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Finding the Unexpected on a Road Trip in Wallace, Idaho

A family stumbles upon Wallace, ID, only to find that it’s the perfect road trip destination

All photos courtesy of Wallace Chamber

Our family has been coming to Wallace for years now—for a quick stop, an overnight stay or days at a time. But our first visit there was by chance.

We had never been to Idaho before, when we came upon the town ten miles west of the Montana line just off I-90. It looked so charming, like a town out of a Norman Rockwell painting. We decided to pull over and take a look.

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Drawn in

We had a bit of luck, arriving in mid-June.  The downtown was closed off to vehicular traffic for a street carnival, complete with rides, live music and street vendors. We learned later that on any given weekend from May to October, a visitor was bound to run into one of the many festivals held there.

HQ for that event, Gyro Days, was the Northern Pacific Railroad Depot Museum. The kids loved the place—two floors of exhibits including model trains, station bell and 1910 era telephone and telegraph that still worked.

The docents there gave us an earful about Wallace, as well as maps and guides to the dozens of restaurants, breweries, hotels and attractions—nearly all within walking distance.

But the coolest part—since all of Wallace was on the National Register—not a one of the businesses was part of a national chain. They were all locally owned and operated.

We had driven practically the whole of America, which was and is more and more homogenized every day, but this little town had kept its unique character. We fell in love with Wallace right then and there.

Our docents said the best way to see Wallace was by foot, so off we went. First stop was the Wallace Coffee House. Talk about unexpected. Any coffee served any way you’d like it in a major metropolitan area, but right there in this restored 1890s building.

The greeter was Scarlet, the border collie belonging to the owners.  It was there we learned another of Wallace’s charms—it’s super dog friendly.

After coffee, hot chocolates and conversation, Scarlet “introduced” us to our second canine ambassador, Daisy, the golden retriever who minded the store next door—Wallace’s Silver Streak Zipline.

“Come on in,” Val, the gal behind the desk told us. “That Daisy gets everyone in the door.” Val said Silver Streak had a dozen different zip lines and family rates. That did the trick.

Up we went on the two-mile drive to the ziplines, passing through gorgeous forest and meadow with spectacular views of valley, river and canyon. I’ll just say this, seeing our kids and later our parents on those lines, laughing, screaming and having the time of their lives—it was worth every penny.

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Stay awhile

From what the docents and zip line guides told us, there was still plenty more to see and do in town. We decided to get a room and spend the night. We had our choice of a dozen hotels, motels and vacation home rentals, but on that first trip we picked the Wallace Inn.

Plenty of amenities there, including modern rooms, year-round heated pool and jacuzzi, but here’s what sold it for us— shuttle service for cyclists.

You see Wallace is home base for Idaho’s only hall of fame rails to trails—the Route of the Hiawatha, and the 72-mile-long Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.

While we unpacked and showered, the folks at the front desk set up our Hiawatha excursion for the next day.  By then we were starving and were ready to eat.

But where to go? The visitor guide listed a dozen local eateries. Everything from to burgers and fries affairs to gourmet dining with in-house sommeliers.  It was the ginormous sized image of a burger from the Blackboard Café that brought us to their door.

What a find. Burgers and sandwiches to die for, with one whole side of the restaurant a blackboard covered in playful chalk images and of quotes from famous foodies.

The portions were so large we couldn’t finish them.  Owners Rob & Luanne Wuerfel suggested we work off the meal on the nearby Pulaski Trail.  “It’s incredible,” LuAnne said. A well-marked and signed trail in the forest along Placer Creek, multiple waterfalls and plenty of history about the Great Fire of 1910.

“They can tell you all about it next door, “Luanne said, “over at the museum.”  We told her we had been to a museum earlier, but she stopped us and smiled.  “That was the depot museum. We have two more museums here.”

Three museums in one little town?  But given our marching orders we trooped inside the Wallace Mining Museum. There we hit the motherlode.  Among the treasure trove of exhibits on Wallace’s mining history, we found the story of the Great Fire of 1910 and Ranger Ed Pulaski. How he saved his crew of 40 plus men from being incinerated in that blaze that claimed 80 lives and burnt three million acres in 36 hours—still the largest wild land fire in U.S. History.

We could have spent days in there. What we didn’t have to spend was money. The price of admission, just a smile. (Donations are encouraged though. We left $20.00 in their donation box—and it was a bargain).

Once out the door we noticed the San Francisco style trolley cruising by. Turns out the trolley is the conveyance for the Sierra Silver Mine Tour. We followed it to the Tour’s office and gift shop, booking an excursion for the whole family. The trolley took us on a loop around town, through the wide avenues, grand old homes and stately downtown buildings.

Then it was up to the mine. Rusty, a long-time hard rock miner now retired, was our guide. We passed through a side cut in a mountain, through tunnels tall and well lit enough for us to feel comfortable. There he demonstrated large drills and ore haulers and showed us the veins of silver in the rock.

 The whole experience took an hour and fifteen minutes, but it gave us a lifetime worth of understanding of the risks and rewards underground miners faced and still face today.

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Many happy returns

The next day our shuttle from the Wallace Inn was ready for us. They had arranged the bike rentals, passes, lights and lunch for what we found would be the ride of our lives—the Route of the Hiawatha.

We’ve since taken family and friends multiple times on this adventure. It is simply, incredible. 15 miles all downhill along the once Milwaukee Passenger Rail. Through train tunnels, and over high wooden trestles—some 200’ off the ground, all in the midst of unspoiled forest. One word. Amazing. Once at the bottom of the hill, there was shuttle service to take us back to the top of the mountain.

