Published: April 30, 2024 | Updated: April 26, 2024

Come sail away

People takes pictures and watch bald eagles from a Lake Coeur d'Alene Cruises boat at Wolf Lodge Bay.

People takes pictures and watch bald eagles from a Lake Coeur d'Alene Cruises boat at Wolf Lodge Bay.

In North Idaho, recreation on area lakes — Coeur d'Alene, Pend Oreille and Priest among them — is woven into the region’s past, present and future.

For centuries, the Schitsu’umsh people gathered to hunt, fish, dance, play games, feast and swim in and around the lake at the center of their ancestral homeland, now known as Lake Coeur d’Alene. This glittering gem is more than 26 miles long, with some 135 miles of shoreline.

The lake’s waters were once cut by steamships, tugboats and other vessels. Today, one of the best ways to get on the water and explore is through public and private cruises.

“We’re approaching 100 years of of cruises on the lake,” said Kodie Woodhead, director of marketing for Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises. “Cruise boats were running on the lake before the Resort was built.”

Unlike many cruise boat services in other areas, Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises run all year long. The cruises have a broad appeal, drawing both visitors and people who call North Idaho home.

“I think there’s so much to see on Lake Coeur d’Alene, even for locals,” Woodhead said. “We’re always adding new specialty cruises. For those who are from out of town, it’s a great way to get out on the lake and see what Lake Coeur d’Alene is all about.”

Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises offers daily scenic cruises, as well as dinner cruises, Sunday brunch cruises, holiday cruises and many more. Guests can also charter a private cruise boat for special occasions, such as weddings, birthday parties, graduations and corporate events.

“There’s so much more than people think,” Woodhead said.

Less than an hour’s drive north is Lake Pend Oreille, the largest in Idaho. The lake is 43 miles long, with 111 miles of shoreline and a depth of 1,158 feet. Only four other lakes in the nation are deeper.

Running from spring through fall, Lake Pend Oreille Cruises are a must for wildlife lovers and anyone interested in the region’s history. The daily afternoon cruise departing from Sandpoint doubles as a local history lesson.

The cruise boat has its own rich history. Built in 1966 in San Diego, the Shawnodese sailed Lake Mead for a few years as a tour and fishing boat before going to San Francisco to serve as a crew boat.

The boat was stripped of all running gear and shipped to Idaho in the 1980s, where it sat unused for a decade. In 1992, the founders of Lake Pend Oreille Cruises bought the boat for the hull only and got the boat in the water again in 1995.

At a glance, summer may seem like the best time to play on the water. But in Coeur d’Alene, the fun doesn’t stop when the snow flies.

Between November and February, bald eagles migrate south from their breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada, stopping temporarily in North Idaho. For an up-close look from the toasty comfort of a cruise boat, consider a Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruise to Wolf Lodge Bay.

Lake Pend Oreille cruises also offer unique opportunities to spot bald eagles, osprey and even moose along the shoreline while exploring the lake’s hidden coves and bays.

For many North Idaho families, it’s a Christmas tradition to embark on a Journey to the North Pole on board Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises. Passengers see 1.5 million dazzling lights as they cruise to meet Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and the Grinch, too.

“It’s a really family friendly way to experience the lake,” Woodhead said.

What is Woodhead’s favorite cruise?

It’s got to be the “Bands on Boats” summer concert series.

“They’re a lot of fun in the summertime,” she said.

This year, the five-concert series takes place on select dates in July and August. The lineup includes the Kelly Hughes Band, Hell’s Belles, the Devon Wade Band and Jam Shack.

Tourism is Idaho’s third largest industry, behind agriculture and technology, with more than 100,000 Idahoans employed in related industries.

Much of this growing sector is based on the outdoor recreation opportunities provided by land, rivers and lakes. Cruise boat services are an important facet of this industry in North Idaho.

“We’re all about the marine industry and having people out on the water and giving them the best experience,” Woodhead said. “For the locals, it’s still exciting for us to be able to offer and educate them on the lake. For those who aren’t familiar with the area, it’s a great way to tell them what the area is all about and get a little piece of history, too.”

    A member of the Lake Coeur d'Alene Cruises fleet glows in the dark as it heads across Lake Coeur d'Alene on its Journey to the North Pole.
    A Coeur d’Alene Resort Cruise boat floats on Lake Coeur d’Alene under a smoke-filled sky, Aug. 2, 2017.