river, through friendly small towns and wetlands and woods teaming with birds and other wildlife. Enjoy fresh air and peace and quiet as you ride the most scenic sections of the 73-mile paved trail through the Silver Valley’s evergreen forests. The trees and brush along the trail will turn classic fall colors, and the chances of catching sight of local wildlife such as deer, coyotes, moose, swans, and elk are good. Out-and-back day rides along the trail right from your hotel room in Wallace are possible in either direction. Ride east to the historic town of Mullan or west through the Silver Valley as far as you wish to pedal. Longer tours of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes can be arranged with the help of a shuttle service, which you can set up with contacts from the Historic Wallace Chamber of Commerce.
Ride the Route of the Hiawatha Trail
The Route of the Hiawatha is open all summer long and typically closes for the season in late September. This rail-to-trail ride will take you over seven historic, sky-high trestles and through 10 train tunnels on a slight downhill grade the entire way. Enjoy spectacular views of the Bitterroot Mountains on this 15-mile ride that is suitable for most adults and children who are comfortable riding a mountain bike or other bicycle with good traction tires for several hours. The route is famous for St. Paul Pass, or Taft Tunnel, which is a 1.66-mile long tunnel stretching under the Bitterroot Mountains at the state line between Idaho and Montana. (Be sure to pack your bike light.)
Unless you want to make the ride a 30-mile out-and-back, plan to take advantage of the shuttle service that will bring you and your bike back to the top of the trail when you’re done with your ride for a small fee. To complete the Route of the Hiawatha, a trail pass is required ($8 for kids and $10 for adults). Reserve your passes in advance online.You’ll be able to rent bikes and other gear from Lookout Pass if needed.
Staying in Wallace
When you’re not riding, Wallace provides the perfect base camp to explore local breweries, pubs, shops, museums, and restaurants all in a friendly, character-rich town, the entirety of which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tucked between steep, pine-covered hills along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, Wallace will make your trip memorable with its unique eateries, lodging, and small-town hospitality. Choose from many different lodging options the town has to offer to find the right place for you and your riding buddies to call home for a few days.
Other Ways to Play
There are many other biking trails in North Idaho in addition to the Route of the Hiawatha and Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. Check out the Old Milwaukee Railroad Trail, Northern Pacific Trail, Milwaukee Scenic Alternate Trail, and other lesser-known biking routes around Wallace.
When you’ve had your fill of scenic cycling in the Silver Valley, take some time on the water on the St. Joe River or North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene. Both are renowned trout streams, providing opportunities for peaceful fall fishing outings (guided or DIY).
The options for doing additional scenic bike rides and day hikes near Wallace could take up your entire trip. Check out a few favorites, like hiking to Lake Elsie; riding the Dobson Pass Loop; hiking Mineral Ridge; or hiking to Blossom, Lower Blossom, or Pear lakes from Thompson Pass. You can also tour the historic Hale Fish Hatchery and Shoshone Park east of Mullan.
Fall Events in Wallace
Under the Freeway Flea Market (Aug 30-Sept 2): Hundreds of vendors will display their treasures in the protected open-air space under I-90 in downtown Wallace. There will also be live music, kids’ games, street drinks & eats, and more. As you stroll along the booths you can enjoy views of the river, historic town, and mountain landscape.
Gamblers’ 500 Road Rally (Sept 14-15): A 500-mile road rally for auto enthusiasts. The local car club trolls the internet, auctions, and estate sales for vehicles less than $500, then sets out on a 500-mile road trip with an overnight stay at the midpoint in Wallace.
Re-dedication of the Center of the Universe (Sept 21): Wallace is a town that likes to celebrate whimsy, as with this event, that marks the anniversary weekend of the night in 2004 that a manhole cover at the junction of Sixth and Bank Streets was named the probably center of the universe.
Wallace Idaho Fall for History Festival (Oct 3-6): Celebrating Wallace’s colorful history during the most colorful time of the year. You’ll find guided tours of the National Register of Historic Places homes and churches; trolley rides to Nine Mile Cemetery, where actors portray past notable townspersons; lectures; plays; dinner shows; and other special events.
More Trip-Planning Resources
Friends of the Coeur d’Alene Trail—lists current trail conditions and closures; Digital GPS file maps available for download for some trails.
[Photos courtesy of Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park and the Wallace Chamber of Commerce.]