We’ve since been to Wallace every season of the year and for nearly every festival. We’ve skied the two nearby resorts, rocked out at the blues festival in July and gone on the historic home and churches tour in the fall. We’ve cycled and hiked the trails, gone fishing in the many nearby lakes and streams and enjoyed quiet walks through Wallace’s tree lined neighborhoods and along rippling town streams.

Chance first brought us to Wallace. Its charm keeps us coming back.

Festivals

Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter. Pick a season or a reason and there’s a festival or Event in Wallace. For more details on all these events visit our Wallace Idaho Chamber Facebook page or website, wallaceidahochamber.com.

February

Extreme Ski- Jor. Snow Beast Grand Prix Presidents Day Weekend. Billed as the "Wildest Event in the Rockies" ATVs tow skiers and snowboarders down snow packed downtown Wallace street course for prizes and the sheer fun of it. In Mullan that same weekend racers on motorized SnowBikes and Vintage Snowmobiles have two separate grand prix style events. SkiWallace Facebook and skiwallace.com

April/May

Craft Beer Pub Crawl Wallace celebrates Idaho Craft Beer Month with dozens of the Northwest craft brews in over a  dozen  downtown venues. Souvenir glasses, trolley rides, live music and loads of fun.  Third Saturday in April. Details wallaceidahochamber.com (208)753-7151

Depot Day Car Show Wallace kicks off the Summer Festival Season with Depot Day.  Mix hundreds of classic cars on display all over Wallace Streets, vendor booths, kids’ events, a beer garden featuring local micro brews as well as live music, real dancing in the streets and yes, more.  Always the Saturday before Mother’s Days. (208) 752-0111 npdepot.org

June

Gyro Days & Lead Creek Derby It’s BBQs, a radiothon,  a carnival with midway rides and concessions right smack in the middle of Wallace -- all capped off with the Lead Creek Derby Saturday afternoon. Win a pot of cash if you guess correctly how long it takes a giant multicolored leather ball to bob down the river from Mullan to Wallace. Folks line the river the entire seven mile route.  All proceeds raised go towards local scholarships. Dean Cooper at [email protected]

Jeep Jamboree J For twenty years Jeep Jamboree enthusiasts have been coming to Wallace and Mullan for 3 days worth of guided rides and special events.. Set the third week in June. Details at https://jeepjamboreeusa.com/trip/silver-valley/

July

Statehood Parade July 3. Ring in Idaho and America’s birthdays with a big parade down the town’s main drag. Info at wallaceidahochamber.com

Wallace Blues Festival July. This is one not to miss. Bluesmen, (and women) from around the country draw huge crowds, packing Wallace, partying and dancing in the streets. Always the second weekend in July  wallacebluesfestival.com

Art N Gardens Stroll through Wallace’s historic residential district to view creations of both artists and nature Third Saturday in July. Details at Artswallace.com

ATV Jamboree  ATV and UTV enthusiasts come to Wallace for a week's worth of riding among the 1,000 plus trails and beauty of North Idaho's Bitterroot Mtns. Always the third week in July. [email protected]

August

CdA Mining District Competiton. Come see what it takes to wrest mother nature’s treasure from deep underground, as miners from around the West compete in these tests of skill in the world’s richest silver district. Largest mining contest purse in the country. Always the first Saturday in August in Osburn. Guy Sande [[email protected]]

Accordion Jubilee. Players from around the country flood Wallace for another dancing in the streets event. Nothing says fun like an accordion. Second weekend in August. Jamie Baker at 208.556.0575 or 509.435.3005

Huckleberry Festival & 5K Walk/Run and Jeep Jamboree Celebration of all things Huckleberry. Live music, dancing in the streets, raffles, Huckleberry pancake breakfasts, street vendors, kids’ activities on the depot lawn, a dunk tank plus a 5K walk and run. Home of one of the largest Jeep Festivals in the Northwest, sponsored by Dave Smith Motors. Third weekend in August. 208.290.7183 [email protected]

September

Under the Freeway Flea Market.  Hundreds of vendors ply their wares in the protected open air space underneath I-90 and on the Depot Grounds. Plus live music, kids’ games and more. Stroll from booth to booth and enjoy river, mountain and town scape. Always Labor Day Weekend (208)752-0111 npdepot.org

Center of the Universe Re-Dedication.  Wallace celebrates its wit and whimsy on the anniversary weekend of the night in 2004 it itself the Probable Center of the Universe. The event promises an official toast, reading of the 2004 Proclamation, Command Performance of the Wallace Elks Lodge Drum & Bugle Corps, and special appearances by the Prime Minister of Wallace, the Last Stop Light on Interstate 90 and the Burgher Meister, Meister Burger... of the Universe.

October/November/December

Fall for History A gala celebration of Wallace’s history and its designation as entirely listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Speakers, historic home and museum tours, live theater reenactments and more. Always the first week in October.  wallaceidahochamber.com

Brat Fest It’s the chamber’s annual live auction dance party fund raiser with brats, beer and music. “Bearded Maidens” a.k.a dudes in drag with drinks and compete for tips. The first Saturday in November. Details on Facebook and wallaceidahochamber.com

Retro Christmas Festival Enjoy lighting of the streets and historic buildings, crafts fair, the Winter Walk, gingerbread contest, parades and downtown merchants specials. Always the first two weekends in December. wallaceidahochamber.com

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