Photo by Bruce N. Meyer
A 2-country, 3-state, 3-day getaway? Just the idea sounds like a lot of fun, but nothing compared to the mostly undiscovered, back roads, off-the-beaten path pleasures of driving the International Selkirk Loop.
The two countries are the U.S. and Canada and the three states are Idaho, Montana, and Washington. If you throw in British Columbia, the Canadian province you're entering, it could really be a 4-state getaway. The three days, of course, are of your choosing with the likelihood that when it's over, you'll have wanted to spend a few more days.
This fun little 280-mile scenic drive encompasses the Selkirk Mountain range of northern Idaho and British Columbia. Selkirk was a Scotsman who invested heavily in the Hudson Bay Company and established a colony in Manitoba, thus his name on this range in the northern Rockies.
We started our road trip in Coeur dAlene, Idaho, a fun destination in its own right, worthy of two or three days of exploration. We took U.S. Highway 95 north to connect with the Loop at Sandpoint, a lovely community on the banks of Lake Pend Oreille. One branch of the Selkirk Loop extends into Montana here, via Route 200. If you like, you can loop it back into the Selkirk Loop near Bonners Ferry, Idaho.
Bonners Ferry is where we stopped for lunch at the Kootenai River microbrewery. The beer was good, the barbeque marginal, but the view of the Kootenai River was fabulous. The nearby Kootenai Wildlife Refuge demanded an hour or so of our time in hopes of spotting a moose, which we did not this time around.
Crossing into Canada on the International Selkirk Loop
Just a few miles north on 95, the road splits. Highway 1 is the direct route to Canada with a tiny little border crossing. Check with your insurance carrier about driving your personal vehicle or a rental into Canada. Most of the time, there are no problems, but you may want to double check about coverage in case of accidents. And in case you've forgotten, you do need a passport to enter Canada and return to the U.S.
Staying on 95 takes you east a bit and then north, crossing into Canada at Eastgate. That's the bigger, more traveled route, one that takes you past numerous fruit stands, orchards, and farmers markets. Stop and enjoy them all, but remember that you can't take fresh produce back into the United States. But you can load up on jams, honey, wine, and cheese all around Erikson, Lister, and Creston.
Many people travel to this region because you can escape into the wilderness with just a few steps off the roadway. Canoeing and kayaking, mountain biking and hiking are prevalent throughout the region. We continued north on Highway 3A, traveling slowly on the winding road that hugs the east shore of Kootenay Lake, stopping to wade in the cool water and watch fishermen reel in their supper.
Continuing on to Boswell, we were intrigued by the Glass House, a funky little tourist attraction made entirely of square glass bottles that once contained embalming fluid. At one time it was the home of a retired undertaker, but now, it's just a place that everyone has to visit at least once while in the area.
Schedule a big portion of your getaway time in Crawford Bay. This is the end of the road, literally, on the east side of Kootenay Lake. To continue north, hiking trails connect to numerous campgrounds and remote beaches on the ever-narrowing lake.
For the less adventurous, Crawford Bay is home to a couple of dozen craft artisans whose studios are open for your viewing pleasure. Watch weavers, potters, broom makers, and other talented crafts people at work in humble, yet comfortable surroundings. Are you driving a vehicle with plenty of storage? You'll hope so after you spend a few hours in Crawford Bay. This is also a place where you might want to spend the night.
Ferry Crossing at Kootenay Lake
Crossing Kootenay Lake via ferry is one of the highlights of driving the Loop. It's a free ferry and it's always on time. During the 40-minute crossing, you're as likely to be squished in beside a logging truck as an ice cream truck. We saw both on ours.
We scooted on down to Nelson, where you'll want to spend several hours. Not as rustic as Crawford Bay, Nelson is also filled with creative artisans, art galleries, small shops, and wonderful cafes. The energy and activity on the streets belies a town of just 10,000 people. The Hume Hotel is a famous boutique hotel with a great restaurant and live music in the bar.
The west side of the Loop is not as scenic as the east side, but there continues to be great hiking and mountain biking trails, and lovely little communities like Ymir and Salmo that deserve some attention. Crossing back into the U.S. at Metaline, be on the lookout for moose, elk, and other wildlife. The Immigration and Customs officers told us they see wildlife on the road every day.
The scenery can't be beat as you follow the Pend Oreille River as it wiggles through Washington and back toward Idaho, and the conclusion of your 2-country, 3-state, 3-day getaway.
Where is your favorite road trip destination?
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