To avoid the cliché, “hidden gem” let’s call Sandpoint the unheralded jewel of Idaho’s north country. Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced pond oh ray) is the centerpiece with three mountains hugging it from the horizon. Water activities are primo on this 43-mile-long and very deep lake. It is so deep (over 1250’) that the navy performed sonar tests here.
The diminutive population of approximately 10,000 doubles and triples with tourists. The climate and lake draw summer visitors while Schweitzer Mountain Resort attracts both summer hikers and alpine lovers. It is in fact the largest ski area in Idaho. Sandpoint is laid back for those who want to get away from it all and enjoy the nature which abounds.
Town revenues are a 50/50 mixture of tourism and business with several key industrial leaders, aeronautical aircraft manufacturer Quest, Litehouse Foods of salad dressing fame and Wildwood Grilling for smoked salmon planking. Locals and visitors alike enjoy the eclectic downtown shopping area, a smorgasbord of quaint shops and restaurants where last winter a mother moose and calf were spotted window shopping as they wandered down main street. Main street leads to the lakefront with a walkway across from the train station which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The tracks still hum as the trains chug by.
Not to take a backseat to the area’s activity menu is the golfing venue at The Idaho Club. Jack Nicklaus’ design is in perfect harmony with the natural terrain. Nothing is forced or gimmicky here. The fairways ebb and flow with the forested landscape. A single hole may well display oak, birch, cedar, pine and fir trees along with a bouquet of wild flowers. The Pack River flows throughout the course with high meadow lakes and ponds reflecting the beauty of the wilderness. Forced carries over water and large granite outcroppings enhance the beauty from the tee boxes. The layout calls for demanding swings, but fair navigation delivers shot values. The greens are endlessly varied in size, shape and contouring. Wildlife is prevalent with moose sightings as portended by the moose shaped tee markers.
New ownership means evolution as The Idaho Club is constructing a marina and lake club. Attractive homes are strategically built around the course without being intrusive and more lots are available for discerning families. The semi-private golf club will also open a new clubhouse around Labor Day which will complement the quality of golf. Jeff Gode, formerly on the PGA tour and then on the La Quinta staff was an owner here and now passionately represents the course and community which reflects the full majesty of Idaho. A nest of eagles beside the first tee oversees the operations.
When activities have taken their mortal toll, Sleep’s Cabins along the shore of Lake Pend Oreille is ideal for R&R. Our Cabin 31 was a dream lake cottage comfortably sleeping ten, full of nostalgia, antiques and historical artifacts all displayed in such a homey way. The history reflected is that of the area and three generations of the Sleep family carrying on the hospitality of Grandma Sleep who was also the first probate judge of Idaho. Owners are now Grandson Brent, a builder and his wife Tawnie. They tirelessly keep the place manicured outside and as sweet as can be inside. All of Grandma’s perennials are still blooming – iris, lilacs, asters, even lilies of the valley. Multiple Sleep’s Cabins have paths leading down to the common dock on the water where guests may drink their coffee as dawn awakens the lake or sip their wine at sunset, perhaps engaging with other guests and moving on to the lakeside firepit or an inside fireplace. Kayaks lean invitingly against one cabin wall. Relax, row, whatever your moment’s desire deems. Bald headed eagles watched over us while there, whistling to one another. The saying, “If you’re lucky enough to be at the lake, you’re lucky enough” just may have been thought of here on Lake Pend Oreille, residing in Sleep’s Cabins.
Go for a nice lakeside meal at Trinity at City Beach by crossing Street Bridge from downtown. Owner Justin Dick leases the space from the adjoining Best Western. He brought in two chefs from New Mexico who like to mix up the fine American cuisine adding green chilis here and there. Before or after, hit the beach or stroll the sidewalk around the lake shore to the marina. Let your inner child sit on the swing set and fly to and fro overlooking the water for a natural high. Music festivals are a big draw on the long beach front the first and second weekends of August starring the likes of Jackson Brown and Kool and the Gang. Fans are allowed to BYOB. Or Trinity at City Beach of course has a full bar and more live music events.
Forty One South restaurant, connected to the Lodge at Sandpoint is in walking distance of Sleep’s Cabins. The dining patio is perched overlooking the lake activities and Schweitzer Mountain beyond. Be wowed by starting with a Spicy Mango Marg-tini and order the walnut crusted halibut, ribeye or street tacos. Service and a wide variety of cuisine are top rated so make a reservation early for this popular venue.
Early birds seeking breakfast must flock to the only place open before 7, The Hoot Owl. And it is a hoot with antique charms and adages on the walls for all. The food, coffee and service are good too.
Sandpoint has been awarded America’s Most Beautiful Small Town in a contest by USA Today and Rand McNally. It is also touted as The Best Place to Retire. We discovered that scenic Sandpoint is a fantastic place to retreat from the hustle and bustle for hiking, laking (sure it’s a verb), kicking back and golfing.