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Spend the Day on the Area's Newest Scenic Byway

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a tour of Highway 200

In a ceremony held June 13 in Washington D.C., U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta presented local Realtor Margie Stevens with a plaque symbolizing years of hard work by both Stevens and Sandpoint resident Steve Klatt, owner of Midas Management. The plaque was the official announcement that Idaho's Pend Oreille Scenic Byway, Hwy. 200, which runs from Sandpoint to the Montana state line, has now been recognized as a National Scenic Byway.

In his speech, Mineta remarked, "In our post September 11th world, these byways have an increased importance. Since that horrible day, Americans are taking the time to look around, to uncover what it is that truly makes us American. What we are all finding is that the American spirit is the culmination of a wide variety of experiences that continues to mold our destiny. You can see that variety in the new byways announced today.

"It's important that we search out those uniquely American places that make this nation great," he added. 

Mineta stated, "America's Byways are roads to the heart and soul of America. They connect us to this country's beauty, history and culture."

To be designated as a National Scenic Byway, a road must possess at least one of six qualities-archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities. The road must provide "an exceptional traveling experience so recognized by travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip."

A brief look at this 33.4 mile stretch of highway is enough to convince anyone that Highway 200 possesses all six of the necessary qualities. Why not take a day, and see for yourself?

Milepost 25- 

The byway begins at the junction where Hwy. 95 heads north to Canada, right near the Elks Club Golf Course. It's a good place to begin your tour. The Elks Club opened a new lodge just last year, next to Sandpoint's original 9-hole golf course, built in the mid-20s on land donated by the Humbird Lumber Company.

The lodge includes a restaurant and pro shop, along with a banquet room which can be reserved for parties, seminars, workshops and weddings.

Heading out from the Elks, Hwy. 200 passes through the communities of Kootenai and Ponderay.

Milepost 36- Purcell Trench

Gateway to fertile farmland, this stretch of road reaches from the community of Colburn, once a town of 300+ on Highway 95, to Highway 200. Colburn-Culver was known as the farm-to-market road.

This area is geographic history. Look north, toward the long stretch of the Selkirk Mountains, and view the Purcell Trench. In the last ice age, a piece of the Cordilleran ice sheet of Canada moved through this area and into the Lake Pend Oreille basin. Look for the distinctive scars it left behind as it carved its way between the Selkirk/Cabinet valley. The glacier dammed the Clark Fork river and resulted in Glacial Lake Missoula, a lake which covered almost 3000 square miles in western Montana.

Glacial passage through this area left fertile farmland behind. 

Milepost 38- Pack River 

Although the area's abundant wildlife can be spotted most anywhere along Highway 200, at the Pack River Flats it's almost a guarantee. Most favored of area residents are the moose who like to feed just off the highway across from Hidden Lakes Golf Course.

The moose are so prevalent in this wetland area that Hidden Lakes has long announced "the moose is loose," and moose are seen on a daily basis on the course. It's also possible to see large herds of elk, especially in early morning and early evening, and on occasion, even brown bear have been spotted crossing the highway.

Realigned in 2001, Hidden Lakes Golf Resort was recently named the Number 1 golf challenge in Idaho. It has water on 17 holes, a beautiful natural setting, and a "sometimes devious" layout.

Open for lunch and dinner is The Lodge on Hidden Lakes. Under the direction of Chef Paul, the restaurant serves "an eclectic blend of French and Mediterranean cuisine with a Northwest flair." Features include wild game and fresh seafood.

For the golfer, Hidden Lakes also features The Hole in the Wall Deli just between the 9th and 10th holes.

Milepost 42- Trestle Creek

It might look like nothing more than a restaurant and RV Park, but Trestle Creek is a starting point for two of the area's greatest attractions: Lake Pend Oreille, and the Selkirk Mountains.

Turn right off the highway and you've reached a small, public access beach where you can splash to your heart's delight in the chilly waters of Lake Pend Oreille. The lake, Idaho's largest and arguably its most beautiful, is 43 miles long and, in places, 1000 feet deep.

Pull out your fishing poles because Lake Pend Oreille has more than 14 species of game fish. Make sure you get your fishing license first and know your trout - because Lake Pend Oreille is also home to the endangered Bull Trout.

This day use area is maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Make sure to look up, because here both bald eagle and osprey make their home and are often spotted in their nests- eagles like the tops of area pine trees, while you can look for osprey nests on top of light standards and dead wood.

