Trip Report: Coeur d'Alene River - Aug 28, 2021, 380 cfs
Coeur d'Alene River - Emptying the Nest
Submitted by Steve Herring
It's the last weekend in August and my wife Cindy and I are taking our daughter to college in Spokane. This is a big moment in our lives because we'll officially be empty nesters on Monday. So then what? Do more boating of course!
Why drive all the way to Spokane just to drop someone off and then come home? What a waste of the last August weekend. Cindy suggested we make it a long weekend in nearby Coeur d'Alene and naturally I started researching places to start our next life chapter of empty-nest boating.
Of course there is no water in the Spokane River or any of the usual Northern Idaho rivers but there are lots of lakes around Coeur d'Alene so we took the canoe with us and headed out for adventure.
Sitting in the hotel with my laptop I see that locals often inner tube the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River. I figured if there was enough water for an inner tube then there might be enough water for a canoe. It's an aluminum canoe so no problem if we have to drag it across some gravel bars.
Of course the other thing I do before running a new river is call our club president, Scott Harvey, to get the beta. Turns out Scott's never been on the Coeur d'Alene River so that makes two rivers I ran this summer that Scott hasn't done. Stay tuned for November's newsletter to read about the other one.
Anyway, the next morning we drove up to Enaville, crossed over the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene, and drove up the North Fork to check the water level. The answer was "no". There were numerous pools separated by gravel bars which would be more dragging than we wanted to do. But, maybe if we find a spot below the confluence of the north and south forks there would be enough water. The answer to that was "yes"! We found a wide spot in the road and slid the canoe down to the water.
But what about getting back to the car? Over a hundred years ago the Union Pacific built a railroad in the Silver Valley to support the mining industry. Today that right-of-way is the 73-mile long Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, one of the best rails-to-trails in the country, and paved the entire way. It pretty much follows the entire length of the South Fork and mainstem of the Coeur d'Alene River. Good thing I brought my bicycle.
Back on the water, the 6-mile stretch we did was pretty pristine. It begins with a number of RVs along the right side on private land, and the road is on the left for the first mile. After that there are few signs of civilization.
About 3/4 of a mile from the takeout the river passes under an old railroad bridge which is now the bike route. That's also where we were startled by the moose, happily munching away on green grass and staying cool on our 90-degree day.
The takeout is on the right just before the East Canyon Road bridge near the I-90 Cataldo interchange. The flow that day at Cataldo was 308 cfs.
The river has enough water that we never scraped bottom. There are enough riffles along the way to remind you this is an actual river and not a lake, but nothing you would call a rapid.
This turned out to be a perfect way to get away from it all in North Idaho, a world away from the motorized zoo that is Lake Coeur d'Alene.
The perfect way to end such a day is back in Enaville, at the famous Snake Pit bar where the beer is cold and the Rocky Mountain oysters taste like chicken. Seriously, the next time you're driving along I-90 in Idaho, you need to visit the Snake Pit. My first visit there was 35 years ago and it hasn't changed a bit.
So what would we do differently next time? Explore the lower 30 miles of the river all the way down to Lake Coeur d'Alene. Below the boat ramp at Old Mission State Park the fishermen I talked to said there is great fishing and not even a riffle. The map shows a number of small lakes, some of which are accessible from the river itself. Speaking of maps, this one is perfect: https://naturalatlas.com/rivers/coeur-dalene-797050
What else would we do differently? Bring our kids, we miss them already.
Photos by Steve Herring and Cindy Layport