Begin Your Tour in Spokane
Follow Division Street (U.S. 2 and U.S. 395) north from downtown Spokane through one of the city’s commercial districts, flanked by strip malls and retail establishments. A freeway bypass for U.S. 395 is taking shape east of Division with completion scheduled in 2029. Follow U.S. 2 when it splits off Highway 395 and heads northeast.
Mead is a small outer suburb of Spokane where Highway 206 branches east to climb into Mount Spokane State Park. This 5,867-foot peak is the southernmost part of the Selkirk Mountains. Just north of Highway 206, you’ll pass Cat Tales Zoological Park, which is a preserve for large cat species that doubles as a vocational school for prospective zookeepers. Visitors can observe lions, tigers, pumas and leopards as well as a number of reptile varieties. Guests aged eight and older can accompany keepers to hand-feed the big cats.
Highway 2 continues northward another 17 miles through Spokane County farmland. After crossing into Pend Oreille County, farms give way to the densely forested foothills of the Selkirk Range, and the highway makes its great eastward swing toward Idaho. Shortly after turning east, state Route 211 cuts off to the north, eventually leading to Metaline Falls, a preserved mining town an hour’s drive north of U.S. 2 that was featured in the movie “The Postman.”
Staying on U.S. 2 for another eight miles brings you to Diamond Lake. Small motor inns once dotted the lakeshore that runs along the highway, but those have been replaced by private homes and lodges. The mountain lake, which sits at an elevation of 2,342 feet, is a favorite with trout fishers and paddlers.
Newport and Oldtown
Newport and Oldtown straddle the Washington-Idaho border formed by the center line of State Street. The Idaho town was settled first in 1893 and was originally known as Newport. After a train depot fire, Great Northern built a new station on the Washington side. The town hosts two annual festivals — Pioneer Days in July and the Pend Oreille County Fair in late August — and is home to the Pend Oreille County Historical Museum, housed in the restored 1908 train depot.
Newport is also Washington’s gateway to the International Selkirk Loop, a 290-mile circuit through Washington, Idaho and adjoining British Columbia. Stretching from Kootenay Lake down to Lake Pend Oreille, the loop is the only federally designated International Scenic Byway in North America.
Having entered the Gem State, you will next pass the Albeni Falls Dam, which features a 400-foot-wide spillway. A well-maintained picnic area and a scenic viewpoint make the dam a perfect stop for a snack and a photo. The visitor center also offers 50-minute guided tours to the powerhouse overlook during summer months.
Four miles past the dam, you’ll enter Priest River. Located at the confluence of the Pend Oreille and Priest rivers, this small town is a jumping-off point for adventurers into the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. The town has a bevy of swimming spots along the Pend Oreille, and West Bonner Park contains a free public boat launch. The Priest River Museum and Timber Education Center provides local history exhibits.
– Written by John King, last updated in September 2022.
– Top photo of Albeni Falls Dam by Getty Images