The drive from Spokane to Metaline Falls is worth the trip on its own. Highway 20 will take you along the Pend Oreille River, between the mountains rising on both sides as the road twists and turns its way toward Canada.
Along the river there are many smaller resorts, some with rooms, some open for camping and RVs.
Once in Metaline Falls, look up from almost anywhere and you can see the mountains.
This Labor Day weekend the little town is playing host to its annual community festival: Affair on Main Street, Saturday and Sunday.
“I think this is the 21st year,” said Pat Zimmerman, who owns Sweet Creek Creations on Main Street with her sister Shirley Botzheim. “I love being part of it. There are so many great vendors, and the music and the food – it’s just a great family event.”
Sweet Creek Creations is a combined fabric and gift store on Main Street – which really is Fifth Avenue; at least that’s what the sign says. The shop also houses the liquor store.
“I guess we kind of took them in,” said Zimmerman, laughing. “The liquor store used to be in a back building. It’s open when we are open, but it’s run by someone else.”
Sweet Creek is also where UPS delivers packages.
“It started as a store where my sister and I made jackets and sold them,” said Zimmerman. “And then it just grew to selling the fabric, and then we added gifts – I don’t know, we think liquor and fabric goes great together.”
Another community hub in Metaline Falls is Cutter Theater. It’s so named because it was designed by renowned architect Kirtland Cutter and built in 1912. The huge, beautiful brick building was an elementary school. By the time it was closed in 1971, it served all grades through high school.
“We have pictures downstairs of everyone who went to school here,” said Sandy Hutchinson, the Cutter’s executive director. “It’s pretty amazing how closely this building is tied to Metaline Falls.”
Today, the Cutter holds the county library, two permanent historic exhibits – one about rural schools and another about the history of the Metaline area – an art gallery, and, of course, the theater.
“The theater is all local – it’s community members who perform and play, it’s really great,” said Hutchinson. “The theater part opened in 1992 and we have 156 seats in the house. It really is a talented group of people.” The show, “Radio Gals,” a musical comedy, is Saturday and Sunday.
The Cutter Theater also is putting together the Clutter Cutter for Affair at the Falls, a daylong flea market Saturday and Sunday, by the train depot and Metaline Falls visitor center at the end of Main Street.
That’s also where the roundtrip train rides from Metaline Falls to Ione depart during Labor Day weekend.
“It’s the North Pend Oreille Valley Lions Club that runs the train,” said Lions Club member Carolyn Myers. “We own the carts and do everything – it’s all volunteer. Of course we think it’s great fun, but most people seem to really like it.”
The train – which consists of three classic coaches and three open-air cars – has been running on select fall weekends since 1981.
The train usually departs from Ione – except during Affair on Main Street when it departs from Metaline Falls – and takes you along the river, through tunnels, over wooden trestles and across the Box Canyon Bridge on a roundtrip of 20 miles.
Rumor has it there’s still an occasional train robbery close to Metaline Falls; many of the “robbers” have been seen hanging around the Cutter Theater.
“It’s just a fun thing for families to do,” said Myers. “You see the mountains and the river in a whole different way.”