Coeur d’Alene Lake Is a World of Adventure

Jackie McNeel / A scene near the Old Mission at Cataldo, one of many attractions worth visiting in Coeur d'Alene tribal territory in Idaho.

Jack McNeel

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe is proud of its territory in incredibly scenic northern Idaho, and wants visitors

Northern Idaho, including the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, is incredibly scenic. Coeur d’Alene Lake, the second largest lake in Idaho, has a shoreline stretching 109 miles, with many bays and beaches, and the southern portion is within the reservation. Mountains surround the reservation and are thickly forested with a variety of conifers, including pine, fir, spruce and hemlock, plus deciduous trees like birch and mountain maple. Tribal headquarters are located just to the west of the lake. Small farms, interspersed with timber, cover the rolling hills of the reservation. Elk, deer, and moose are frequently seen.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has won awards for environmental stewardship and now is working to share the beauty of their lands with ever more visitors. The tribe has been actively promoting tourism since the Coeur d’Alene Resort and Casino were built in the late 1990s, continuing with the Circling Raven Golf Course, which opened in 2003. Ramping up tourism promotion, tribal officials have begun meeting weekly to organize plans for both the near and more distant future.

This year will be devoted largely to offering tourism packages on a local level to see what interest it generates, then moving forward in the future to attract more international travelers, said Quanah Matheson, who heads up cultural activities for the tribe.

“We want to connect people to our history, landscape, and to our people, with stories, language, songs and dances, and the cultural landscape,” he said. “How we’re connected to the lake, mountains and valley, but we also want them to have fun.”

Dee Dee McGowan, tribal sales manager for the cultural tourism program, is traveling to various conferences, from Reno to Washington, D.C. to promote these packages.

“People will have the option of putting together a package that meets their interests,” McGowan said. “Many options will be available and more added as plans develop. Visitors may be taken out to dig camas and other plants, or perhaps a trip into the mountains to pick huckleberries, another important plant for the tribe. There are many possibilities, including fishing, canoeing, rafting and biking.”

The resort, casino and golf course are just 25 miles south of the town of Coeur d’Alene. The town is not on the reservation but was named for the tribe. It’s the largest town in northern Idaho and the center of a major tourism industry. That industry alone employs more than 10,000 people in northern Idaho. The tribe hopes to not only increase income to the tribe but also to educate people about the Coeur d’Alene culture in all its various aspects.

Several expansions have been made to the resort since it first opened. There are now 300 rooms along with nine restaurants and bars, and the casino has been expanded to 60,000 square feet of gaming machines. Exterior changes have also been made, but the teepee-shaped entrance remains, and visitors are delighted with the large lobby made of stone and logs, with a cheery fire in the fireplace.

The many possibilities, be they cultural, recreational, historical or just plain fun, make the Coeur d’Alene Reservation is a great vacation destination for locals, indigenous people, or those from distant countries. Visitors from around the world can arrive by air at Spokane International Airport, less than an hour from the reservation. The tribe owns a number of buses, so transportation from Spokane is easy.

Matheson is deeply involved in developing not only cultural activities but also trips of various types. Visitors can bike along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, beginning near tribal headquarters and serving as both a biking and walking trail. It runs for 73.2 miles, nearly to the Montana border, with numerous trail heads and picnic areas. The first 14.5 miles is within the reservation and managed by the tribe. It’s one of the more popular biking trails in the western states.

Slightly less strenuous but no less fun would be a nature walk, a fishing trip or a visit to a nearby buffalo herd where you can view the animals, hear of their historical importance, and top off the educational experience with with a bison burger. Or visit the Old Mission at Cataldo, the oldest standing building in Idaho, built by Coeur d’Alene tribal members. The mission’s ceiling, rubbed with huckleberry juice during construction, carries a purple hue. It was finished in 1853, 37 years before Idaho became a state.

The Coeur d’Alene Resort and Casino are central to tourism, but Circling Raven Golf Course also plays a major role. Circling Raven Golf Course was named for a long-ago spiritual leader of the same name. This mythical figure was able to talk with the raven, who predicted that Catholic priests, in their black robes, would arrive and forever change the way of life for the Schitsu’umsh people, the indigenous name for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. The golf course has received many awards from the day it opened and has made several golfing magazines’ Top 100 lists since opening in 2008. It has now received a Gold Medal ranking on Trip Advisor. Other awards include Merchandiser of the Year for their clubhouse from the PGA of America and Best Resort Golf Shop in America.

“Circling Raven has done a great job displaying the reservation to a visitor in a way the tribe really likes,” said Tom Davidson, the tribe’s director of golf. “It’s kind of a celebration of nature. People experience the land and terrain, and it makes a significant impact when they play the course because it’s much different than most courses, the isolation and serenity. It’s built on a huge footprint you would seldom see elsewhere.”

The 620-acre course includes 110 acres of turf, dwarfing most courses, which tend to be well under 150 acres, he said. Prices usually range from $80 to $95, including carts with the latest in technology.

“When you’re on a fairway you can’t see golfers on other fairways,” he said. “There are no houses in sight. Wildlife sightings are relatively common and can include such animals as elk and bear, cougar, deer and even moose.”

This story was originally published May 22, 2017.