By Lyndsie Kiebert
This slice of paradise we call North Idaho is often renowned for its lakes and mountains — places meant to be explored and admired. However, winter may not seem to compare to summer when it comes to recreational opportunities, and those who seek outdoor adventure during this time of year often head to Schweitzer Mountain Resort. While Schweitzer is undoubtedly the quintessential winter destination, the possibilities for recreational fun in this area are boundless.
The following are day-trip destination suggestions for cross-country skiers, snowshoers and ice skaters alike to enjoy without breaking the bank or enduring the crowds often found at resorts. This is just a taste of the places I’ve found or explored myself—other destinations and winter activity ideas can be found online with resources like visitsandpoint.com and sandpointonline.com.
Trails for cross-country skiers
Cross-country skiing happens to be a favorite pastime for Sandpoint locals, so the surrounding area offers plenty of opportunity for breaking out the poles. The following are just a few ideas for Nordic enthusiasts to explore.
For those looking to stay close to town, the Sandpoint Nordic Club regularly grooms and manages the University of Idaho Extension Campus property, located on North Boyer. Skiers can enjoy four kilometers of trail specifically for skis — a separate trail is offered for walkers and fat-tire bikers. Dogs are welcome provided the owners clean up after them, and a $3 fee is requested upon entrance to the trails, unless you have a Nordic Club membership. To learn more about this particular trail or about becoming a Sandpoint Nordic Club member, visit sandpointnordic.com.
Also great for cross-country skiers is the opportunity to explore state parks on skis. Round Lake State Park and Farragut State Park — both located less than 30 miles south of Sandpoint — both offer cross-country trails. If you don’t have an Idaho State Park Passport, which is $10 a year, it can be purchased online or at your local DMV. Or, to just enjoy one day at a state park, pay the $5 motor vehicle entry fee.
Places for snowshoers to explore
There are great opportunities to snowshoe with views of Lake Pend Oreille right in or near Sandpoint.
The Pend Oreille Bay Trail, which begins a couple blocks north of City Beach, offers lakefront views eastward toward the Cabinet Mountains. Efforts to connect the trail to the community of Ponderay are still underway, and the trail’s progress can be tracked at pobtrail.org. Those on snowshoes can enjoy the lake up close and personal on this trail.
The Mickinnick Trail offers more of an extensive trek for those looking to make a day out of it on snowshoes. The trailhead is located just north of Sandpoint on Woodland Drive and offers plenty of parking. The trail is seven miles round-trip and boasts expansive views of Lake Pend Oreille, from the Cabinet Mountains to the city of Sandpoint itself.
Snowshoers willing to venture out of Bonner County should explore a destination I recommend as a personal favorite: Ross Creek Cedars off Highway 56 in Montana. The walk takes place primarily on three to four miles of access road (depending on how heavy the snow has been), and snowshoers can choose to venture into the regular summer hiking trail at the end of the road. The pure serenity of being within the huge trees is what makes this trek special. The rugged mountains visible at certain vantage points on the road are worth stopping for a photo-op.
Sharpen your ice skate blades
Though there aren’t any indoor arenas for ice-skating in the Sandpoint area, there are still plenty of chances to practice that triple-arabesque under the blue North Idaho sky.
Sandpoint’s Third Avenue Pier is a popular spot for ice-skating, as is Sand Creek beneath the Cedar Street Bridge. The mouth of Sand Creek at City Beach can also be a great place to break out the ice skates, provided the conditions are just right.
Those willing to hop in the car can experience a more remote breed of ice skating up north in Bonners Ferry, where several small lakes — including Mirror, Smith, Brush and Robinson Lakes — freeze up a offer the perfect ice-skating winter wonderland.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making the most of winter in the area. With a tank of gas, a thermos of hot chocolate and some cold weather gear, the snow can’t keep determined recreation fiends from making memories all over the area this chilly season.
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