McEuen Park, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
By winter solstice on Dec. 21, sunset will occur around 4 p.m. It’s a challenging time for Inland Northwest hikers. During the week it’s dark before the typical work day ends, and even on the weekends time is limited, as so many trail systems have open hours from dawn to dusk. Closing at dusk is reasonable for June, but come December, it doesn’t give hikers very many options for an after-work walk in the woods. Adding to a December hiker’s troubles is the long holiday season to-do list. That’s where an easy-access hike like Coeur d’Alene’s Tubbs Hill comes to the rescue! Check a few more items off the holiday shopping list in Coeur d’Alene first, then wrap up a busy day with this easy to moderate hike on the edge of town.
Tubbs Hill is a tiny, 165-acre natural oasis on the waterfront at Lake Coeur d’Alene. The park has a 2.2-mile perimeter trail that grants hikers views of the lake that are normally reserved for boaters. The park hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. year-round, so winter’s long hours of darkness don’t prevent access for those who work during the day. As a bonus for winter hikers, December evenings are the prime time to enjoy a unique vantage point for Coeur d’Alene’s fantastic holiday light and fireworks show.
The easiest access for this hike is to use the public parking lots near McEuen Park ($1/hour for parking). Nearby on-street parking is free but limited to 2 hours. Hike across McEuen Park to the Tubbs Hill main entrance and public restrooms at the south edge of the playing fields where the park meets the water. The ideal way to hike the perimeter is by starting counter-clockwise from the main Tubbs Hill entrance.
If you have the time and proper equipment, just before sunset is the ideal time to start this hike. Check the daypack before you go to ensure the headlamp batteries are working and know that microspikes can be a crucial piece of winter hiking equipment. Even when there’s not fresh snow, trails frequently have compacted old snow or even icy sections around seasonal water seeps. Hiking near dusk or after dark makes these spots more difficult to notice, so traction devices can be critical to maintaining solid footing. Be prepared with extra layers, as already cold temperatures will take an additional dip once the sun goes down.
Hikers have the option of exiting after the perimeter trail for a shorter hike, or can hike back the way they came to double the distance and offer some of the best views as the darkness deepens on the return trip. For those looking for an extra challenge, Tubbs Hill also has a summit trail for additional hiking.
The highlight of a December visit to Tubbs Hill is the excellent vantage point for viewing the holiday lights cruises from afar. Throughout the month of December, the Coeur d’Alene resort turns on the holiday lights at dusk and offers cruises complete with a fireworks display each hour from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. The best view is reserved for those who register for the cruise, but the second best view is from afar on Tubbs Hill. Hikers can watch as the cruise vessels depart the resort, pass the animated light show on the boardwalk, then cruise across the lake for an hourly fireworks show that’s visible from the western half of the Tubbs Hill’s trail system.
Round-trip distance: Up to 4.4 miles
Rating: Easy to moderate, depending on snow conditions
Elevation gain: 200 feet
Map: Free printable map by Coeur d’Alene Parks Department
Getting there: From downtown Coeur d’Alene make your way to McEuen Park. Tubbs Hill’s main entrance is at the south end of the park near the waterfront.
Support Local Trails: Watch for Washington Trails Association snowshoe work parties to return in January 2020.