Family Friendly North Central Idaho — Lewis & Clark Country
Where is the most remote place on earth you have been? No cell reception, no good food, no Starbucks? No, not the Aswan High Dam, but the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway All American Road — what a mouthful! This is Nez Perce (Lewis and Clark) country. The drive was along the Clearwater River was some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve seen in the Lower 48.
Best part: no one is here. Idaho is empty. You can come during high season and you won’t feel crowded. You are off the beaten path, my friend. This area of the country is difficult to get to so you really have to enjoy road trips. I’ve been on many myself and no exagerration, aside from my children arguing in the back seat, this was one of the most enjoyable. I’ve been on the 17 Mile Road in Carmel and truthfully, this drive, on Highway 12, which follows the Clearwater River, is so much more enjoyable because it’s neither too windy nor too steep. You will develop an appreciation of how difficult Lewis and Clark had it because the area has hardly been developed since that time. Sure, there’s a road and a few people floating down the river, but not much else between the remote and tiny towns.
The NCITA (North Central Idaho Travel Association) has audio tours that you can download to your MP3 player to listen to while you’re on the road.
We drove from White Bird, Idaho and ended up in Clarkston, WA, which is just across the Snake River from Lewiston, ID. With all of our stops, it took about 4 hours — about 100 miles. It was a Sunday, so not much was open, although we did go to the Dworshak Fish Hatchery and take a parking lot tour of the correctional facility — prison — in Orofino. That was the part where we gave our kids a lecture for not listening to us, telling (begging) them not to argue.
Please remember that this is Idaho and not Italy: that means that the food is… not so great. We went to a supermarket and bought food for a picnic along the Clearwater River. So lovely and I’m sure the food was better than any diner we passed. (That said, please let me know if I’m wrong — we did eat in restaurants a bit on this trip.)
In Clarkston, WA (just across the river from Lewiston, ID), we stayed at the Quality Inn and Suites on the Snake River and although it was not nearly as eccentric as our B&B stayin White Bird, it fit our needs:
- It was super clean
- There was a pool that my non-swimming five year old could stand in (it was 100 degrees outside – the pool was IMPORTANT!)
- We had a cool view of the mountains, framing the Marina
- Service was outstanding
For dinner, we ate at Rooster’s Waterfront Restaurant, walking distance from the hotel.
This is a turbo-charged, family-friendly restaurant that serves enormous portions and has a fantastic outdoor deck to sit on (when it’s not 100 degrees outside), overlooking the Snake River. Kids’ meals are quite inexpensive and happy hour is a deal and a half. They have half a dozen local beers on tap (!) and I ate a delicious, wild salmon.
Although there are lots of activities that you can do in Clarkston, (it is another entry point for Hell’s Canyon tours), we moved on the next day into Walla Walla, which is a little less than two hours away.
Walla Walla has a charm that extends beyond its population of thirty thousand. This is Washington wine country and the town boasts a plethora of good restaurants, tasting rooms and fun shops that cater to tourists. It doesn’t feel like a touristy town; it feels like Sonoma or Napa. OK, maybe that is touristy — but with a super high level of sophistication (especially for Eastern Washington). I had an A+ iced latte at Olive Marketplace & Cafe. Walla Walla is a great half-way point between Seattle and Boise.
When I go back without my kids, there will be more to say about Walla Walla…
Author’s Note: This was a sponsored trip. I received food and lodging.