The reaction to the first blast of river water in the face will tell you everything you need to know. While I’m wholly convinced that whitewater rafting is something every man, woman, and child would enjoy—you’re never quite sure until you see their countenance emerge from that first swiftwater baptismal. I suppose that in the course of human history, somebody’s face has reflected stunned caution, but our group reacted exactly the way I expected. With beaming smiles, some laughter, and excited eyes. I guess I had reacted the same way at dinner in Moscow a few nights prior. I was just a lot drier.
Our group consisted of two couples. Without pointing fingers, some of us might be considered a little more city-centric, preferring wine tastings, tasting menus, and art galleries. While others could be described as a bit more outdoorsy, opting for craft beer, rare protein, and Mother Nature’s grandeur. But we are Seattleites and true Northwesterners that reside somewhere on a sliding scale of appreciation for all of those wonderful things that help define the region. Same, but different. As such, we wanted to take a road trip that would include at least one new destination for everyone. Far enough away to be new, close enough to be accessible, and that might offer at least a little something for everybody.
We decided on a section of Highway 95 in western Idaho with the first stop being Moscow, a new destination for me. After a morning spent driving, we were happy to arrive. And very hungry.
Downtown Moscow is strikingly vibrant. A college town with instantly obvious history and soul. Right in the middle of it is the Kitchen Counter where we enjoyed a lunch that was hearty and homemade, but also nuanced in flavor and noticeably seasonal. Things were off to a great start. Directly across the street was the Colter’s Creek Winery Tasting Room. The elegant and architecturally arresting tasting room pours an array of equally elegant reds. Now firing on all satiated cylinders, the group decided to walk a few doors down to the Essential Art Gallery for what became an impromptu holiday/birthday gift buying spree for a number of us. Well, all of us.
After shopping we strolled around Moscow a bit, discovering enough art and intriguing culinary and shopping options to warrant another weekend. Thirsty again, we sampled the wares from both the Moscow and Hunga Dunga Brewing Companies and found that the east side of the Cascade Mountains is creating craft beer on par with anything over on the wetter side. At this point, we were pretty chuffed with our Moscow experience but needed to get checked into our accommodations and take a little downtime.
The Monarch Motel was at one point one of those classic roadside inns. It has very recently received a mid-century modern facelift that warmed the soul and enlivened the sturdy old bones of the building. The boutique lodging was the perfect place for us and in the perfect location—a stone’s throw away from that evening’s dinner and drinks. Maialina Pizzeria Napoletana provided an authentic Italian meal that was perhaps my favorite of the year. We shared a number of exquisite dishes, but the Salsiccia pizza with local pork house fennel sausage, local seasonal greens, house mozzarella, fennel pollen, tomato sauce, and house-smoked chili oil was a culinary mic-drop moment that caused me to swoon. Smart cocktails across the street at the casual but refined Nectar Restaurant & Wine Bar were the perfect capper.
Breakfast the next day at Bloom was the A.M. version of the prior evening’s indulgence. Needing to stretch the legs a bit before hitting the road, we hiked a few miles at the Idlers Rest Nature Preserve—a true community gem that somehow crams a ton of biodiversity into only 35 acres. With a fresh dose of fresh air in our lungs, we headed south for Lewiston.
Now firing on all satiated cylinders, the group decided to walk a few doors down to the Essential Art Gallery for what became an impromptu holiday/birthday gift buying spree for a number of us.
Well, all of us.
The drive isn’t too long but the elevation change is substantial, and it comes all at once. A handful of miles before reaching Lewiston, Highway 95 essentially falls completely off of the rolling Plains of the Palouse to the confluence of rivers below. The view is epic—but the three runaway truck ramps say all you need to know about how steep your descent is.
Lewiston I already knew. Having enjoyed a wine weekend with the lady there before, I already had a handle on how sublime the wines being produced in the Northwest’s fastest up and coming American Viticultural Areas already were. A return trip to Lindsay Creek Vineyards with our new-to-Lewiston friends seemed like the proper tone-setter. The destination winery and tasting room announce the arrival of the region as one to be reckoned with. After some sumptuous sips and small plates, we headed for the Jovinea Cellars tasting room in the thriving Morgan’s Alley section of downtown. With a focus on well-executed Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, they are a welcome addition to the groundswell of stellar wine options in Lewiston.
After some more tasting, we drove to the Hells Gate State Park to investigate the rumor that in addition to some excellent waterview hiking, there were some world-class basalt rock formations. Lucky for us, the rumors were true. As a geology buff, the Devil’s Slide was, all by itself, worth the trip to Idaho. We had a magnificent feast at our favorite restaurant, the Mystic Cafe, before retiring for the evening and heading to Riggins in the morning.
We drove to the Hells Gate State Park to investigate the rumor that in addition to some excellent waterview hiking, there were some world-class basalt rock formations. Lucky for us, the rumors were true.
I had been waiting for this. The legendary Salmon River takes a hard right at the town of Riggins and on the recommendation of some friends, the folks at Northwest River Adventures were going to be the ones to take us down it. With some trepidacious souls along for the trip, we opted for a half-day journey that would encounter a few class III rapids with some nice breaks in the action. Once they went through the first big rapids and took that initial soaking, I could tell they were hooked and the rest of the journey would just solidify a newborn passion.
At the Seven Devils Steakhouse and Saloon, we consumed a few rounds of well-earned cold beers and rare steaks before retiring to the banks of the river one more time to enjoy the amenities and settle into solid night’s rest at the cozy Salmon Rapids Lodge, as we would head home the next morning.
Looking back, that particular stretch of Highway 95 that hugs the very fringe of western Idaho offered far more than just a little something for everybody. It was the crossroads of all the things we deeply love about living in this part of the country. The cuisine, culture, and outdoors of the Northwest in peak form, but out there it is packaged without any pretention and presented as-is. Each destination providing in different ways and in variable doses. Its balance becomes clear when no one in your diverse party can declare a clear favorite, and all anyone can argue about is who gets to claim responsibility for the idea.
Once they went through the first big rapids and took that initial soaking, I could tell they were hooked and the rest of the journey would just solidify a newborn passion.