Lounging and sunbathing (it was hot that weekend) was the pastime of choice when I was there, but other outdoor activities are widely available: Cruises on the Saint Joe River are offered, as well as kayaking ($9 per hour), parasailing (from $65 per person) and something called a SUPsquatch — a massive paddleboard that fits up to 9 people ($50 per hour). The park also hosts weekly summer concerts; I attended a fun performance by Bram Brata, a steel drum ensemble.
I wanted to do a little kayaking, but decided I would hunt for a slightly better deal. I found it at Fun Unlimited in Post Falls, which offers a three-hour, early-bird kayaking special from 9 a.m. until noon for just $22. After signing a quick waiver, I paddled east on the Spokane River, toward McCabe’s Island, then turned back around and went toward the site of the town’s first lumber mill, now the Post Falls Dam. It was a perfect day for kayaking — just be careful of motorized watercraft.
After kayaking, it was easy enough to visit Post Falls Park, a small but picturesque green space on the Spokane. The views of the dam are great, as well as those of the pretty-but-inaccessible Avista Bridge. You can, though, do what I did and trek down past the rocks to the Spokane itself and hike a bit along the river.
Tubbs Hill, 120 acres of hiking trails and public park, offers a great way to stretch your legs and take in panoramic views of Coeur d’Alene and the surrounding area. I parked on South 10th Street, on the hill’s backside, and entered the trails from there. I spent an hour or two on the hill before realizing how hungry I’d gotten.
Fortunately, Hudson’s Hamburgers, a no-frills spot that’s been in business for an impressive 110 years, wasn’t far away. Best of all, the simple double cheeseburger with onions, pickles and spicy mustard ($5.60), was everything a burger should be. Service was efficient but cordial. “Never had a TV ad, a radio ad, nothin’,” said Steve Hudson, the owner, from behind the counter.
The rest of Coeur d’Alene doesn’t skimp on quality food, either — I had good drip coffee ($2.30) from Vault, the resident hip coffee shop, and enjoyed the Greek Village Salad from Olympia Restaurant on East Lakeside Avenue, a mountain of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion.
The most surprising spot was Daft Badger Brewing, a fun and busy brewpub smack in the middle of a residential street. (“It might be why we close relatively early,” my server told me.) They have a refreshing (and potent) Blood Orange I.P.A. that is hearty without overdoing it on the hops ($5). It went well with a Not Your Mother’s BLT Sandwich, which adds sundried-tomato mayo and provolone cheese to the classic formula ($11.95).
Lest Idaho take all the glory, there was just as much good grub and quality suds on the other side of the border. In fact, the deal I found at The Wandering Table in Spokane was probably the single best deal of my trip. The chic spot just west of Riverfront Park allows for a near-luxurious lunch experience for a pittance. Customers can choose three dishes that individually range from $12 to $20 on the menu for a total of $15. I had a salad of charred broccoli with drop peppers and pine nuts, a healthy portion of albacore tuna in rice wine with pickled pears and a jalapeño aioli, and two immodestly large chicken wings slathered in a sticky Vietnamese glaze. It was all quite good, and entirely too much.
Garageland on West Riverside Avenue is another good spot to grab a quick bite, in a slightly more casual setting. And I can also recommend Zola’s as an option for a solid meal and a beer, especially on Sundays when there’s an all-day happy hour. If the collegiate vibe at Zola’s is not your thing, head to The Observatory, where the mood is more tattoos, board games and microbrews.
With such a bevy of food and natural splendor in the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area, it does raise the question — Why did I travel so far (Brewster, where I booked my trip with Moon’s Guide Service, is 130 miles from Spokane) to go fishing? Believe me: I asked myself the same question as I drove bleary-eyed toward the Grand Coulee Dam in the middle of the night.
The answer, naturally, was price. Mr. Moon offered an eight-hour trip for just $200 — about half of what some guides were offering. Additionally, salmon fishing wasn’t quite as weather-dependent as fly fishing, also popular in the area — I reached out about fly-fishing lessons to a shop in Coeur D’Alene, only to have the class canceled at the last minute because it was too windy.
By sunrise, I could see at least 50 boats on the water. Our craft was typical — four poles, a complicated downrigger system and a collection of high-tech screens and remote controls that I couldn’t begin to understand. Fishing, I learned, is as expensive a hobby as you would like to make it. “By the time you get yourself a truck and boat,” Mr. Moon said, “some of these guys are a hundred grand in the hole.”
The downrigger system, Mr. Moon said, allows for accurate targeting of a specific depth. It essentially looks like a miniature building crane that accompanies the fishing pole, and drops a lead weight in to your preferred depth, attached with a clip to the fishing line to keep the hook at the specified number of feet below water. When a fish bites, the clip breaks free and the pole springs up.
After my initial sockeye bite, things slowed down considerably. Still, the river was serenely beautiful, even with dozens of other boats on the water, and the deep purple sky had become a pale yellow. Mr. Moon was philosophical. “Bites will turn on, bites will turn off,” he said. “The thing with instinct and aggression is that one day the fish’ll like one thing, next day they won’t touch it.”
We caught a couple of more sockeyes and a Dolly Varden trout, but threw them back. Mr. Moon admitted that some people cheat, keeping illicit fish, but he stuck to the rules. “Sometimes I find myself saying, ‘Man, I never thought I’d be throwing back a 40-pound king,’” he said. By 11 a.m., the sun was pounding down on us. “Nice day,” he shouted at an acquaintance in a passing boat, and snorted. “‘Nice day’ means ‘this fishing is –’” he said to me, finishing the sentence with an unprintable word indicating it was not good. But he tried to turn things around: “C’mon, let’s catch something!”
Alas, the elusive hatchery king salmon we were looking for weren’t cooperating. A sizable king teasingly jumped out of the water a few meters ahead of us. “What do you want?” he asked it. Over eight hours later, it was nearing 1 p.m. and we decided to call it a day. Three sockeye and one Dolly Varden later, the little cooler I’d bought from Wal-Mart on the way over remained empty. “I tell my customers,” Mr. Moon said, “I guarantee you will catch a fish.” He emphasized the word “catch” — no promises about keeping. I would have loved to keep a fish but I left happy, feeling vaguely instilled with a kind of wisdom: What is it they say about teaching a man to fish?