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  • Writer's pictureKatja

Three Stops in the Idaho Panhandle

A quick out and back across the Idaho Panhandle provided a nice way to experience some easy-to-access spots in the off-season. All three of these places draw more visitors in summer, but there is something to be said for the solitude of winter and the beauty that the snowy landscape provides.

Wallace, ID - The Center of the Universe

While many of the tourist attractions are closed for the season or operating on very limited hours, walking around the storefronts with quirky attractions around every corner and beautiful mountains on all sides makes for a lovely way to spend the time.

Two stores drew my attention and made for fun stops filled with treasures and friendly proprietors: Johnson’s Gems and Collectibles and North Idaho Trading Company. Be sure to stop by if you’re ever in town!

Johnson’s had a fun mix of touristy items, a huge display of rocks, fossils, and minerals, and even a surprise darkroom where black lights showed the more fluorescent nature of some of the goods.

The Trading Company featured all kinds of antiques from mining equipment to old school video games, a wonderful selection of rare and first edition books, and all kinds of animals to decorate your walls with (both real and imaginary).

The Sunshine Miners Memorial - Exit 54, Interstate 90

A 13-foot-tall metal miner, with a glowing headlamp, memorializes the Sunshine Mine disaster of 1972. The statue stands behind 91 miniature tombstones, one for each miner who suffocated in a smoky fire at America’s largest silver mine. The metal-sculpted hard rock miner eternally beams his cap lamp toward the site of one of America’s worst mining disasters.

Visiting the memorial was a somber yet meaningful experience, especially as I noticed the numerous mines along this part of the interstate. Mining continues to be a way of life in many communities around the world, and it is easy to take for granted how much we benefit from the labor of the people who have and continue to risk their lives in this difficult line of work.

Old Mission State Park and the Sacred Encounters Experience - Cataldo, ID

It is difficult to say what part of the park was most enjoyable; the immersion into the history as told from both the perspectives of the missionaries and the Coeur d’Alene tribe, or the beautiful landscape that beckons you to wander down every boot and hoof-marked path.

While walking around the grounds, I noticed movement through the trees and got to watch a herd of elk swiftly move away from me. My scent must have been carried down to them by the wind and I barely processed their presence before they galloped off to safety. Having seen other herds in my travels (Yellowstone, Mt. Rainier National Park, and on the Olympic Peninsula), I felt very privileged to see these magnificent creatures in Idaho.


What makes the combination of these three places so wonderful for the next time your adventure takes you through the Idaho Panhandle on I-90 is that the distance between Wallace, ID, and the Old Mission is less than 25 miles, with the memorial located almost exactly halfway between them.

My advice to you, should you find yourself on the road and wondering if you should pull off for a brief stop when you see an interesting sign or a place you’ve never been before: take the time to stop and see what is there. Build in a little extra travel time and give yourself permission to stop at that random attraction in the middle of nowhere. Oftentimes, these unexpected delays provide an excellent source of adventure and wonderful new experiences and stories to share.

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