Last Updated on November 15, 2020 by JaimeSays
When I think back about our Idaho scenic byway honeymoon, one of the places I wish we had more time at is Sandpoint, Idaho. Whether it is a holiday weekend or not, there are so many things to do in Sandpoint, Idaho As the first stop on our 10-day Idaho road trip, we indulged in leisure. A little less time lounging would have allowed us to see more of this fantastic town in northern Idaho. Because we had never been, we had no idea what could fill our time.
All the blogs that I had read suggested that Coeur D’Alene was where we should spend the bulk of our time. Since I like to avoid crowds, CDA with the Kardashians was definitely not for us. (Seriously, Kim and Kanye were there for the Fourth of July.) As fate would have it, Sandpoint was perfect for us. With so many things to do and much smaller crowds than you would get from more popular towns in Idaho, Sandpoint made for one of my favorite stops. Update: Sandpoint left such a lasting impression on me that I returned! I’ll be writing soon about my end of the summer trip, and things that were different from my height of summer visit.
1. Enjoy the Watersports of Lake Pend Oreille
Lake Pend Oreille is one of the deepest lakes in America, and is the largest lake in the state of Idaho. While the glacial water is quite cold, it is still fun to get out on the water on a hot summer day. You can rent a motorboat for full or half days. If you prefer a more intimate experience, stand up paddle boarding and kayaking is also available. No matter what you do, experiencing Lake Pend Oreille is definitely one of the best things to do in Sandpoint, Idaho.
2. Mountain Biking
Mountain biking in Sandpoint is not for the faint of heart. It is downright advanced when compared to biking in the Midwest. There are bike specific trails on Schweitzer Mountain, but if you are looking for smoother terrain, try your luck on Schweitzer Mountain Road. You’ll have to share the road with cars, but there aren’t any roots or uneven surfaces to surprise you. With five switchbacks over a course of 9.1 miles for a total of near 4,000 feet of elevation, this may be only for the more advanced bikers. Schweitzer offers bike rentals, but you can also try Outdoor Experience if you aren’t going to be at Schweitzer.
3. Pick Huckleberries
Late July and August are prime huckleberry picking season in Northern Idaho. These low to the ground wild berries resemble blueberries, but are also sweeter, more tart, and have amore pronounced flavor than their more pervasive cousin. Bring water, plenty of sun protection, and ziplock bags or to-go containers for your excursion. If you plan on transporting the huckleberries, don’t forget to pack a cooler and bring some to-go containers for in the car. If you’ve never done it, picking huckleberries is quite a pastime for things to do in Sandpoint Idaho. Not sure where to start? Schweitzer Mountain offers e-bike tours up the mountain to pick huckleberries!
4. DIY Walkable Bar Crawl
One of my favorite parts of downtown Sandpoint is how manageable it is for a visitor. Coming from a large city or even a larger resort town such as South Lake Tahoe, you need a car or bicycle to really get a feel of the place. While a mechanical mode of transportation can sometimes be a Godsend, e.g. when it is a rainy day in Chicago, sometimes a car is just annoying. Sandpoint is small enough that you shouldn’t need a car downtown, and can walk through the whole town comfortably without needing a map. It’s true! Once you know First Avenue, the main street, and your directionality in relation to Lake Pend Oreille, you really can’t get lost.
Because of the manageability of the town, enjoying the various bars and watering holes is fun, safe, and easy. MickDuff’s is great for live music. You may be confused because there are actually two MickDuff’s locations. One, on First Avenue, serves food and is family friendly. The other, on Cedar Street, only serves drinks. Try to find a seat outside on the patio and enjoy the house brews as you support local artists. Maybe you want a choice of hundreds of beers and delightful conversation? Idaho Pour Authority fits the bill. Afterwards, walk on over to Eichart’s, stop by the public market, or pop in to The Fat Pig.
5. Check out the Cedar Street Bridge Public Market
Think you have walked through town and seen all that Sandpoint has to offer? Well if you haven’t entered the confines of the Sandpoint Public Market, then you are mistaken. Stumbling upon the public market was one of my favorite things to do in Sandpoint, Idaho. Elevated above the Sandpoint harbor, this public market is a shopper’s paradise. Local artisans selling handmade wares, a shop dedicated solely to huckleberry products, art galleries, restaurants, and public restaurants are all located within.
6. Taste Test All the Ice Cream in Sandpoint
If you’re feeling up to it, there are a few ice cream shops in downtown Sandpoint that are worth a visit. Panhandle Cone and Coffee had the longest lines when we visited, and the most unique flavors. Down the street, another ice cream ship seemed to lure the crowds with soft serve. My favorite flavors are huckleberry and cranberry-goat-cheese cake. It reminds me of Black Dog Gelato at Chicago’s French Market.
