January 15, 2014

A Place to Call Home (Part 8): Idaho Trip

The Kootenai Valley of Northern Idaho

A year after our fact-finding trip to the Olympic Penninsula of Washington, last May we decided to take a similar trip to the northern panhandle of Idaho. Like Washington, the towns of Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint, and Bonners Ferry scored high on our criteria ranking. And like our trip to Washington, Kristy's parents were able to join us, along with her sister Jenny, on their way back home after picking Jenny up at the end of her semester at Whitman College.

A little background on the area: Northern Idaho is a land of lakes, forests, and mountains. It is a land of stunning beauty that has 4 distinct seasons. The area we looked at has more moderate weather and better farming land in the valley bottoms between mountain ranges than much of the mountain west. Lakes Pend Oreille and Coeur d'Alene were formed by the effects of glaciers and the Kootenai Valley is a long stretch of flat river land surround by three separate mountain ranges. It has a much shorter growing season than that of the Olympic Penninsula but it also gets hotter temperatures in the summer which would allow us to grow a larger range of crops. The Kootenai Valley, which stretches from Bonners Ferry north into British Columbia, is known for its fruit production (especially in BC) and has warmer winter temperatures than nearby areas outside of the valley. Scroll to the bottom of the post for the specs on the area.

Lake Hayden near our camping spot

We met Kristy's family over Memorial Day weekend and stayed at a small campground north of Coeur d'Alene. After settling into the campsite the first night, we visited the communities of Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry for the first day of the trip. Sandpoint is a town of about 7,500 people located at the edge of Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced Ponderay). It is an incredibly charming town with a bustling farmers' market, a very nice library, and a very nice atmosphere. It is known nationally for its arts scene and it's abundance of outdoor recreational activities.

Kristy and I in front of Lake Pend Oreille
Bonners Ferry is a town of about 2,500 people just 30 minutes north of Sandpoint, that lies at the south end of the agriculurally highly productive Kootenai Valley with the Kootenai river running through town. It is a former lumber mill town that has struggled in the past, but has been mounting a comeback of late. One of the highlights of the area is the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge which lies just a few miles outside of town. While we weren't as impressed with the town of Bonner's Ferry itself, but the surrounding valley was absolutely beautiful and we almost immediately felt like it could be home.

View of the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge
The next day Kristy's family had continue back to South Dakota. Kristy and I had originally planned to spend the day in Coeur d'Alene and the Chain lakes. But we were beginning to fall in love with the area around Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry so we decided to head back north to do some hiking.
We spent the morning hiking around a portion of Priest Lake. Known as Idaho's Crown Jewel, this glacial lake with crystal blue water allows for hiking and water activities in what is primarily an Idaho state park.

The beautiful Priest Lake
In the afternoon we drove back to Bonners Ferry and attempted to go on a a hike to an alpine hike in the Selkirk Mountains. We tried driving up a gravel road the 12 miles to the trailhead. We probably only made it about a mile before we had to turn around because of downed trees. We were disappointed but we were able to find an unexpected gem just a few miles away (For the record we were able to do the blocked hike when we returned in July for a second trip to the area). Off of the gravel road that goes along the base of the Selkirks we found a Nature Conservancy preserve in the bottom lands next to the Kootenai River. It was an idyllic setting as these photos attest.

The Nature Conservancy's Ball Creek Ranch Preserve
On our last day we drove through Coeur d'Alene and the Chain Lakes on our way home to Portland. These are both nice areas but we had by this point already decided that Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry held more promise for our homesteading dreams. Coeur d'Alene is a town of about 45,000 people that lies on the edge of the lake of the same name. It is a very pretty area but it is more expensive to live around there and we are concerned with the rate of development that is taking over this area. The chain lakes are a series of lakes and wetlands southeast of Lake Coeur d'Alene with some small communities interspersed. It seems like it could be a charming place to live, but unfortunately there is not much land available in the area and much of it is contaminated by heavy metals around the old rail-line that runs along the valley.

