Full of historic buildings, Sandpoint is an endearing small town in an exceptional location, on the western shore of Idaho’s largest lake.
It’s hard to do justice to the beauty of Lake Pend Oreille. This smooth expanse of clear water is captured by three major mountain ranges, with slopes clad with meadows and skyscraping stands of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine.
The lake is an obvious magnet for water sports, cruises and hikes along its shore. You could also hop in the car and take a drive to remember around the northern lakeshore, or go on an epic tour of the Selkirk Mountains via the International Selkirk Loop.
In winter Schweitzer Mountain in the Selkirk Range is a prominent ski destination with more than 90 named runs, terrain parks, tubing runs and miles of cross-country trails.
1. Sandpoint City Beach Park
Sandpoint is endowed with some fabulous public parks, both on the lakefront and along the creeks and sloughs inland.
But the standout has to be Sandpoint City Beach Park, set on a scenic peninsula close to where Lake Pend Oreille feeds into the Pend Oreille River.
First of all the views are exquisite, over the huge expanse of water to the mountains beyond, capped with snow until summer.
The entirety of this 22-acre park is fringed with sandy beaches, sections of which have swimming areas with lifeguard stations, as well as floating docks for boating.
And if you want outdoor recreation on land you’ll find tennis courts, a basketball court, pickleball courts, horseshoe pits, as well as a giant playground for kids.
2. Pend Oreille Scenic Byway
Tracking the indented northern shoreline of Lake Pend Oreille, this sublime scenic drive continues eastward for just over 30 miles to the Montana state line.
Sandpoint is by no means a big city, but remains by far the largest settlement on Lake Pend Oreille’s 111 miles of shoreline.
This gives you an idea of how remote the rocky shore can be, while the panoramas are nothing short of spectacular the whole way.
In the foreground will be pine forest, lakeside farms and the delta of the Clark Fork River, while on every horizon rise the peaks of the Selkirk, Cabinet and Bitterroot ranges.
This is a journey to take your time over, pausing to do some birdwatching, fishing or venture out onto a mountain trail.
3. Schweitzer Mountain Resort
In a typical winter, Sandpoint’s backcountry is blanketed with 300 inches of snow, and you won’t have to travel far for a first-class ski resort.
Just 11 miles to the northwest, Schweitzer Mountain Resort is set across two impressive natural bowls, with 92 runs in 2,900 skiable acres with a total vertical drop of 2,400 feet.
The resort ranks highly for its network of 10 lifts, with a capacity of almost 16,000 passengers an hour, getting you onto the slopes in no time.
Children will adore the Hermit’s Hollow tubing center, while freestylers can choose from three different terrain parks.
And if you just want to enjoy the amazing views of Lake Pend Oreille, non-skiers can purchase a scenic lift pass and grab lunch at the Sky House, where the Summit Cafe has 360° views.
4. Water Activities
Idaho’s largest lake promises all kinds of recreation on the water. If you don’t have your own gear, Action Water Sports, based right here in Sandpoint, will have everything you could possibly need.
You can rent kayaks, paddleboards, jet skis, pontoon boats and motor boats for wakeboarding and waterskiing.
Action Water Sports also offers lessons for a variety of activities with an experienced instructor, as well as scenic tours of the lake.
Another option for boat rentals is A Day on the Lake, which has a whole fleet of vessels up to a 25-foot Chaparral Sunesta.
And, if you would like someone else to do the navigating, Lake Pend Oreille Cruises has a menu of sightseeing cruises aboard the Shawnodese, skippered by a Sandpoint local with encyclopedic knowledge of the lake’s history and wildlife.
5. Sandpoint Shopping District
While there’s no denying the majesty of the scenery around Sandpoint you have to devote some time to the city’s charming downtown area.
Home to galleries, art studios, all manner of eateries, gift shops, boutiques and entertainment venues, the Sandpoint Shopping District is thriving and employs more than 1,000 local residents.
It’s also extremely pretty, with brick and stone heritage buildings that have been standing for -a century or more.
The streetscape has recently been livened up with new sidewalks and updated facades, and there’s always some kind of event happening.
A highlight of the holiday season is the tree-lighting ceremony on Town Square, combined with live music and dance, and delicious food and drink.
6. Mountain Horse Adventures
With flowery alpine meadows, massive swaths of old growth forest, glistening lakes and epic peaks, the mountainous landscape in Sandpoint’s hinterland is made for adventure on horseback.
Mountain Horse Adventures is based at Schweitzer Village and organizes two rides a day from late June through early September.
You’ll be in the company of licensed guides with an in-depth knowledge of Schweitzer Mountain, taking you to places of astonishing natural beauty.
Experienced horseback riders can try a three-hour custom ride, while the popular 2.5-hour trail ride is aimed at newcomers.
7. Panida Theater
A Sandpoint entertainment mainstay for generations, the Panida Theater opened as a vaudeville stage and movie house in 1927.
If you’re curious about the name, Panida is a portmanteau of “Panhandle” and “Idaho”, and the theater thrived until the 1980s when it fell into disrepair.
In 1985 the Sandpoint community got together to rescue this treasured landmark and it now serves as a multi-disciplinary arts venue, screening independent and foreign movies, but also hosting a bustling program of live theatre, concerts, dance performances, live comedy and workshops.
