Bonners Ferry offers majestic natural beauty

We promised ourselves we would hike our butts off this summer. The best-laid plans … well, you know. My butt is still here and I’m still squeezing it into the same size shorts as last year.

I guess I can’t complain. We’ve had a lot of nice walks on lovely riverfront trails in cities and towns all over the Inland Northwest. But, what I really longed for, besides a smaller derriere, was to hike to a waterfall before the last days of summer slipped away.

I wanted to sit beside the fall and feel its cool breeze and spray on my hot skin. I wanted to meditate on its sound and power and to replenish my soul by drinking in the lush, green scene.

We could drive into the Columbia River Gorge, just up the road practically from our house, and see a bunch of waterfalls from the comfort of our Subaru. But, I wanted to see a new waterfall, one I’d never seen before.

I got exactly what I wanted on a recent trip to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, just 30 miles south of the Canadian border. Our visit was full of wildlife and three verdant waterfalls hidden in the forest in the Kootenai Valley.

The sun kissed the landscape with a golden hue as we drove north toward Bonners Ferry, on the Wild Horse Trail Scenic Byway (also known as a section of Highway 95).

It was late afternoon when we arrived and seemed like a perfect time to drive the auto route at nearby Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge.

After checking into the Bear Creek Lodge, we drove through the little town of Bonners Ferry. Trucks pulling animal trailers headed toward the Boundary County Fairgrounds for the annual rodeo. We could see the stands filling up as we drove on Riverside Road, which parallels the Kootenai River.

In the wildlife refuge, ducks and Canada geese sat on numerous ponds. The Heron Pond on the refuge is aptly named. We counted seven of the large, blue-grey birds hunting for an evening meal. Several observation points are located along the road and a few foot trails lead in and around the ponds and wetlands. Some of the trails, including the Myrtle Falls Trail, are wheelchair accessible.

Our dog Kah-less, who was hot and tired of riding in the truck all day, was eager to get to water at Myrtle Falls. He could smell the water and hear it before he saw it. A short quarter-mile path led us to the waterfall. Bright red clusters of berries sat atop devil’s club plants that cascaded down a cliff face beside the falls.

Myrtle Creek is the principal water supply for the refuge. Water is diverted from this creek, as well as pumped from the Kootenai River and Deep Creek to create permanent ponds and to flood food plots for waterfowl.

The hazy summer sun was dropping behind the peaks of the Selkirks, as we finished the drive around the refuge. Deer grazed on tall grasses. A sign near an apple tree reminded visitors the fruit is for the wildlife.

The next day, we hiked Snow Creek Falls Trail, located just outside the wildlife refuge in the Bonners Ferry District of the Kaniksu National Forest. Here we found two falls for the effort of one hike. (The hike is short, but you have to climb hills on the way out.)

Lower Snow Creek Falls was our first stop; then we backtracked to catch another spur trail to the upper falls. Both falls were surrounded by flourishing vegetation. A Western toad sat still on a boulder in middle of the creek below the falls. Moss clung to the rocks and trees, encouraged by the mist and moisture.

We saw only a few flowers: a couple of purple asters and ivory Indian pipe. We crossed Quiet Creek, where a little water trickled through the creek bed.

On our last morning in Bonners Ferry, we decided to explore the town. In the 1880s, it thrived as a supply point and route to Canada’s East Kootenays for gold miners. Walla Walla merchant Edwin L. Bonner established a ferry service to cross the Kootenai River into gold territory.

Farmers later came to the Kootenai Valley, drawn to the rich and fertile soil created by the regular spring floods. The valley became known as the “Nile of the North.”

Before the gold rush, cartographer David Thompson explored the area; missionaries followed. The area has traditionally been the home of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, one of six bands of the Kootenai Nation. The tribe operates a casino at the Best Western Kootenai River Inn in Bonners Ferry.

As soon as we parked, Kah-less began growling. He wanted to wrestle the stuffed lynx on display in a gun shop window.

Instead he got to meet a black cat who has full reign in Bonners Books, 7195 Main Street. Shop owner John O’Connor invited me and Kah-less to come inside, as long as Kah-less didn’t have a problem with cats.

I’m not sure if Kah-less has formed an opinion about small cats yet, but I kept him on a short leash anyway. The cat and dog were curious about each other. The cat, staying high on bookshelves and countertops, followed Kah-less with interest before choosing a napping spot in the store window.

Kah-less enjoyed sniffing the titles of new and used books as husband John also browsed. A children’s book titled “Bear Snores On” caught John’s eye and he pulled it from the shelf to buy for our nephew Carter’s upcoming birthday.

The book was the first for author Karma Wilson, who lives in Bonners Ferry with her family. The story is a sweet tale about a bear’s friends who party in his den while sleeps through it.

Before we left, we thought we’d better get breakfast. On Kootenai Street we ordered a ham and Swiss bagel from The Creamery, a coffee shop and café. While we waited, the lady at the shop told us about the old, red-brick building in which we were standing. This is where everyone used to bring their milk to have it processed for cream and butter.

We left Bonners Ferry with a satisfied tummy and soul. It does a body good to see waterfalls – oh, yeah, and to eat a big, hearty sandwich to begin the day.


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