Looking out at the Chain Lakes
To conclude the trip was a complete success. We had high hopes for the area and we were not disappointed. It had many things going for it: affordable land, evidence of a prosperous farming community, abundant recreational opportunities, and a more rural feel. It is not perfect by any means (what in this life is?). That it does not have as good of growing conditions as some other places on our list is the primary concern. But with season extension techniques we think we would be able to make it work (and it seems like many farmers and families in the region are). Ultimately the area had an intangible quality that spoke to both and Kristy and myself. It might be that it reminded us in some ways of the Black Hills of South Dakota, but also has elements of the beauty of Pacific Northwest that we like so much. So as of now this area is at the top of our list for a place to someday call home.

Us again... falling in love with the area.

Bonners FerryCoeur d'AleneSandpoint
Sunset Zones2b2b2a
USDA Hardiness Zones5b 5b 5b
Annual Moisture (inches)252232
Annual Snowfall (inches)4665.670
Avg. Last Frost DateMay 22June 10June 6
Avg. First Frost DateSeptember 23September 5September 3
Freeze Free Days1299689
Avg. Min. Temp. Winter242120
Avg. Max. Temp. Summer858382
Avg. Min. Temp. Summer535946
Wettest MonthDecemberDecemberDecember
Driest MonthJulyJulyJuly
Hours of Sunlight on longest
day of the year
15.815.9 15.9
Elevation (ft.)2,1871,9302,083
Price to buy 5-10 acres of landTBDTBDTBD
Average Property Tax rate0.56%0.49%0.46%
Average Combined sales tax rate6.02%6.02%6.02%
Distance to RecreationLess than 10 miles Less than 10 milesLess than 10 miles
Population Density (by county)112923
Distance to Closest HospitalIn townIn town
In town
Humidity (100=most comfortable767778
Air Quality (100=best)839889
Water Quality (100=best)483648
Superfund Sites (100=best)509798
Days with Precipitation120114135
Distance to Closest ServicesIn townIn townIn town 

(This post was shared on the Down Home Hop, HomeAcre Hop, From the Farm Hop, 104 Homestead Hop, Simple Saturdays, Simply Natural Saturdays, Clever Chicks Hop, Homestead Barn Hop, Natural Living Mondays, Homemade Mondays, Tuesday Greens, Backyard Farming Connection, Tuesdays with a Twist, the Maple Hill Hop, and Simple Lives Thursday)


  1. Hi! I found you over at Tilly's Nest today. My family and I spent a couple of years doing lots of research and traveling before finally buying our (mortgage free!) homestead this past July. This post reminded me a lot of our journey! I hope you find your perfect home and enjoy the experiences along the way! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks Jody! I love hearing from people who are a few years ahead of us on our journey... keeps us motivated to keep going!

  3. The pictures are beautiful! Though I have never been to Idaho (on my bucket list), I hear from friends that it is such a peaceful place. My hubby and I bought 5 acres about 7 years ago and have been developing it since. We hope to move there at the end of this year! We have installed a well and a septic tank for the future house and have planted a 12 tree fruit and nut orchard. We have built a tool shed/guest cabin and are in the process of building an outhouse. We have a permanent place for our travel trailer because that is where we stay on weekends we are up there working on the property. Like you, we plan to be mortgage free and will live off-grid. We will have chickens and a large raised bed vegetable garden, which we plan to start building this spring/summer. Good luck in you adventures! I am following you now with Google + and found you on the Down Home Blog Hop. See you again soon!

  4. Thanks Vickie! Again, I love hearing about other people's journeys. Look forward to hearing more from you!

  5. I have been lucky to stumble into the Canadian Kootenays more than 40 years ago. Paradise, though I would find it very hard to choose between here and Sequim/Port Townsend. If I may share a tip: before you buy, be sure to make a study of the local micro climate. These valleys are plagued by low cloud and fog in fall and winter. A few miles in any direction can make all the difference. I love Nakusp, but our town has more than its fair share of valley cloud. Ask people, or spend as much time as you can there.

  6. Thanks for the tips. I am glad that we still have quite a bit of time before we need to make any decisions. Plenty of time for trips and meeting people!

  7. Lovely Pictures!!
    Good Luck with your goals!

  8. I can see why it's on your list. Can you imagine how inspired you'd be on a daily basis? Wow! Thanks for joining The Maple Hill Hop today!

    1. I know right! Definitely one of the most beautiful places I have been.

  9. Wow it's beautiful, the Black Hills of South Dakota huh, we camped there when we went so, so beautiful. You take great pictures, thanks for sharing on Tuesdays With a Twist, can't wait to see were you end up, please join us again tomorrow.


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