When you hear the word summer vacation, do you think lounging by a pool or zip lining in northern Idaho? Every summer, my husband and I pack our three boys into a VW Westfalia van and head out on the road for 2-3 weeks of adventure. This summer took us from our home in California to the Pacific North West. From river rafting to mountain biking, zip lining to obstacle course climbing, here are four fun family activities in Northern Idaho you’ll want to add to your next vacation list!
Summer Family Fun in Idaho
With three boys ranging in age from 8 to 13, we’re always looking for fun active adventures to try out on our travels. Whether you’re in the Gem State itself or neighboring Washington, Montana or Canada (all so close to the Idaho panhandle!), here are four of our favorites fun family activities in Northern Idaho. Not headed to Idaho? You can find many similar types of these same summer activities all over the U.S.!
Biking The Hiawatha Trail
The Route of the Hiawatha is an all-ages, no-mountain-biking-experienced-needed, 15-mile bike ride on a repurposed transcontinental railway. One of only 15 trails in the country designated as a “Hall of Fame” trail, the Hiawatha takes you across 7 sky-high trestles and through 10 train tunnels. The most famous is the Taft Tunnel, a 1.66-mile long, pitch black tunnel right at the start of the ride! (Bike lights are included when you rent!) The trail is almost entirely flat or gently downhill so adults can coast much of the trail. However younger, lighter kids may find that they still have to pedal. The views are stunning, interpretive signs along the trail tell the story of the railroad’s rise and fall, and wildlife sightings like deer, squirrels and even bears are common.
This truly is an all-ages activity. I saw everyone from toddlers in bike trailers to adults of all shapes and ages – including a 75-year woman (and she was riding UP the trail!) Bring your own bike or rent one when you buy trail passes at the Lookout Pass Ski Area. Unless you’re planning on riding back up the trail (which many people do!), you’ll also want a shuttle pass. Pack snacks or a picnic lunch to enjoy along the trail or order that too at Lookout Pass. A fun way to take in the views, learn about the railroad history, and burn off some pent up energy.
Travel Tip: The longer tunnels are cold (45°F year-round) and wet so bring layers and plan on getting dirty since the bikes don’t have fenders. A post-ride change of clothes recommended. Be sure to save snacks for the shuttle line because waiting is always easier with something to munch on.
Tree to Tree Adventure Park Obstacle Course
After too many hours in the van, we had the chance to stop and explore the Idaho Tree to Tree Adventure Park in Farragut State Park. Only open for its second summer, it was one of the best ropes my kids and I have done! The self-guided tour offers four different sections of increasingly difficult obstacles – from simple log walks and rope bridges to rope swings, net climbs, and sky-high skateboard rides!
Obstacles courses are a great way to build family morale, challenge your kids, and show them what you can do too! The main course takes about 2-3 hours and is designed for those 10+years (though the real test is being able to reach 5’11” flatfooted). Tree to Tree Idaho also offers an hour-long Kids Course for littles 6-9 years. Book online or check out their other locations in Cape May, New Jersey, Bolton Landing, New York and Portland, Oregon.
Travel Tip: If you’re climbing with younger kids, space out adults before and after the youngest to provide assistance clipping in and out if needed. Not up for the whole challenge? You can get off the course at the end of any section.
Summer Fun at Schweitzer Ski Resort
Ski resorts are a great summer stop for fun family activities in Northern Idaho too! Schweitzer Mountain in Northern Idaho is the state’s largest ski resort with 2900 acres of terrain and an average of 300″ of annual snowfall! After the snow melts though, the mountain trails become a web of intermediate and advanced mountain biking trails to explore. Kids of all ages will love the Ultimate Fun Pass that gives them unlimited trips on the zip line, climbing wall, trampoline jumper and chair lift plus one bag of gems to sluice. Don’t worry about missing out on the fun – adults can zip, climb and jump too! Arrive by 11am when the activities open to get the most out of the pass.
Challenge your teen to a round of disc golf on the mountain. Take advantage of the free oversized chess and checkers sets. Pack your own picnic lunch to save money or enjoy the yummy family fare at Chimney Rock Grill. Ride the lift to the top of the mountain to enjoy a glass of wine at the Sky House and stunning views of Lake Pend Oreille. With lots of activity options to choose from, Schweitzer Resort is a great way to spend a summer day of family fun!
Travel Tip: Schweitzer offers lots of free activities for families too! Hike the Nature Trail to the summit. Pick huckleberries around the resort. Play lawn games or enjoy the amazing play structure with a view!
Whitewater River Rafting the Salmon River
Looking for a really adventurous family activity in Northern Idaho? Idaho is home to some of the country’s most beautiful and sought-after rivers for family rafting trips. This summer, my family spent six days rafting the Main Fork of the Salmon River that winds through the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states. Known as “The River of No Return,” this stretch of the Salmon has a gorge deeper than the Grand Canyon!
River rafting combines white-knuckle excitement, teamwork camaraderie, and the beauty and solace of camping. Since my husband is certified, we actually did a self-guided trip with two other families. However, if you’re new to rafting, check out companies like Mountain River Outfitters or Orange Torpedo Rafting. These outfitters will set you up with gear, guide the rafts, as well as cook and set up camp for you. Guided trips also often include hot spring soaks, pictograph hikes, fishing stops, inflatable kayak ride, and other excursions.
Travel Tip: While kids as young as 5 can often go on guided river trips, if your kids are brand new to water adventures, you can introduce them to the fun at Idaho’s Boulder Beach Water Park inside of Silverwood Theme Park in Northern Idaho.
What are you favorite adventurous family activities?