7. Take a Self-Guided Walking Tour of Sandpoint by Following the Pop-Up Corners
As you walk through Sandpoint, you’ll notice pop-up placards on some of the street corners. These placards tell the story and the history of Sandpoint. In the 1600s, French Canadians and Native Americans found themselves in Sandpoint while exploring waterways to expand the fur trade. You’ll also learn about the Sandpoint Street Car of the early 1900’s. Since I really enjoy learning about the history of a destination, this self-guided walking tour is one of those quick things to do in Sandpoint Idaho that shouldn’t be overlooked. You can learn more about the Indigenous peoples and history of the area by checking out my post on Northern Idaho.
8. Discover the Street Art of Sandpoint
It’s not Freak Alley, but Sandpoint does have more street art than one might expect for a resort town of its size. In fact, it has its own street art gallery, known as Galaxy Gallery. In addition, check out the walls, parks, and public spaces to see what the local artists of northern Idaho are up to. Do you play the piano? Check out the public piano on 2nd Avenue for an opportunity to tickle the ivories.
9. Hike Up (or Down) Schweitzer Mountain
Schweitzer Mountain Resort is the largest ski resort of Idaho, even surpassing Sun Valley! While you may not find snow on the mountain in the summer, you will find crowd-less serenity on the hiking trails. Head to the welcome center/reception at Selkirk Lodge and get a trail map to take with you. The trails are well marked, and save for the “Nature Trail” to the apex, they aren’t exceptionally treacherous. That apex hike is a tough one! But this isn’t the Midwest, so they are hard enough to get your blood pumping. Picnic Point is a beautiful lookout point, or you can head down the mountain to check out some waterfalls. We had these walking sticks for our trek, but you could make do without them. I still use them, and they can even be used for skiing.
10. Skip the Hike and Take the Chairlift up Schweitzer Mountain
Want the mountain top views without the exertion of getting there? Schweitzer Mountain Resort runs their high speed Great Escape Quad Chair lift in the summer from 11 AM to 5 PM (fact check this), seven days a week. The cost of a one-day unlimited ride ticket is $15 for adults, $12 for children between 7-11, and free for seniors and kids under 7.
11. Have Lunch at 6,400 Feet
Sure there are plenty of great places to eat in Sandpoint, but none that have views quite as magical as those at Sky House at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Located at the top of the Great Escape chairlift, it’s open for lunch and drinks in the summer.
12. Discover the Northern Idaho Wine Region
You may have heard of the Sunnyslope Wine Trail near Boise, but did you know that Idaho actually has four distinct wine regions? One is the Northern Idaho Wine region. As a matter of fact, you can visit two wineries when you head to Sandpoint. The first, Small House Winery, is a smaller operation with tasting room hours on Saturdays. The second is one of the more prolific wineries of the region, Pend d’Oreille Winery. A yearly medalist in the local Tri-Cities Wine Festival, the style of wine making isn’t the only thing that makes Pend d’Oreille Winery special. In business for over 20 years, if you’re a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, you’ll love the Prairie-style touches of Pend d’Oreille Winery’s Sandpoint tasting room.
13. Feast on the Stars
If you visit Sandpoint, Idaho in the summer, you’ll have to stay up pretty late to see the stars. In early July, it wasn’t dark enough to catch the stars even at 11PM! When I visited in late August, we could see the stars well around 10 PM. If you do stay up, you’ll be amazed by the beauty and multitude of stars in the sky. Maybe you’ll enjoy them the same way I did, in the middle of the night as a pit stop on the way to the bathroom.
14. Stay in a Gorgeous Cabin or Lodge Without Breaking the Bank
Staying in Northern Idaho can be an expensive splurge, but it doesn’t have to be. Schweitzer Mountain Resort offer a summer special. Stay one night in select White Pine Lodge units and receive lift tickets for two, lunch at Sky House ($40 value) and an in-room bottle of wine on day of arrival (some restrictions apply.)
15. Catch Some Live Music at The Festival at Sandpoint
For the 37th year, the Festival at Sandpoint brings live a live music series to the people of Sandpoint. Running the first 11 days of August, this year’s lineup includes Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats, Lake Street Dive, and more. Get more information and buy tickets here.
16. Enjoy A Charter Boat Cruise for Birding or Lake History
I’ve never been a big boat person because I get bored too easily. Lucky for me, if you add an activity to the boating, I’m all in. Lake Pend Oreille Charter Cruises offer daily birds of prey and lake history tours. Looking for something else, like a private charter or a night cruise? They do those too! Just make sure to dress appropriately for time on the lake. Here is what to pack for an Idaho summer.
So Many Things to Do in Sandpoint, Idaho…What are You Waiting For?
You could spend a week trying and still not complete all of these things to do in Sandpoint, Idaho. In fact, I just spent another week there and found there was in fact, quite a bit that I missed! I’ll share more of that soon. If you have visited, let me know what you did!
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