Take a breathtaking trip through Washington, Idaho and B.C.
This 280-mile loop beckons with a funky artisan community, Native American heritage and exceptional landscapes. Drive all or part of the Selkirk Loop to feel far from home without leaving the Northwest.
There’s a two-state, two-country road trip unlike any other in the world. Starting in northeastern Washington and rolling through Idaho and British Columbia, the International Selkirk Loop is one of North America’s most breathtakingly beautiful and compelling drives. It is absolutely worth planning ahead.
Named after the rugged Selkirk Mountains that dominate the region, this scenic route passes through noble mountain peaks, across dazzling waterways and along rustic byways. On the way, you’ll encounter iconic ungulates native to the Northwest, meet a weaver in a studio built of straw, soak in soothing hot springs and feel the heat of a blacksmith’s iron.
Raves and Rewards
The International Selkirk Loop is one of only about a few dozen All-American Roads. These are the most incredible Federal Highway Administration scenic byways, chosen by a federal panel as All-American Roads for national significance, one-of-a-kind features and a journey worth the drive alone on “roads to the heart and soul of America,” in the words of Norman Mineta, who was secretary of transportation when the Selkirk Loop won the designation in 2005.
Selkirk is a driving loop first, and you don’t need to get out of your car to absorb the beauty of every mile. But good luck resisting easy waterfall strolls such as Idaho’s Copper Falls and Sweet Creek Falls in Washington. Guides for day hikes of all levels are available at visitor centers. For starters, look into Washington’s Lower Wolf Trail, Idaho’s Mickinnick Trail and B.C.’s Pulpit Rock to Flagpole.
Two-wheeled explorers have three solid seasons to ride and no shortage of options. Fat-tire single-track cyclists and skinny-tire rail bed and road riders rave about the roads and trails. From mid-spring through mid-fall, ride beside glacially carved river valleys and lakeshores, through thick forest and into the foothills and mountains.
A Curious Collection of Artisans
Destinations brag about artist colonies and co-ops, but few come close to the strange brew of craftspeople in British Columbia’s Crawford Bay, a charming hamlet on the eastern shore of Kootenay Lake. Just getting there is spectacular: The drive-on Kootenay Lake Ferry is one of the world’s longest free ferry rides, sailing across the narrow, fjord-like lake in about 35 minutes.
Inside a historic Crawford Bay barn, North Woven Broom Co. makes thousands of unusual sweepers every year using antique equipment and old-world techniques. Floor brooms, whisks, fireplace brooms, even marriage brooms hang from the rafters with handles made from dowels, rope and found wood. Owner Luke Lewis and his team make brooms every day from April through November and demonstrate their craft for visitors.
Just a 2-minute walk from the broom barn, traditional wooden handlooms thump inside a studio built out of straw bales. Barefoot Handweaving owner Janet Wallace and her weavers turn a rainbow of fabrics into shawls, shoulder wraps, scarves and other prismatic creations — without footwear. Why barefoot? Weaving in shoes would be like playing a piano with mitts, they explain.
At Kootenay Forge, blacksmiths hammer hot iron into a creative line of home accessories. This shop was Crawford Bay’s original cottage artisan business, sparking what has evolved into a tight-knit group of gifted souls that also includes FireWorks Copper Enamel, La Gala Jewelry, Dog Patch Pottery and the Black Salt Cafe.
Bison, Bubbles and Big Time Wildlife
Native heritage is evident around the Selkirk Loop. Near the Pend Oreille River community of Usk, Washington, is an excellent viewpoint of the Kalispel Tribe’s herd of hearty bison on the Kalispel Reservation. A dozen buffalo acquired from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 1974 have grown to more than 100 roaming over the 600-acre pasture that you can survey from the Camas Center for Community Wellness or the Kalispel Pow Wow Grounds.
Just off the Selkirk Loop is Ainsworth, British Columbia, where the Ktunaxa people discovered warm, bubbling waters long ago. Their descendants now operate a spa and resort with a stream-fed cold plunge, lounging pool and a 150-foot-long soaking cave. The mineral water temperature ranges from 104 to 110 degrees in this horseshoe cave, so drink plenty of water before you go.
One of the best places in the Northwest to observe moose, elk, bear and migratory waterfowl is at the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge near the Kootenai Reservation just outside of Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Take the 4.5-mile auto tour or four hiking trails to spot some of the 45 species of mammals and 220 species of birds that make this land of ponds, marshes, creeks and forests truly worthy of the word refuge.
It takes a special place to feel far from home when you’re still in the Northwest. The people, wildlife and stunning beauty of the International Selkirk Loop make that happen.
–Written by John DeLeva, last updated in October 2022.
This story originally appeared in the September/October 2020 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.