Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage

Pend Oreille River, Idaho
The Pend Oreille River near the Priest River Wildlife Area

The Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage Scenic Byway travels about 28 miles along the northern shore of the Pend Oreille River between Sandpoint and the Washington State line on US Highway 2. At the state line, the route connects with the Pend Oreille Valley Scenic Byway of Washington. At Sandpoint, the route connects with the Wildhorse Trail Scenic Byway and with the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway. Together with Wildhorse Trail, Pend Oreille Valley and the North Pend Oreille Scenic Byway, these routes make up the United States section of the International Selkirk Loop. The Panhandle Historic Rivers Scenic Byway starts in Sandpoint and heads west through Priest River and ends at Oldtown. There are 3 local history museums along the way and a lot of wildlife in between.

The river was first canoed by trapper and explorer David Thompson in 1809 as he searched for a passage to the Columbia River. The landscape history visible here extends back to the days of the Great Missoula Floods at the end of the last Ice Age. Lake Pend Oreille itself was gouged out of the mountainous countryside by glacial activity and it was meltwater that filled and created the lake in that U-shaped trench. Today, this area is a mix of farms and forest around the southern edge of the Selkirk Mountains.

There are farms in the river valley but historically, most folks in this area made their living from the forests. At Priest River is a road heading north along the Priest River to Priest Lake and Priest Lake State Park. That's a gorgeous area in the heart of the Selkirk Mountains. Northwest of Priest Lake is a large roadless area that has been proposed for wilderness designation and inclusion in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. In season, Priest Lake is well known for the size and quality of the wild berry crop.

There are at least four recreation areas along the road that give direct access to the Pend Oreille River for swimming, boating and fishing in the gently flowing waters. There are also three museums. Also nearby (north of Sandpoint) is Schweitzer Mountain Ski and Summer Resort. Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage is open year-round.

Albeni Falls Dam on the Pend Oreille River
Albeni Falls Dam on the Pend Oreille River
The view from the top of Schweitzer Mountain Resort
The view from the top of Schweitzer Mountain Resort
Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage Scenic Byway area mapSchweitzer Mountain Ski ResortPend Oreille Scenic BywayWildhorse Trail Scenic Byway
Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage Scenic Byway area map
Photos courtesy of Idaho DOT and Idaho Tourism.
Area map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!
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