Small town Sandpoint, Idaho, boasts epic experiences, on and off the mountain By Abigail Thorpe
Drive across the long bridge from the south, and you get your first view of Sandpoint, Idaho, nestled along the shores of Lake Pend Oreille between the Selkirk and Cabinet mountain ranges. Whether the sun is peeking over the mountain tops or fog is slowly creeping through the mountains onto the lake, the view is never short of breathtaking.
With a population of only around 8,000, Sandpoint is home to a tight-knit community of skiers, hikers, bikers and other outdoors enthusiasts who wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. “What sets Sandpoint apart from other little towns is the kindness of the people. I noticed it the first time I visited here and felt included immediately,” says Brooke Deccio, owner of Azalea resale shop in the Downtown Sandpoint Shopping District.
The shores of Lake Pend Oreille make Sandpoint a popular summer destination for visitors and second-home owners, while in winter locals and visitors alike flock to the local Schweitzer Mountain ski resort for epic views and slopes, with limited crowds.
Even shoulder season has something to offer in this town; as the crowds thin out, the colors and foliage start to change (or come alive), and outdoor activities like biking, fishing and hiking abound.
Where to Stay Sandpoint offers many options aside from the standard hotel stay, and many include the unique Northwest style and charm that visitors come to expect from North Idaho. If you are coming for the skiing or mountain biking, Schweitzer Mountain Resort has a variety of options, including its ski-in, ski-out Selkirk Lodge nestled right in the village, White Pine Lodge apartments and condos, and multiple on-mountain condos that vary in size, and often offer ski-in, ski-out access. “Winter or summer, the outdoor pool and hot tubs are a treat for soaking those muscles after a day of skiing or mountain biking,” says Dig Chrismer, marketing manager for Schweitzer Mountain Resort.
For lakeside seekers, Dover Bay Resort is nestled where the Pend Oreille River meets Lake Pend Oreille 3 miles from town and is a peaceful waterfront resort that offers vacation rentals both on and off the water to sleep two through 10. Nine miles of walking trails, 9 acres of parks, a waterfront restaurant, gym and hot tub, and marina with available boat rentals make this a perfect spot for those looking to enjoy spring, summer or fall on the lake. The resort also offers one-bedroom apartment rentals at the downtown marina for those wanting to stay right in town.
Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, located about 30 miles northeast of town, offers rustic stays in log cabins or the main lodge. The fifth-generation dude ranch is open year-round, with horseback riding in the summer, and sleigh rides and nordic trails in the winter. All-inclusive stays with gourmet country meals make this the ideal spot to unplug and get away for a few days.
Go Sandpoint (GoSandpoint.com) Vacation Rentals provides homes for rent from the shores of Lake Pend Oreille to Schweitzer Mountain Resort and beyond. They are the preferred booking agent for the exclusive development and golf course at The Idaho Club, where beautiful homes are nestled along the fairways of the Jack Nicklaus designed course.
Where to Eat Stop by the original Evans Brothers Coffee location in the Granary Arts District for a cup of their famous locally roasted coffee. When you’re ready for a second cup, or an après ski drink, head over to newcomer The Longshot, a local cafe with a retro coastal vibe that serves coffee and tea, a selection of interesting beers and natural wines, and a rotating menu of breakfast and lunch items.
Local winemaker Pend d’Oreille Winery’s tasting room is housed in the old brick furniture store downtown and is a must-stop for wine-lovers. Pair a glass of its beloved Meyer Reserve Cab Sauv or distinct Deadhead Petit Verdot with one of the flatbread pizzas—you won’t be sorry.
For lakeside dining, head over to Forty-One South, situated just south of the long bridge along Lake Pend Oreille in the Lodge at Sandpoint. A crackling fire in winter and incredible deck-side views in summer make this a year-round local gem. Or head downtown to Trinity at City Beach and take in the breathtaking lake vista from their large outdoor deck while enjoying the Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad and a signature cocktail. The restaurant overlooks Sandpoint's summer play area, City Beach, and the nearby marina, with the mountains serving as a picturesque backdrop.
Downtown watering hole Eichardt’s Pub and Grill is a favorite amongst Sandpoint locals. Housed in an old wood building on Cedar Street, it’s been serving beers and local eats for over 20 years, as evidenced by the rows of personal beer steins hanging from the wall, and layers of bottles covering the rafters and window ledges. Stop in for a beer and some comfort food, and catch one of the live music shows. Dollar beer day is Thursday and never fails to bring a crowd in, offering pints of $1 beer until the keg runs out.
For beer lovers, Sandpoint offers several breweries, including Matchwood Brewing, Utara Brewing, MickDuff’s Brewing, and Laughing Dog Brewing out in Ponderay. If the season permits, hop on a bicycle and make it a bike and brew day.
What to Do For spring skiing, hit up the 2,900 acres of slopes at Schweitzer Mountain. The resort has a local, down-to-earth vibe, and the lines are rarely long. “Schweitzer is an unpretentious, uncrowded destination with views you’ll never forget of Lake Pend Oreille, three states and Canada,” says Chrismer. “We strive to offer a true mountain experience, where guests feel immediately at home.” If downhill is not your style, there are 32 kilometers of nordic trails, and some delightful restaurants in the village to stop and rest your legs while you enjoy some light repast at Gourmandie, Chimney Rock or the more laid back Pucci’s Pub.
In summer, the mountain opens its slopes to mountain bikers and hikers, with lift service to the top. It’s worth the trip up just for the view. Whether you’re driving—or biking—down from the mountain, sparkling Lake Pend Oreille lays just below. Come summertime the lake comes alive with boaters, kayakers and paddle boarders, with options like Tack Boat Rentals for local rentals if you’re looking to get out on the lake.
Downtown is easily walkable, and a jaunt along the local shopping district is a must do. “If visiting, you can't miss a matinee or performance at the historic Panida Theater, getting a coffee from the Longshot, making your rounds at consignment and gift shops La Chic Boutique and Azalea, or joining a Monday evening run coordinated by Jenny at Outdoor Experience,” says Deccio. Stop for an ice cream at Panhandle Cone & Coffee along the way; their fresh huckleberry is a summer favorite.
Turn the corner on Bridge Street and head under the overpass out to City Beach to enjoy some fun in the sun along the beach, stroll the winding paths or take a photo with the iconic Sandpoint Statue of Liberty—the town’s own miniature Lady Liberty.
Winter, spring, summer or fall, Sandpoint has much to offer and is an easy weekend’s drive to escape the city crowds and enjoy the natural beauty and small-town charm its locals love it for.