8. Cedar Street Bridge Public Market
Raised on wooden piles and crossing Sand Creek, the Cedar Street Bridge Public Market is something unique in the United States.
This is the nation’s only marketplace on a bridge, evoking the shop-lined bridges of Medieval Europe, but with modern architecture.
The bridge was built in the 1920s to link downtown Sandpoint with the railroad depot across Sand Creek.
This crossing became redundant in the second half of the 20th century with the decline of railroad traffic, and in the 1970s was transformed into a covered marketplace along the lines of Florence’s Ponte Vecchio.
Together with bistros and coffee shops, there’s an enticing range of boutiques, specialty vendors along the 400-foot span, selling handmade jewelry, essential oils, cute Christmas gifts, organic cosmetics, artisan culinary oils and vinegars, and much more.
9. Bonner County Historical Society & Museum
Embedded in greenery at Lakeview Park is the museum for the Bonner County Historical Society, which has amassed more than a million artifacts relating to this chunk of the Idaho Panhandle.
The excellent permanent exhibits cover topics like the railroad, the Forest Service in North Idaho, agriculture, the logging industry, Sandpoint’s archeology, the 19th-century fur trade and the distant natural history of the region.
The collection is large enough to be showcased in temporary exhibits, zooming in on specific topics and rotated every six to nine months.
Past exhibits have included a traditional Cabinet of Curiosity, a display of vintage clothing, the history of medicine in Bonner County, and stories of bootlegging, gambling and prostitution in Sandpoint in days gone by.
10. International Selkirk Loop
The only multinational scenic drive in North America passes through Sandpoint on its 280-mile course through Idaho, Washington and British Columbia.
The International Selkirk Loop encircles the border-spanning Selkirk Mountains, affording constant enchanting views of immense peaks, sparkling rivers and glassy lakes.
There are endless side-tours and places to pause along the route, at quaint little towns, hiking trails, swimming spots, waterfalls and stupendous panoramas.
At its northern end, the loop includes a ride on the longest free ferry in the world, making the five-mile crossing on Kootenay Lake.
11. Gold Hill Trail
Cherished by hikers and mountain bikers, this 3.7-mile there-and-back trail leads you to a wonderful vantage point high above the western shore of Lake Pend Oreille.
The trailhead is just across the head of the Pend Oreille River, taking about 15 minutes by road from Sandpoint.
The route starts close to the lakeshore, making a steady climb to a panoramic lookout, granting majestic views northwest where Sandpoint is backdropped by the Selkirk Mountains.
For cyclists in the mood for a longer ride, you can set off from Sandpoint incorporating the trail into a 28-mile loop along the Long Bridge bike and pedestrian route.
12. Mineral Point Interpretive Trail
If you can’t get enough of Lake Pend Oreille’s magnificent scenery there’s a trail on the lakeshore about 15 miles southeast of Sandpoint.
This is one of the loveliest walks or bike rides in the Sandpoint area, running along 2.1 miles of shoreline close to Garfield Bay.
The views are simply fantastic and the path is edged with wildflowers in spring and early summer. The gentle grade and relatively short length makes the trail ideal for families, and ends at the Green Bay Campground, equipped with fire grills, picnic tables and a restroom.
13. Pend d’Oreille Winery Tasting Room
This winery brand based in Sandpoint makes first-class wines using traditional French winemaking methods and with grapes from world-class vineyards around the Northwest.
Pend d’Oreille Winery has been part of the community for almost 30 years, during which time its Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs and Chardonnays have garnered numerous awards.
At the tasting room in the century-old Belwood Building in Sandpoint you can take part in a tasting (5 wines) or order a flight of three glasses, especially preselected by the vintner.
Typically the selection will include the varietals mentioned above, as well as a Merlot, Cab Franc, Albariño, Riesling, Petit Verdot, red blends, to name a few.
There will be live music every weekend, and you can order elegant bites, from spanakopita to antipasti.
14. Laughing Dog Brewery
Founded in 2005, this craft brewery and taproom sits close by in Ponderay. Always focused on quality, Laughing Dog Brewery explores a variety of techniques and styles for a fun and quirky selection of brews.
Among the year round flagships there’s 219 (Pilsner), 7B Hazy (IPA), Alpha Dog (Imperial IPA), a pecan porter and a cream ale fermented with huckleberries.
These are accompanied by an ever-changing lineup of limited-run seasonal beers. As you would hope, the taproom is dog friendly, and a cozy place to pass a winter’s afternoon by the fire, while there’s usually live music on summer weekends.
15. The Festival at Sandpoint
From the start of August, War Memorial Field by the water in Sandpoint is the setting for ten days of music under the stars in Sandpoint.
This event dates back to 1983, booking an eclectic lineup each year to appeal to all tastes and ages. Audiences are limited to 4,000, so it’s an intimate way to spend a summer evening.
A few recent performers include Jackson Browne, Kool & the Gang, The Avett Brothers, Amos Lee, ZZ Top and Sublime with Rome. Every year there’s a family concert for kids, and the event is topped off by a performance by the Spokane Symphony, followed by fireworks.