This is a general outline of a recent trip to Spokane, including parts of Idaho and Montana. The total trip took 10 days and was in early August. The best time for warmer weather and more comfortable conditions is between mid July and mid August. Because gold mining was one of the main reasons for the trip several days below show “gold mining” as the main activity.
We rented a car from Thrifty at the Spokane Airport and made a circle covering the states mentioned above, drove through Glacier National Park and finally ended up in Spokane at the end of the trip. For us, this was a combination gold mining and sightseeing trip. If you use our itinerary as a guideline for planning your trip and are not into gold mining, allow an extra 4 or 5 extra days for the overall trip. You would have more time for beautiful parks such as Glacier and Waterton Peace Park in northern Montana and southern Alberta.
Most of the towns or parks that we mention below are described on their own pages in this guide highlighting experiences, attractions, and more travel details.
Day 1 We flew from San Francisco International (SFO) to Spokane. We found that if you live near a major airport taking an airporter to the airport is very convenient. This saves the hassle of driving and fighting traffic. In addition, for those on vacation more then 4 or 5 days taking an airporter instead saves the cost of having to park a car. Our flight left SFO at 8:15am; we touched down in Spokane around 10am. This gave us the rest of the day to get situated and to drive to our final destination.
We found the Spokane airport to be very user friendly. It is much smaller then SFO and as a consequence, easier to navigate. Six or seven rental car companies are lined up near the main exit. We chose Thrifty car rental because they provided the cheapest rates of any of the rental companies. They provided unlimited mileage and one could leave the gas tank almost empty on the return trip.
Instead of visiting Spokane this day we hopped on the 90 freeway heading east towards Coeur d’ Alene. This cute town is located on a beautiful lake just 30 miles east of Spokane, over the Idaho state border. Then we drove through the old town of Wallace. Wallace is about an hour from Coeur d’ Alene. From here we took a small windy paved road from 6th Street in Wallace to an even smaller mining town called Murray. Murray is about 25 miles from Wallace.
Day 2 We spent this day mining near the river next to Murray. Whenever mining we would always camp out. This saved a lot of expenses.
Day 3 Mining day.
Day 4 We left around 6am for Wallace. From Wallace we continued driving east on I-90. Soon we crossed the Montana border. There is no speed limit on the major highways in Montana during the day. At night on major highways the speed limit is usually 65 for cars and 55 for trucks and trailers. Billboards throughout parts of Montana advertise the following slogan “Whoa dude there is a speed limit“. With few cars on most of the Montana roads simply drive at a speed that feels safe. For some people that is 90+mph.
We made a brief stop in Missoula and then continued driving. We took the 90 doing 90 to the junction of 12 and 90. Highway 12 leaves from the 90 and is about 45 miles to Helena, the capital city of Montana. Near this junction, we drove off the main road onto some dirt roads leading to the high country. There are very few signs on these dirt roads. Forest service maps or BLM maps are very helpful in this part of the country. The geological survey map for this area is the Elliston map. We drove through the living ghost town of Marysville and then down into Helena where we stayed in a motel for the night.
Day 5 This was a sightseeing day, but by far the longest driving day of the entire trip. Instead of driving this much (about 450 miles) we highly recommend travelers take several days to do this trip that we did in one day. We left Helena around 7am for Glacier National Park. If you had more time you would also be able to see Waterton Peace Park just north of Glacier National Park. We drove up the 90 for about 45 miles and then turned off on the 287. We drove on the 287 for about 65 miles until it merged with Highway 89 at the small town of Choteau. Then we drove on the 89 for about 65 miles until the small town of St. Mary. From this town travelers will embark on the Going to the Sun Highway, 52 miles of unparalleled beauty. This road is also an incredible engineering feat.
After winding through the park, exit at West Glacier. From there take Highway 2 through Kalispell, turn off on the 93 and drive along Big Flathead Lake. Continue on the 93 until you come out on the 90 just 8 miles west of Missoula. We then drove on the 90 (which is a fast road) until we reached the small town of Superior. We found a hotel in this town for the night.
Day 6 From Superior we drove to Wallace and then back to Murray. We spent this day mining.
Day 7 Mining day.
Day 8 Spent 1/2 day mining and then left for Spokane retracing my steps on the 90 freeway. Found a hotel near downtown in Spokane.
Day 9 We spent this day sightseeing in Spokane. See the page on Spokane in this guide for more information – some of the sights we visited were Gonzaga University, Manito Gardens, Riverfront Park and the historic downtown.
Day 10 Morning return flight to SFO.