Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: Idaho

Unexpected accessibility in Idaho: 
in the north (traveling east)
and the south (going west)

All across Idaho —both directions, an old song from grade school kept running through my head, begging the question: What does Idaho?

I wasn't expecting to find accessible activities in Idaho, but part of the excitement of a road trip is discovering the unexpected.  And the places we discovered were indeed unexpected, accessible, and exciting.  On the way out, we too a driving break in Couer d'Alene.  On the way back, we made several stops at waterfalls near Twin Falls.

Coeur d'Alene

Coeur d’Alene Lake

Our trip eastward was basically a long, long drive across the country with a deadline that prevented extraneous exploration, but we did make a few pre-planned stops -- one of which was Coeur d'Alene, ID.

The panhandle presents with absolutely stunning views of mountains, lakes, and their intersection.  I don’t remember much from the movies that I watch, but I still have memories of the beauty of this part of the world from "My Own Private Idaho" in the early 90’s. The city of Coeur d'Alene is a, understandable vacation destination, offering views, lodging, and activities for everyone.  

Coeur d’Alene Lake’s boardwalk

Surrounded by mountains, Coeur d'Alene Lake boasts the world's longest floating boardwalk, which is -- for the most part -- wheelchair accessible.   

Picnic tables on boardwalk at 
Coeur d’Alene Lake

The boardwalk is home to floating cantinas, boat rentals and rides, picnic tables, and mooring posts.  The boardwalk was in good shape and all transitions were level. 

Steps on this little section make it impossible
to do a circuit on Coeur d’Alene Lake’s
otherwise-accessible boardwalk

The only problem -- and the reason I say it was accessible "for the most part" -- is that about 100 yards after the entrance on the west side is a short yet inaccessible high bridge that involves many steps.  Therefore, the best route is to start at the east side and go around to this bridge, at which point you'll need to turn around, back track, and exit where you started on the east. Despite backtracking, the boardwalk is worth it.  Along the way, you'll be treated to stupendous views and cantinas.  

McEuen Park 

The east end of the boardwalk leads to a nice park, McEuen Park, with accessible restrooms and the Buoy Bar restaurant -- a nice way to end your excursion.

I also noticed possibilities for future wheelchair hikes:

The North Idaho Centennial Trail is a paved multi-use trail, running about 23 miles from the state border with Washington to Higgins Point, 6 miles east of Coeur d'Alene, at the end of Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive.

Further west, the multi-use Spokane River Centennial State Park Trail in Washington state winds 40 miles from the border to the Nine Mile Recreation Area on Lake Spokane. There are several trailheads and access points along the way.  I have a feeling the slopes may be too much for most people in manual chairs, but perhaps those with power chairs could tackle it.

Idaho Falls

Fairfield Inn in Idaho Falls

On the way home, we drove (westward) across the southern section of the state and experienced more accessible surprises.  In Idaho Falls, we could not find a cheap motel with accessible rooms available at the late hour of our arrival (I called about 8 low-end places, and none of them had availability on the ground floor and none had elevators).  So, we ended up staying at the hotel in the parking lot from which I'd been making my final calls: the Fairfield Inn by Marriott.  Along with giving us a good deal (the man at the front desk was very helpful and friendly and offered me their senior deal -- even though I'm not there yet), they had an accessible room.  It was one of the best we'd stayed in, with wide doorways to the room and bathroom, lots of space in the room and by the bed, and a completely accessible bathroom, including a roll-in shower.

Twin Falls

We stopped for a couple of hours in Twin Falls to explore Waterfall Alley.  Actually, I'm still not certain where Waterfall Alley is located, or if, in fact, there even exists an actual Waterfall Alley.  What I do know is that southern Idaho has a lot of beautiful waterfalls and that several of them can be found around the city of Twin Falls.

Shoshone Falls

We started with Shoshone Falls, which were a gorgeous surprise of huge rushing falls, even in August. After passing through the entry gate and paying our $5 fee, there were a couple of disabled parking spots with a ramp up to the flat brick and paved walkway.  

Shoshone Falls

The wooden overlook had steps, but I could see the falls well from other, unofficial viewpoints.

Perrine Coulee

Then we went on a trail overlooking Perrine Coulee --  high falls that able-bodied people could walk behind on lower trails.  

Snake River Canyon

The paved Snake River Canyon Rim Trail has multiple entry points. We had difficulty finding an access point with parking, but we eventually found a trailhead next to a parking lot, with a ramp to the trail, and an accessible water fountain (as far as I could tell, there was no restroom).  I think that the best easy-access point is found by searching maps for 2088 Washington St.

Snake River Canyon Rim Trail

We hiked on the paved trail along the rim of Snake Canyon, passing interesting signs with geological information, the town's event center, and then a bar with an overlook, before reaching a bridge and a falls overlook.  The trail was mostly level, with short inclines at some points, and with a level threshold at the bridge. The paved path was mostly well-maintained, with just a few cracks and roots.  The main downside is that it was very hot -- perhaps suggesting that a better use of time might be to grab a cold beer and enjoy the canyon view from the bar near the event center.  

Golf course and lower road at
Snake River Canyon

Alternatively, I think that going toward the golf course and Centennial Waterfront Park down below might take you to a better view of the falls (though not of the canyon).

Thousand Springs State Park

On the way out, we drove by Thousand Springs State Park, south of Hagerman, where from the road you can see water coming out of the rock and falling down the cliffs into the Snake River.   

The answer to the song’s question, by the way (What does Idaho?) is that she hoes her Maryland.  Of course!  Thanks, Google!

We then continued westward to visit more relatives and enjoy summer produce, and then to the Pacific Ocean and the end of the trip!  Stay tuned . . .

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