Road Journals Blog—Talking to people about the Old Mission  in Cataldo, Idaho, I kept hearing about the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, located across the river. It covers the 72 miles between the towns of Plummer and Mullan—passing right by the mission—and is paved for bikes and rollerblades.
I was excited to learn more, because I’d ridden a similar rails-to-trails path—the term for railbeds converted for just this purpose—the 15-mile Hiawatha Trail , also in Idaho. A highlight of that ride was the 1.6-mile-long Taft tunnel, the longest of several along the route. (“Highlight,” of course, is strictly metaphorical, as the tunnel is entirely unlit.)
I made the ride with a halogen superlight on my bike. The space is eerie; in some areas water drips loudly down the walls, getting louder as you approach, then receding behind you. Lights from other bikes come toward you from the opposite direction, giving you ghostly glimpses of riders as they pass. During the Big Burn of 1910, trains jammed with refugee women and children had hunkered in these tunnels, all holding their breaths as the fire passed over.
Excited about the new possibilities along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes , I called Adventure Cycling, a nonprofit in Missoula, Montana, to find out more. I spoke to Teri Maloughney, a veteran rider of the trail. She practically glows when she talks about it.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “You go through wetlands, forest. There’s a bike-ped bridge across Lake Coeur d’Alene, and campgrounds. The trail goes through several communities—Wallace, Kellogg—places with food, overnights, ice cream. It’s 100-percent paved, so the trail’s great for any kind of bike. You see all kinds of people—people who cycle a lot in their lycra, others in jeans and sneakers. It’s appropriate for everyone. Locals ride between towns for social occasions and for exercise. There’s scenery and wildlife.”
On her most recent trip, Maloughney brought her 10-year-old stepson.
“It’s wonderful for kids,” she said. “You go through little mining communities and by parks, so they can get off the bike, stretch and run. And there are covered shelters every five miles.”
The grade is marginal—at max, 3 percent—which is good news for a lightweight like me.
Although the area is spectacular in many ways, there is one noteworthy downside: the Coeur d’Alene River is a rehabilitated Superfund site (this is mining country, after all), so while some areas of the river are okay, mucking around in others isn’t recommended.
Its Superfund legacy is one reason locals so appreciate the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. It’s helping revitalize an area that is gorgeous but was wounded. And it does it so by being fun—for kids, and for adults who like to feel like kids.
Sounds great to me.
This blog post was first published in November 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.