- 166 miles (267 km)
- Eight to ten hours to drive entire Byway (including ferry ride and U.S.-Canadian border crossings)
- No fee for the Kootenay Lake ferry.
Picture yourself in a place of forested hillsides, sparkling waterfalls, and charming small towns. Snowcapped-craggy peaks glint in the morning sun as you follow a path that encircles the breathtaking Selkirk Mountains. There's no need to imagine it; you can experience it for yourself on the International Selkirk Loop! Curving through some of the prettiest scenery in northeast Washington, north Idaho and southeast British Columbia, the loop connects Americans and Canadians in a historic relationship of living, working, and playing in a spectacular setting.
A vast, uncrowded playground of national forest and wilderness areas surrounds the Loop and offers visitors a myriad of opportunities for outdoor recreation. To begin with, nearly the entire route follows rivers and lakeshores. Historically used for transportation, today these waterways host a variety of year-round recreation. From fishing to windsurfing and boating to diving, you can find it on the loop. Or, whether you are on foot, bike, horseback, or skis, you can take advantage of hundreds of miles of trails waiting to be explored. Animal lovers will be excited to learn that the public lands bordering the loop are home to the largest diversity of wildlife in the lower 48 states with more than 50 mammal and 265-plus bird species! Feeling adventurous? Then why not try your hand at snowmobile touring, rock climbing and geo-caching (a kind of treasure hunt that uses GPS systems). Whatever you decide to do while you are here, you will be pleasantly surprised at the lack of crowds on the Selkirk Loop - it's a genuinely relaxing experience!
For millennia, inhabitants of this region have dwelt along the riverbanks and lakeshores, enjoying the mild lower elevation climate in winter and the cool mountains in summer. Visitors will find stories of the region's inhabitants - including Native Americans, fur trader David Thompson, settlers, miners, loggers, and newer immigrants - told in local visitor centers and museums, along with information about the natural environment at many locations around the loop. The communities along the loop boast scenic attractions as well: beautiful parks, historic architecture, public gardens, fountains, sculpture, murals, colorful farmers' markets, and public squares.
The loop's scenery changes with each season. In spring the bright greens of new foliage blend with the colors of early wildflowers, set against a backdrop of snow-covered mountaintops and rushing waterfalls. In summer, wildflowers are in full bloom, and the rivers and lakes teem with fish below warm blue skies. Fall brings changing colors, with brilliant golds and reds amid the dark green pine and spruce. Canadian geese by the thousands stop for respite on their journey south through the Pacific Flyway. In winter, a peaceful blanket of snow covers higher elevations of the Loop, with greenery remaining in the milder climates of the river valleys. Moose, deer, and elk often are spotted as they browse for tender shoots beneath the snow. But perhaps the most delightful aspect of the loop's scenery is its variety, from narrow river canyons to broad fertile valleys and vibrant village scenes, from lowland meadows to breathtaking mountain vistas. Surprises await around every corner!
Points of Interest
Points of Interest Along The Way
Albeni Falls Dam Visitor Center (ID)
The Albeni Falls Dam Visitor Center is operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The dam was built in the early 1950s at the site of a natural falls to produce electricity and control flooding. The center offers visitor information about local attractions, indoor/outdoor education about dams, hydropower, the Pend Oreille/Columbia River System, natural resources and wildlife. There is a scenic overlook of the Pend Oreille River, public restrooms, parking and picnic area.
Bonner's Ferry/Ferry Crossing Interpretive Site (ID)
Located at the north end of the Kootenai River Bridge, these two Idaho Historical Markers are two important elements of the region's heritage. Historical Marker #491 documents the heritage and culture of the Kootenai Tribe, who today are involved in operating a world class hatchery to restore Sturgeon and Burbot populations that declined dramatically after the river was dammed in 1971. Tours can be arranged by appointment. They also operate the only casino onthe Loop route, here in Bonners Ferry. Historical Marker #165 details the site of the river crossing ferry established by Edwin Bonner. Visit the Bonners Ferry Museum located on Main Street to learn about the role the Kootenai River played in the development of this area, and the sites to be visited in Canada. The Bonners Ferry Gateway Visitor Center offers excellent area interpretation.
Creston Wildlife Management Area (ID)
The 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) of the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area include a lake, 17 marshes, a major river, a self-guided boardwalk tour and 3-story viewing tower. It is home to 50 mammal species and 265+ bird species, including tundra swans, greater white-fronted geese, and osprey. The Area boasts some of the best canoeing and bass fishing in B.C. The Interpretive Centre has a hands-on discovery gallery, nature lab, theatre, gift shop and picnic area.
At the junction of Highways 21, 3 and 3A, which is 1 mile north of Creston, turn west onto, Highway 3. Travel approximately 4 miles to the main entrance to the Wildlife Management, Area, which is on the south side of the highway. There is an entrance fee.
Idaho Panhandle National Forests (ID)
Idaho Panhandle National Forest, Northern Region, ID Predominantly in the Selkirk Mountain Range, the PNF manages over 2.5 million acres. During the spring, summer and fall a variety of activities can be found, including hundreds of hiking trails. There is a great variety of wildlife, fish, clear lakes and rivers and ancient cedar groves. In winter, hundreds of miles of groomed trails beckon nordic skiers and snowmobilers.
Kokanee Creek Provincial Park (ID)
On the north shore of Kootenay Lake, Kokanee Creek Provincial Park is known for its half mile of gorgeous sandy beach and its Kokanee Salmon channels, where visitors can watch the salmon spawn in August. Excellent interpretive signs describe the salmon's life cycle. The Park also features eight hiking trails, a boat launch, visitor centre, adventure playground, viewing platform, and spacious campgrounds. The Kokanee Creek Delta features many species of plants and animals.
Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge (ID)
Located 5 miles west of Bonners Ferry is an exceptionally scenic refuge that offers a key resting and feeding area along the Pacific Flyway and offers excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing. There are many hiking trails, photo blinds and an auto-tour route.
From the intersection of US 95 and Main Street in downtown Bonners Ferry, follow Riverside Road west along the Kootenai River for 6 miles to the Refuge, which is clearly signed.
Kootenay Lake Free Ferry (ID)
Kootenay Lake is the largest natural lake in the Kootenay Rockies. The lake water is pure enough to drink, and is home to Kokanee salmon, sturgeon, Dolly Varden and rainbow trout, including the world's largest, the Gerrard rainbow. Crossing the Lake at the northern point of the Selkirk Loop requires a 45-minute ride on a free ferry, which is part of the Canadian Highway System. The scenic ride is North America's longest free ferry, and the boats feature on-board restaurants.
Nestled on the west shore of Kootenay Lake,Nelson's storybook charm comes to life in its vibrant downtown and 350 heritage buildings. It is the hub of all things outdoors, surrounded by Selkirk Mountains' snow capped peaks. Nelson was ranked#1 Arts Community in Canada, and #4 in North America.Nelson's highlights include Historic Baker Street, sidewalk cafes, Lakeside Park, the Nelson Museum, David Thompson Cultural Centre, Aquatic Centre, and nearby electric tramway.
Priest River (ID)
At the confluence of the Priest and Pend Oreille Rivers, Priest River developed as a timber town. Its first sawmill was built in 1897, and logs were driven down Priest River to sawmills from 1901 to 1949 by the "river pigs." The Diamond Match Company used boats called "bateau's" on the log drives, and one is on display at the Keyser House Museum and Visitor Center, in the heart of Priest River's Historic District. A walking tour showcases 20 historic buildings and sites.
Slow down and take time to notice the stone murals on the sides of the buildings of Salmo. There are seven murals celebrating the history and natural beauty of the area.