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Times Gone By in the North Idaho Mountains

A self-guided tour to historical steps back in time

There’s still gold in those hills. The Coeur d’Alene Mountains are rich in mining history and was a key in settling the lands west of the Rocky Mountains and the Bitterout Mountains. Each small town in the Silver Valley has its roots in silver mining, but just north, the streams shimmered in gold near Murray, Idaho.

Many of the miners have faded away and the population of the Silver Valley has shrunk over the decades, but the area still remains significant and rich as a place for many to find a tugging cutthroat trout, a gondola trip to miles of mountain biking, or a tasty morel mushroom – but many come just to find a historical perspective to the area.

From Coeur d’Alene and Spokane, it is only a short drive over Fourth of July Pass on Interstate 90 eastbound to this historically-captivating area.

History Buff Sites To Visit

If you are a history buff, take a right at Exit onto the off ramp to visit Cataldo Mission, the oldest standing building in Idaho and the final nail was driven in 1853. The site was selected by Catholic priests on high knoll to eliminate flooding from the rising Coeur d’ Alene River each spring.

The mission was the center of most activity in the region and once provided goods as a supply post and mail services until the gold was discovered in 1884, which caused a great influx or prospectors to the region. The mission was used as a way to interface and educate the Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe. The site is managed by the Idaho State Department of Parks and Recreation and there is small fee to see the site.

If you would like to see the mine that produced over 300 million ounces of silver, then keep your eye for the Big Creek Exit. From there, travel south from the exit up Big Creek and see the Sunshine Mine, which has produced more silver than any other mine in the world. A memorial to the miners that lost their lives in 19   in the Sunshine Mine can be found just north of the freeway exit. There is a historical sign that details the tragedy and a miner statue created in their memory.

If you are die-hard history connoisseur, get back on the freeway and head to the historic town of Wallace. The rustic main street and small shops can keep you busy all day. There is even a brothel museum, the Oasis Bordello Museum, with items left as they were when the after the ladies of the night left in a hurry. The Northern Pacific Depot Railroad Museum is located in the town and is also a must see during your visit. The town is one of the few in the nation that allows ATV and snowmobile traffic on its historic streets and allows recreationists the ability to fill up their gas tanks in town and take off into the surrounding mountains on the elaborate trails systems.   

If you haven’t gotten enough history for the day, then grab a bite to eat at the historic Jameson Saloon before heading over the Dobson Pass to Murray -- where gold was king.

Murray, only 20 minutes from Wallace, offers the Sprag Pole Museum for a historical interpretation, but just walking down the streets makes you feel like you might want to have a six-shooter on your hip. One of the houses in town actually has stairs to a gold mine in the basement.

On your way to Murray, which parallels Pritchard Creek, visitors will recognize the large piles of rounded stones that were uprooted from the channel when the valley was dredged for gold. The gold dredge, essentially a boat with sluices, was primarily operated by many of the Chinese immigrants that also rushed to the region in search of riches, but usually found claims taken up and nominal wages from employers.

And if you aren’t worn out by now, then head back down the Coeur d’Alene River road to have a visit at the Enaville Resort that was built in the early 1880s. The former saloon and brothel is now a restaurant – but this restaurant will make you feel like you are dining in a museum. Let your eyes wander from your plate to the various artifacts found on the walls of the stout structure that has stand the test of time for over 125 years. You’ll find something new each time you visit.

And if you happen to be staying in Coeur d’Alene, you’ll have to make time to visit the Coeur d’Alene Museum of North Idaho, which provides a perspective on the historical significance of the Native Americans, the Northern Pacific Railroad, steamboat travel on the area lakes and timber harvesting in the region.

Additional Historic Sites – North of the Spokane River

  • Priest River Museum and Timber Educational Center in Priest River
  • Newport    . The even offers a historic lookout to visit on the grounds.
  • The Vinther-Nelson Cabin on Priest Lake
  • Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint Museums


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A city for all seasons , . . .

  • Sandpoint, crowns the majestic 43-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille and sits at the base of Schweitzer Mountain Ski Resort— truly a community that has it all.
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