Road trip to Idaho/Montana..theme park, ghost towns, silver mines, a bordello!

Idaho and Montana…Beautiful country

In this post, I hope to provide insight into what our family feels is a great experience for history-appreciating folks looking to do a U.S. road trip, specifically from a western Canadian’s point of view – complete with total, CAD prices. Let’s fire it up and roll out!

 Silverwood Theme park

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The ultimate theme park!

Idaho offers lots of cool stuff to do, and a highlight for us was Silverwood Theme park. It’s in Athol, northern Idaho, about half way between Sandpoint and Couer d’ Alene, 7-ish hours of straight driving from Calgary.

As the biggest theme park in the Northwest, it’s a 2 headed monster…one side called Silverwood, full of scary-fast roller coasters, kiddie rides, and everything in between.

The other side is a mammoth water park called Boulder Beach, with two wave pools, a lazy river (with float-up bar😜), tube rides that hold up to 7 people, and other super fun rides. You get access to both and can come and go as you please, nice touch, and both sides offer activities for all ages.

In my opinion, if it’s one thing Americans do better than anyone, it’s theme parks, and Silverwood is no exception. This part of Idaho boasts fantastic, 30 plus degree Celcius weather and sun pretty much all summer. Perfect for a water park.

They serve Margaritas by the pool if you prefer to sit and hang out listening to the Beach Boys on their 50’s-60’s rock n’ roll playlist. They create this amazing, good-vibration atmosphere that makes you feel you’re in Eisenhower’s America, instead of Trumps’.

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One of two wave pools.

Having been there 4 times, We have found you need 2 days for Silverwood/Boulder Beach to do it up right, and they make it a better deal to get 2 day passes online. Like any theme park, there is line ups at Silverwood, but compared to Disney, they are minor!

You’re allowed to bring your own food too, although they have fast food there as well, like quesadillas, burgers, chicken, fries, ice cream, drinks, et cetera. They have food stands in the water park, and the ride side has sit down restaurants as well.

The food prices are actually pretty reasonable, which is nice considering our Canuck dollar’s pathetic state right now. I recommend getting there right when they open to get loungers…but if you do get there later, no big deal, there’s lots of space to sit on the grass. There is lockers there that take coins, bills, or plastic.

Total cost for 2 day passes online, for a family of 4 (Two adults, two teens 13 and 15 yrs old) came to $455 CAD (@ $1.35 exchange rate). Parking is $5 USD/car. www.silverwood.com

Ride the Hiawatha Trail

One of the many trestles, whatta view!

This was an extremely fun bike ride! It’s located just off the I-90, at the Idaho/Montana border. The trail is an abandoned rail bed built in the early 20th century, 17 miles of slightly-downhill (2% grade) bike path that goes down the mountain.

You’ll pass through nine tunnels, the longest being 1.7 miles long! It takes you over trestles, with beautiful scenery as you gradually wind down the mountain. It’s an easy ride, albeit bumpy at times due to gravel .

Your butt will be sore by the end of it, although they offer “comfort ride” bikes for an extra charge. Not sure if they help, I never tried that. You can rent bicycles (complete with headlights for the pitch black tunnels), and helmets. Or bring your own stuff.

They provide either a 5-place hitch mounted bike rack ( with adapter if needed for the smaller hitch tube) or a roof mounted rack for cars, for transporting them the 5 miles from the Lookout Pass ski lodge where you pay and get the bikes/equipment, to Roland Trailhead, where the trail actually starts.

You’ll start at the top, or you can skip the 1.7 mile long Taft Tunnel, but I wouldn’t, it’s a highlight) and when you get to the bottom a shuttle will take you back up to where your car is. Or you can park at the bottom, bike up and down it if you are a competent biker!

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The tunnels can be pitch black, cold and damp.

I recommend bringing a backpack with water, food, et cetera.  Total cost for 2 adults, 2 teens, basic bikes, helmets, shuttle and the passes cost us $288 CAD (@ $1.35 exchange rate). Get there first thing if possible, because they can run out of rental stuff, also it gets busier and hotter as the days goes on.

It took us about 5 hours in total with shuttle, et cetera, stopping lots for pics, food, water, all that jazz. It runs from May 26 to September 23 (2018 dates).

Wallace, Idaho – A sweet little town, with a risky history

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Must stop here! Awesome history

After leaving The Hiawatha Trail, we were cruising down I-90 and noticed a fascinating-looking little town nestled between the mountains called Wallace…something drew us to it so we Googled it, and pulled in. What an amazing old town! Population 784.

Known as the Silver capital of the world, brought about by silver mining in the 1880’s. It’s one of many towns that were wiped out repeatedly by fire, which is why so many building are brick.

This is a charming, friendly town! I walked the streets in the evening, taking in the atmosphere and architecture of the homes, and no less than three locals struck up a conversation with me, while they sat on their front porches. Great people. One guy invited me in to check out the original woodwork on his old house, you just don’t see that trust often anymore, it’s nice.

This town has a micro brewery  (try the Huckleberry Shandy), some fantastic restaurants (we loved the 1313 Club Historic Saloon & Grill ), and interesting shops.

