Sandpoint, Idaho: Treasure of the West

Read why this gorgeous mountain destination with an acclaimed arts community is considered one of the best small towns in the west.

Located in the northern Idaho panhandle and home to only 8,200 residents, Sandpoint’s endless natural beauty, adventure activities and vibrant arts community have attracted visitors from across the United States. Accolades from National Geographic Traveler, Sunset and Outside magazines have ranged from Best Small Town in the West to the National’s Top 10 Adventure Towns. As the local saying goes, “Sandpoint is the kind of town you visit once and then try to move to.”

Sandpoint Attractions

Sandpoint’s Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced pon-duh-ray) is the stage for two of the most iconic images in the town: its historic Long Bridge and the seemingly never-ending Amtrak trains as they cross Idaho’s largest lake. The lake’s name comes from the French words for “hangs from ears,” pend d’oreille, which was the name given to a local Native American tribe—after the large shell earrings they wore.

The two-story Cedar Street Bridge Public Market is the only marketplace-on-a-bridge in the country. Built on huge tamarack pylons, the bridge makes for a beautiful sunset picture. While you’re waiting, grab a gelato and start shopping.

Sandpoint has a niche for shopping—handmade furniture, flower shops, jewelry stores, antiques, galleries and boutiques line the quaint downtown streets. Sandpoint start-ups include Coldwater Creek and Litehouse Foods, whose headquarters remain today along with retail stores downtown.

The Hallans Gallery provides a glimpse into the works of Ross Hall, the famous Sandpoint photographer, while the Lisa VanDerKarr Art Studio displays colorful impressionistic paintings.

The Panida Theater (Pan for Panhandle; Ida for Idaho) has been entertaining Sandpoint since the days of vaudeville, flaunting its gorgeous architecture with over 144 performances annually.

Summertime in Sandpoint

Sandpoint in summer buzzes with great events like the Summer Sampler featuring local food and drink, Artwalk, the Wooden Boat Festival, Schweitzer Bluegrass Festival and the Lost in the 50s vintage car show. For two weeks each summer, the Festival at Sandpoint attracts world-renowned performers such as Ziggy Marley, Lyle Lovett and Natalie Cole.

The wilderness setting of Sandpoint provides a vast array of outdoor summer sports including hiking, camping, fishing and golfing. With 111 miles of shoreline, Lake Pend Oreille provides an infinite selection of water activities.  

Sandpoint Ski at Schweitzer

Only 11 miles from Sandpoint is the alpine setting at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, where the skiing is awesome. From the mountain top (elevation 6,400 feet), you can see spectacular views of three mountain ranges, three states and Canada.

The mountain receives more than 300 inches of snow annually and offers more than 2,900 skiable acres, 92 trails, two bowls for downhill, two terrain parks and multiple lifts including a high-speed six-person lift named Stella.

Schweitzer also features snowmobile and backcountry ski tours, plus 32 miles of cross-country ski trails with an additional 50 miles offered in Sandpoint’s surrounding area.

Sandpoint Lodging and Rentals

Within walking distance of downtown Sandpoint, Seasons at Sandpoint is the city’s premier beachfront accommodation with stunning two- and three-bedroom condos plus full concierge service. Reservations are recommended at least one month in advance. 424 Sandpoint Ave. Rates from $300 per night for a two-bedroom condo that sleeps five. Make reservations through third-party vacation rental companies: Sandpoint Vacation Rentals (tel. 866-263-7570) or Sandpoint Vacation Getaways (tel. 888-896-0007).

The White Pine Lodge at Schweitzer offers ski-in/ski-out accommodations with one- and two-bedroom condo-like units. Schweitzer Village sits at 4,700 feet, so request a room with views of the valley and lake below. Schweitzer Mountain Resort, tel. 877-487-4643. Rates for a one-bedroom unit start at $261 per night during the Value Season (March 29 to April 11, 2009; Sun. through Thu.).

Across the Long Bridge, the Lodge at Sandpoint offers 25 spacious rooms with gorgeous lake views. The rustic setting is accented by antiques, art and beautiful stained-glass windows. 41 Lakeshore Drive, Sagle. Tel. 208-263-2211. Rates for a standard studio start at $99 per night.

Good Eats in Sandpoint

Ivano’s Ristorante & Caffé has provided fine Italian dining for 23 years by serving fresh seafood, pasta and claims Sandpoint’s best martini and wine bar. 102 South First Ave. Tel. 208-263-0211.

Chef Jeremy Heidel of Café Trinity offers New Orleans-inspired cuisine, such as the popular Kickin’ Crawfish Chowder, as well as popular classics of modern American cuisine like baby back ribs and crab cakes. Enjoy a meal on the deck overlooking Sand Creek with views of the marina. 116 North 1st Ave. Tel. 208-255-7558.

The Chimney Rock Grill at Schweitzer serves up Apple-Jack ribs that are fall-off-the-bone delicious. The acclaimed restaurant won Wine Spectator’s 2003 and 2004 Restaurant Wine Award and is famous for its seafood chowder. Cozy seating and fireplaces add to the warm and relaxing après ski atmosphere. Selkirk Lodge at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Tel. 208-255-3071.

The Pend d’Oreille Winery, MickDuff’s Brewing Company and Laughing Dog Brewery offer great local wines and microbrews.

Getting There

With everything that this outdoor paradise has to offer, it’s no wonder Sandpoint was voted the Best Small Town in the West by Sunset magazine and was recognized in John Villani’s The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America.

Spokane International Airport (GEG) offers direct flights from 11 cities and is only 80 miles from Sandpoint; visitors can rent a car and arrive to explore the mountain town before they know it.  

Amtrak’s Empire Builder line offers a daily train service that arrives daily at the shores of Lake Pend Oreille from a number of major cities in the United States including Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, St. Paul and Chicago.

[Read our Sandpoint Family Vacation article for information on family trips to Sandpoint.]

Destinations: Idaho, Sandpoint

Themes: Family Travel, Mountain Vacations, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Hiking, Arts and Entertainment, Shopping, Skiing, Snowboarding, Boating

User Comments

July 2008, my wife and I were looking for a unique place to stay. We ended up at Huckleberry Tent and Breakfast. This place is an undiscovered jewel. Very private and low key. We were able to "camp" with everything set up and provided for us. I would highly recommend this place for anyone wanting to experience the great outdoors.