Must-see historical sites in northern Idaho
Plan your next RV road trip to see northern Idaho’s lost Wild West and Registered U.S. Historical Sites.
Northern Idaho offers visitors the perfect mixture of natural and human history. Soak up the natural history along Lake Coeur d’Alene’s 135 miles of shoreline, while riding the Route of the Hiawatha bike path or hiking in the Bitterroot Mountains.
As for human history, the small towns speckled across the northern portion of the state are packed with stories from the past. Much of the area was once overrun by cowboys and miners looking to claim their share of the Wild West. Here’s a few must-see historical spots arranged along a neat little loop of northern Idaho. Pack up the RV and head to the border.
After crossing the U.S. border, begin your historical road trip at Priest Lake. The Crenshaw brothers handcrafted the famous Vinther-Nelson log cabin on Eight Mile Island in 1897 to serve as their homestead while they worked at the ultimately unsuccessful Deer Trail Lodge mine. The cabin was first sold to the W. J. Anders family, then finally sold to Sam Vinther and Nels Nelson—cousins whose descendants remain the primary caretakers of the cabin.
Although the cabin was eventually donated to the government as a Registered Historic Site, the Vinther-Nelson family curates the small on-site museum and cares for the surrounding land. Visitors can access Eight Mile Island by boat in the summer months to view the original pioneer artifacts of the log cabin, as well as the views of the mainland.
Learn more about the Vinther-Nelson Cabin.
St. Stanislaus Church
Drive an hour south from Priest Lake to stop in Rathdrum, Idaho. Here, the St. Stanislaus Church features over a century-old brickwork that has survived two town fires since its construction in 1901. The red brick and white steeple appear modest at first glance, but the history of this old northern Idaho town lives inside it. St. Stanislaus is recognized on the U.S. National Historic Register and is the oldest brick church in the state. Mass is still held throughout the week.
Rathdrum, Idaho, lies at the intersection of State Highways 41 and 53, just 25 miles from Spokane, Washington.
See the St. Stanislaus Church schedule.
If you’re looking to dive into the Wild West of the U.S., plan a pit stop in Wallace on your Idaho road trip. Just an hour drive southeast of Rathdrum, Wallace waits to be explored. The town’s history is rooted in silver mining of the Coeur d’Alene district. In its heyday around the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the mining hub of Wallace was the third largest city in Idaho.
As any Wild West town, great wealth and tragedy came as a pair. In 1890, a fire burned many of the businesses downtown. Then, the Great Fire of 1910 reclaimed a third of the new downtown, as well as three million acres across Washington, Idaho and Montana. The town of Wallace emerged again from the ashes, and those wooden buildings were replaced with the brick architecture seen in pictures of Wallace today.
Now, the town of Wallace is on the National Historic Register. Visitors wouldn’t guess that Wallace’s population hovers around 800 from its picturesque downtown and busy tourist scene. Snap photos of the historic architecture on a walking tour through the colourful downtown, enjoy a meal on a patio that spills into the street or browse the shops. The town itself is nestled in the Bitterroot Mountains, offering natural photo opportunities alongside the stories of cowboys, miners and their families.
Plan your visit to Wallace.
Sprag Pole Inn and Museum
Jog north on a winding mountain road to Murray, the last stop on our road trip. The town of Murray is similar to Wallace in that it saw a huge population boom with the discovery of silver. Now, just under 100 people live in this town. While it doesn’t seem like much, there is still at least one attraction left in this historic town: the Sprag Pole Inn and Museum.
The Sprag Pole is named for the support beams once used in harsh winters along the walls of wooden homes. The museum was founded by Walt Almquist, the owner of the Sprag Pole Inn, in 1933 with a single artifact: an old whiskey jug he placed above the bar.
Now, the 10,000 square feet include mining and logging exhibits as well as small artifacts. Find a piece of local history in the antique gambling and music machines and old photographs. Learn a little bit about the rest of the world from the extensive coin collection. The museum is free but is supported by donation and through the adjacent restaurant and bar’s earnings.
The star character in the story of Murray is Molly B’Damn. Molly was an Irish woman with a thick accent famous for her dances in the red light district and for nursing many men to health after a smallpox epidemic. Molly’s bedroom is now a part of the museum, and her gravestone rests nearby.
Learn more about the Sprag Pole.
Northern Idaho’s small towns offer snapshots into the rich history of the area. Plus, there’s plenty of campgrounds to choose from along the way. Hit the road to time travel from the comfort of your RV.