Wallace has a couple hotel/motels, we stayed at the Brooks Inn, it was a decent stay, although no wifi and the inside has been unfortunately modernized…nothing to write home about but a place to sleep. Next time I’d look in to AirBnB/VRBO, or the Stardust Motel.

Here’s two highlights of Wallace:

 Sierra Silver Mine Tour

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One of the extremely loud tools used in the mine. They demonstrate! Can you see the ghosts in this pic (blue dots)?

This 130 year old Silver mine is a great tour. I highly recommend it. The people who operate these tours are some of the nicest folks you’ll meet, and they do it because they love their town and the people in it.

The fellow who did our tour was a miner most of his life, and man, did he have stories to tell that will send shivers up your spine.

Bring warm clothes if you get cold easily, it’s a brisk 10 degrees Celcius or so in the mine. It cost us $65 CAD for 2 adults and two kids under 16. Open 7 days a week from May 1st to October 15th. It’s about 1 hour and 15 minutes long. www.silverminetour.org

 Oasis Bordello Museum

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Bigger inside than it looks!

This was a brothel with one hell of a story to tell. It ran from the early days until 1988, when one day word came the Feds were coming to town, so the girls left in a hurry. The entire upstairs (where the “work” was done) is exactly as it was on that day in 1988, stuck in time…including groceries left on the counter!

Talk about a throwback…you can easily picture what it was like, with men lined up all the way down the stairs and outside the door on a typical evening. Keep in mind, prostitution was illegal in Idaho!

The Madam was a smart cookie though, she donated generously to the town’s schools and other folks, who kept their mouth shut…including the sheriff.

The local miners’ patronage kept it running as a very profitable business all those years. You won’t believe how much the girls worked and how much money that place made!

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Playing for the ladies at the Oasis’s downstairs bar.

The downstairs was a bar. You can well imagine it was a rockin’ place back in the day! Now a museum, they do tours every half hour, from 10-5 daily. For us it cost $26 CAD for family of 4, or $5USD/person. Website: zjdarrah.wixsite.com 

Wallace’s website: www.wallace-id.com

Amazingly well preserved ghost town…Garnet

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Lots of buildings, some original, some recreated.

Known as Montana’s best preserved ghost town! It’s located northeast of Missoula, MT. There is about 11 miles of gravel road to get there, but well worth the trip. It’s named after the ruby colored stone found in the area. Home to over 1,000 people in 1898, due to the gold rush, with miners moving north from tapped-out California and Colorado mines.

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Well preserved!

Thanks to the wonderful folks who are the non-profit Garnet Preservation Association, the town is being lovingly kept up, as best as they can – buildings in a mining town generally weren’t built to last. Some are recent recreations, they add to the experience. The highlight for us was the Hotel, incredibly well preserved and still has some furnishings, it’s like hauntingly stepping back in time walking through it.

Entrance fee is only $3 USD/person if you’re 16 or older, open year round 9:30-4:30. www.garnetghosttown.org

Philipsburg, Montana – Historical gem of a town

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A beautiful, oozing-with-history town.

The wonderful Garnet tour guide suggested we head south from Garnet and visit Philipsburg. Located a few minutes off of I-5, southeast of Missoula. Population is estimated at 920.

Ever been to a place that has a positive feel to it, a good vibe, almost a familiarity to it? That is how this place felt. This historically rich town came to be because of the sapphires found nearby in the 1870’s. It’s chock full of cool old buildings, overflowing with history and that lovely old-building-smell. We enjoyed just walking around in the evening, looking at the old houses and stores.

We liked it so much we decided to stay there at the incredibly resurrected Kaiser house, the nice folks who own it did a great job of keeping the old look and feel while having modern amenities. There’s a deck off the street side of the room where you can sit and gaze at the quiet town.

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The beautiful, restored Kaiser house. Fun stay!

Phillipsberg also boasts a candy store called The Sweet Palace that has to be seen to be believed…we’re talking over 1,000 kinds of candy and chocolate…we walked out of there with a ridiculous amount!

Like Wallace, the town is big enough that there’s restaurants, a microbrewery, hotels, VRBO’s, everything you need.

www.visitphillipsburg.com

To sum up…

There’s much more to do in this part of the U.S., I hope this entices you to go out and experience them. We have found the people to be so kind, friendly, helpful, and patriotic…it’s interesting as a Canadian to see how many American flags are flying.

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Beautiful old 3 story architecture, American style.

It’s a crazy sight as a Canuck to see quads, dirt bikes, and side-by-sides ripping down the streets in Montana. The weather is pretty consistent and warm in the summer (unlike central Alberta!) and the Interstates are fast and smooth for the most part.

Being able to legally cruise at 130 KMH in some parts of  Montana is pretty sweet! Some of the highways are pretty twisty and make for a fun experience, with great scenery.

We found fuel to average .90 cents/litre, still cheaper than up here even factoring in the low dollar ($1.30 CAD for a U.S. buck as of summer 2018).

One other thing we’ve found, is to try and book AirBNB as much as possible, staying this way has always been a great experience and really adds to the trip. Every single home we stayed at was fantastic, unlike some of the hotels, many of which were overpriced and boring.

Did I miss anything? Message me! Thanks for checking this out. Happy trails!

Fortune favours the bold,

Jeff Rallison