Jumping at the docks

Like one or two frazzled parents before us, we’ve been known to invite our kids to take a long walk off a short pier.

It usually happens when we’re at the end of a marathon road trip and the children have been fidgeting and fighting in the back, like starving rats dropped into a maze, only not as polite.

So when we visited Coeur d’Alene, Id., and our children asked us if they could take a walk on its floating pier, we knew we’d have to rethink our use of the idiom.

That’s because it’s the longest floating boardwalk in the world, as the placard in front of it said, and as our eight-year-old son read with some satisfaction. It’s also one of several surprises we found on a fall trip to Idaho, an adventure that took us to the Pacific Northwest’s oldest state park and a mysterious but beautiful lake with a French name.

Kids on the dock

But let’s talk about that boardwalk for a minute. The 3,300-foot pier, which circles part of Lake Coeur D’Alene, runs around a a 372-slip marina. It comes with its own picnic area, ice cream shop and convenience store, and if you hit it on the right day during the off-season, you will have the place all to yourself.

We did, although our kids decided that rather than taking an even longer walk, they wanted to horse around on the rain-slickened boardwalk. A time or two, they almost took a plunge into the icy water.

Long jump off a short pier doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

Mudgy Sign

If you’re traipsing through Idaho’s second-largest city with children in tow, don’t forget to head over to the city’s park, which has an enormous playground and a theme path called the Mudgy Moose Trail, with five statues placed at half-mile intervals in the downtown area. Mudgy & Millie is written by local author Susan Nipp, and the trail is a hoot, no matter what time of year you go. Besides, how could you go wrong with a massive cast-metal statue of a moose? It’s a kid magnet!

By the way, Lake Coeur D’Alene is breathtakingly gorgeous. We stayed just across the lake in a Coeur d’Alene Vacation rental with a fireplace you can turn on as simply as a lightswitch and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the water. It’s known as the Kidd Island Lodge and like most professionally managed vacation homes it had everything the family needed to have a great time – even a fire pit for s’mores making down by the lake.

We could see downtown from our back porch overlooking our dock. Even though the sanctuary of the cabin seemed remote, it was only about a 15 minute ride by boat or car.

In early fall, when leaves erupt in fiery red, bright yellow and orange, you stand in your living room and say nothing as the leaves slowly fall to to ground. In the distance, the auburn tamaracs mixed uneasily with the evergreens on the hillside, like two medieval armies frozen at war.

A sign in our home proclaims great truth: “A day at the lake is better than a week at work.” Of course it is.

We didn’t want to leave, we didn’t want to be evicted, either.

Idah State Park

A short drive from the lake we stumbled upon the most surprising discovery during our stay in Idaho. Heyburn State Park, the oldest state park in the Pacific Northwest, is also among the most beautiful. The park was created in 1908, and many of the cottages, cabins and campsites were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

The hiking opportunities in the park were as good as any national park. At one point, we found ourself on a scenic riding trail that took us to Indian Cliffs. Later, we descended to another hiking path that took us around Chatcolet Lake, where we wandered out on to another long boardwalk (not floating) to get an up-close view of the wildlife. A brisk autumn wind kept our kids from going over the side this time.

Thanks, Mother Nature.

To us, the most impressive part of this park, apart from its natural beauty, is the Trail of the Coeur d’ Alenes which cuts right through Heyburn. It’s a 72-mile paved trail that spans the Idaho panhandle between Mullan and Plummer. All we were missing were our bikes. Too bad we left ours back at the rental.

The Coeur d’Alene region quietly beckons you to come back and experience it during the other seasons. We’ve nibbled around the edges already, coming during the fall. We’ve skied at nearby Sand Point, Id., in December.

But we’re intensely curious now to see spring, or full-blown summer, at the lake. We can’t promise the kids will stay dry, but we’ll try.

House Coeur D'Alene