Go left on Trestle Creek road and climb to the trailheads of some of the area's most popular hiking trails. Lake Darling, Moose Lake, Lunch Peak, Trestle Peak and Mount Pend Oreille are all in reach of the day hiker. Be aware that all these trail areas are located in or near grizzly bear habitat. Know your bears, make noise on the trails and if you carry food in your backpack, make sure it's well wrapped.

Trestle Creek is named for the original railway trestle built in the 1880s by the Northern Pacific Railroad. It was the longest trestle built in their transcontinental system.

Milepost 44- Hope

Just before the community of Hope, pull off the road at a byway informational site and take a look across nine miles of lake. 15,000 years ago, this area was buried beneath a half mile of ice and snow. Here, you look directly into history at what was once Glacial Lake Missoula. 

When this ice dam gave way, and water spilled through the Clark Fork Valley in a volume greater than ten times the combined flow of all known rivers in the world, the area experienced one of the greatest geologic events of all time, shaping to this day the geography of Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Once you reach Hope, plan to spend a little while. Drive the spectacular, curving bridge on Hwy. 200 or pull to the left onto the old highway.

Just off the highway, stop for a minute to visit the "Chinese cemetery." Despite its name, this 100+ year old resting place doesn't hold graves for many of the Chinese railroad workers who helped build this town; instead, it is a final resting place for some of the original, European-descent settlers to the area. Still, records show that it is the burial spot for Lai Hong, Wung Jung, Yee Lai, Quam Tai and Chin Tuck, all born in China. 

The old highway leads to the original settlement of Hope. Stop in at Hotel Hope. The original building, built as a hotel in the late 1880s by Louis Jeannot, burned in 1886. It was rebuilt by Louis' brother, Joseph, and the building still stands today.

Recently restored by Wendell Bergman, the hotel is open as a bed and breakfast. Local chef Elissa Robbins has leased the restaurant, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And make your reservations now for a special five-course dinner featuring the wines of Walla Walla's 3 Rivers Winery.

Just down from Hotel Hope, stop and visit a historical marker for David Thompson and the Kullyspell house. An intrepid explorer and trader for the Canadian Northwest Company, Thompson reached Lake Pend Oreille in 1809. Kullyspell House, on the Hope Peninsula, was the first structure built by someone not of native descent. Thompson also built a trading post in Thompson Falls, further up the Clark Fork River.

Back to the scenic byway and you've reached three spectacular marinas; Holiday Shores, Kramer, and Sandpoint Marine Services. Here you can rent anything from a kayak to a jet ski to a powerful motorboat to explore the wonders of Lake Pend Oreille. And if you're hungry again, don't miss the experience of the lake's only floating restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, or for a leisurely Sunday brunch.

Just another mile or so down the road is the entrance to Samowen Peninsula, a wildlife preserve gifted to the state of Idaho in the early 1900s. There is a fee-based swimming area and campground here.

Milepost 48- Denton Slough

For centuries, the peaceful Kalispell called this area their home and gathered here in the fall to collect berries and hunt for wildlife to take them through the winter to come.

This area is home to lots of waterfowl; it's a favored stopping place for tundra swans and western grebe. Blue Heron can be spotted on a daily basis. 

Near the east end of the slough, the area known as the "driftyard" is important nesting sites for many local waterfowl.

Milepost 22- Clark Fork

The little town of Clark Fork is considered to be one of Idaho's "hidden gems" by its residents. Home to an eclectic mix of artists, musicians and descendents of the timber and mining men who carved this town out of the mountains, Clark Fork offers an authentic, small town experience.

Don't miss The Chair Factory gift shop with its wide variety of gifts and collectibles, many created by local artists. Just about any business in town can give you directions to one of the greatest attractions of this area - the trailhead to Scotchmans Peak, the highest mountain peak in Bonner County. What you won't find, however, are directions to the best places for picking huckleberries - those tend to be closely guarded secrets.

Leaving Clark Fork, Hwy. 200 winds alongside the Clark Fork River and slowly climbs to the Columbia Gorge Dam. Currently closed to visitors, the dam offers spectacular views of the other face of the Clark Fork River - that of rushing power generation.

Milepost 62- Montana Line

Don't stop now. The official designation as a national scenic byway may stop at the state line, but the scenery most certainly does not. For the interested driver, there's still 100 miles of travel through some of the most beautiful scenery around as you follow alongside, and cross over several times, the Clark Fork River. Look for the ubiquitous deer, and keep your eyes peeled for Big Horn Sheep between Thompson Falls and Plains.

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Sandpoint, Entertainment, travel, Clark Fork, Idaho, Hwy 200, Hope, Margie Stevens, Steve Klatt, Purcell Trench

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