There really is only one way to travel north-south through the Idaho Panhandle: it’s US 95. That’s why this road is known simply as the North-South Road. My trip covers the journey from the Palouse region at Lewiston, north to Sandpoint, via Moscow and Coeur d’Alene.
My drive up US 95 through Idaho began on a portion of the road that used to be US 95. Now it’s known as the Spiral Road overlooking Lewiston. This curvy highway requires you to negotiate 64 curves on an 1,800 foot climb. No wonder, in 1977, after sixty years of that craziness, the state opened a bypass — the current US 95 out of Lewiston, which is easier to drive, but a lot less fun. You can read about my drive up the Spiral Road here.
As you leave Lewiston and head north, you’ll be passing through one corner of the Palouse…
… a bucolic patch of rolling, grassy hills, dotted with barns and grain silos. A scene like this one is not uncommon. While I didn’t find this barn on US 95 itself, it was just a short drive off the main highway, on a road labeled Old US 95. While I only traveled a short part of it, you might find that this road provides a good alternative to the highway, north of the town of Genesee.
Moscow, the home of the University of Idaho, provides a great excuse to stop. This is an idyllic college town, with a clean, busy Main Street business district. It will make you want to move to the mountains. You can read more about my visit to Moscow, Idaho here.
North of Moscow, there’s one scenic area that I didn’t have time to explore, but I wish I had. Check your map for Mary McCroskey State Park. The main road through this largely undeveloped park is called Skyline Drive — and admit it, any road called Skyline Drive is probably pretty spectacular. You may need a 4-wheel-drive or high-clearance vehicle to drive the entire road.
The biggest town you’ll encounter on the entire drive (aside from Boise, much further south), is Coeur d’Alene. This is Idaho’s vacation getaway town, thanks to the lake of the same name. I’ve been to Coeur d’Alene a couple of times, and to be honest, both times I found it to be too crowded with tourists and traffic to be enjoyable. If I was staying in town, I’d probably have another opinion — but if you’re just passing through, it can be a slow journey filled with traffic and traffic lights.
I took this picture along Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive, near Bennett Bay. There’s a nice overlook at this spot, just down the hill from Interstate 90. You can also venture into the town for all the tourist-related businesses you could hope for, as well as nice views of, and recreation on, Coeur d’Alene Lake.
If you have some extra time in this area, you may want to check out the scenic drive around Coeur d’Alene Lake, which follows Idaho Highways 97, 3, and 6, around the lake’s east side.
Escape the sprawl of Coeur d’Alene, and your next stop will probably be Sandpoint, Idaho. Yes, that’s a replica of the Statue of Liberty, standing watch over Lake Pend Oreille. The statue is a must-see attraction, and the town itself is quite nice. Sandpoint is the biggest city on the lake, so if you’re planning on any lake-related recreation, it’s your best bet for accommodations, food, and gas.
You can read more about my visit to the Statue of Liberty at Sandpoint, Idaho here.
US 2 joins US 95 at Sandpoint, for the drive north. Instead of heading up, then over into Montana, I decided to go over and then up, using scenic Idaho Route 200, which skirts the edge of Lake Pend Oreille. If you do choose to continue north on US 95, there’s only one more town, Bonners Ferry, and then the Canadian border. Beyond the international line, the towns of Cranbrook and Creston, BC aren’t too far.
The Bottom Line
A drive up (or down) US 95 through Idaho provides a great road trip. The scenery is beautiful, mile after mile, and you’ll have access to some stunning lakes and enjoyable small towns along the way.
US 95 runs parallel to the state’s western border, for the most part, from the Boise area to the Canadian border. It connects all of the major towns and cities in northern Idaho, and it’s really your only option for a north-south route through the state.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Lewiston, up the Spiral Road…
… from Lewiston to Moscow…
… Moscow to Coeur d’Alene…
… and from Coeur d’Alene to Sandpoint: