It’s too easy to overlook or not know about our local sights and destinations. Outsiders drive or fly long distances to vacation to spots we may never even have considered as a day trip or overnight excursion. The Selkirk Loop has many of those unfamiliar and unknown locations.
The entire loop is a 280-mile international experience. Roughly half of the drive is in the United States and the other half explores into Canada. The loop is promoted as a “truly spectacular drive in Idaho, Washington and British Columbia” and “North America’s only multicountry scenic loop.” Anyone who has driven it will agree with the hype. The loop makes a complete circle around the Selkirk Mountain Range, which gives the road its name. Almost the entire drive is in sight of the mountains covered with trees, following rivers and winding along the banks of lakes. There is a cave to explore, free ferry rides, a developed hot spring, wildlife refuges, scenic train ride, glass house, museums and interesting, eclectic small towns on the loop. The best way to get acquainted with what can be found is to obtain the pamphlet “Selkirk Loop.” It contains a map and listings of attractions, accommodations, events and activities. Included are six side trips, three designated scenic byways and a historic route, all of which branch off from the main loop. Simply put, there is a whole lot to see. A number of days could be taken to see many various options, or they can be seen individually in day trips from our area. Part of the fun of planning a trip is to break up the loop, research the area and decide which section seems the most interesting.
At the most northern section of the loop in Canada is a ferry that crosses Kootenay Lake from the town of Balfour to Kootenay Bay. It is described as the longest free ferry ride in the world. The ride takes approximately 45 minutes. The lake is long and fairly narrow with classic, steep, massive mountains rising up on either side. On a clear day the cruise across the lake is beautiful. On the south end of Kootenay Lake is another free, five-minute ferry ride to Harrop-Procter peninsula.
An overnight excursion to Ainsworth Hot Springs can be one of the highlights of taking the Selkirk Loop. The developed hot spring, with its horseshoe-shaped cave that can be explored while soaking in the warm water, is a memorable experience. The adjacent motel rooms or close-by campgrounds make this a great stop.
After disembarking from the ferry on the east shoreline of Kootenay Lake between the small towns of Boswell and Sanca, there is a house constructed with over 500,000 embalming bottles. A short stop will cure your curiosity about the house.
There are several wildlife refuges along the route. The Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge, McArthur Lake Wildlife Management Area, Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge, Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area and Interpretation Centre and Meadow Lake Wildlife Observatory are all good wildlife viewing areas. Just by driving the loop there is the possibility of seeing birds – waterfowl and raptors like osprey, owls and eagles – and large mammals like moose, deer, bear and elk.
During the summer months, guided tours are provided in Gardner Cave in Crawford State Park. Gardner is the second-longest limestone cave in Washington.
Each fall (weekends Oct. 17-25) departing from the town of Ione, Wash., a $12 train ride takes passengers across Box Canyon Trestle and through an 810-foot tunnel to Metaline Falls. Autumn colors are featured. This can be a fun and spectacular trip.
Birding trail loop
The Selkirk Loop has also been designated as a “Two Nation Birding Vacation.” A separate booklet is available with 24 birding locations around the loop that have been highlighted. Included is a list of more than 200 birds with the habitat they will be found in and the frequency of seeing them by season.
The Selkirk Loop is more than a long strip of asphalt. Driving it, the eyes, ears and nose can detect something different from the city landscape. The drive will bring the awareness of pine scent as the day warms up. The cool fall temperatures will not only bring colors to watch for but the sound of rustling, drying leaves as the wind blows through the trees. Scenic lakes, mountains and rivers will unfold around the many curves of the road. The area we live in is a special place. Take time to experience it.