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

Places to play and the business that support them

Caroline Lobsinger

Caroline Lobsinger

There is much to explore here.

Days, months, years even, can be spent exploring the lakes and forests of North Idaho and its communities without even making a dent in the multitude of activities and places to visit.

Millions visit the state each year. Some to visit friends or family, some lured by the region's lakes, forests and outdoor beauty, and still others are simply touring the region, and are awed by what they discover.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, tourism is a $3.7 billion industry in Idaho employing more than 45,800 people. The association estimates the industry generates $475 million in local, state, and federal tax revenue — saving each household $740 a year.

Millions visit the Gem State each year, with an estimated $1.145 billion in direct travel spending in North Idaho and employing about 12,230 people — about 9% of the region's workers.

Breaking that down by category, visitors spend $230.4 million on accommodations, another $342.9 million on food, $91.1 million on local transportation, $341.9 million on entertainment, and $121.1 million on shopping.

The latest data shows Idaho's travel and tourism industry had another strong year, breaking records in terms of lodging tax collections with more than $21 million generated.

Two-thirds of the visitors are here for the day, coming from places like Spokane or the Tri-Cities, Wash.; others come from Boise, Seattle and Portland, here for the night or the weekend — or longer.

Roughly 30 percent of the region's visitors come from Washington state, another 4% from Oregon and 7% from California. Almost a fourth — 23% — are enjoying a staycation of sorts, coming from elsewhere in Idaho.

You'll read about some of the "hidden gems" of places to go and visit in the region. Unlike their favorite huckleberry spot, locals aren't as shy about sharing some of their "hidden gems" when it comes to the region's places to do. Among the favorites are floating down the North Fork or exploring the 320-acre Pine Street Woods.

You will also get the insider's guide to the parks paradise that is North Idaho, from Farragut State Park, once home to thousands of soldiers during World War II to Priest Lake State Park, a pristinely clear lake below the crest of the Selkirks.

Take a drive through history, exploring the once-booming town of Burke — which in its heyday had a hotel designed to allow the train to pass through it; and explore the crumbling ruins of Boulder City, once promoted as home to the largest radium vein in history.

Sail away on a boat cruise, exploring the region in a whole new way on waters once cut by steamships, tugboats and other vessels.

Step inside the Northside School Bed and Breakfast, a four-room school that found new life as a bed-and-breakfast in Bonners Ferry. Built in 1912, the historic, red-brick building overlooks the Kootenai River as it pays homage to its past.

Stop in at the Leonard Paul — a general store in operation since 1906 on the shores of Priest Lake, serving not only as the community's hub but as a stopping point for everyone from early-day silent movie actors to families exploring the nearby mountains and lakes.

— Caroline Lobsinger, North Idaho Business Journal editor