Wolf Lodge Inn - Around The Lake And Back

Man's Quest For Charred Meat.

There's something visceral and deep that touches your soul when on the hunt for animal flesh to consume. Never mind that, in this case and most others, all of stalking is done by politely asking a host/hostess for a table, and the killing is done in a mostly mechanized fashion far, far from your view. The anticipation and travel involved effectively whets the appetite and makes for a more satisfying meal.

In Spokane, WA for the 100 Years of Motorcycles, we kept hearing about it: The Best Steaks on the Planet. A little place called the Wolf Lodge Inn was just east of Coeur D'Alene, ID about 30 miles to the east. "Ride out there!" they said, "You won't regret it." They would go on to tell me (and my riding partner, Steve), tales of aged meat, and a wood-fired pit (illegal in most places, but grandfather-claused for in this joint), and oh, the best deserts...Okay, we were hooked, but 30 miles down the interstate isn't a Ride, it's going out for groceries. However, when pressed for information, the locals pretty much agreed that their favorite, uber-secret ride was a lap of Lake Coeur D'Alene.

Although the lake is only 30 miles long, the roads surrounding it follow the undulations of the land, and here in the foothills of the Rockies there are plenty of bumps, curves and ridges for the roads to navigate. In the summer this dam-enhanced glacial lake is a boater's paradise, with huge numbers of craft and people enjoying the water in various ways: skimming the surface as fast as possible, fishing, swimming, sunning, or just exploring the lake's many nooks and bays. What all this means to you, the motorcyclist, is that despite having huge tourist infrastructure (inns, bars, funky little shops, etc), all of the very nicely surfaced roads are just about deserted. You really can't blame the locals for wanting to keep the place for themselves, can you?

To start our trip over from neighboring Spokane we rumbled down I-90 for 25 miles to Idaho 95, mostly because we only had one day for our day trip, and due to a wicked night of drinking we didn't get up until noon. Had we gotten up earlier we might have chosen one of several nice backroads that connect from Spokane directly to SR-95 and avoided both the City of Coeur D'Alene and the interstate. As it was, a relatively painless blast down the superslab warmed us up well.

I say relatively painless because I borrowed a Road King for the trip. The 'King in question has 23-inch ape hangers and a set of slow-leaking air shocks. The apes are fine at moderate speeds but left me flapping in the wind at high velocities. My comfort issues were compounded by having no idea what to set the pressure in the shocks at, and probably spending way too much time bouncing off of the stops instead of floating on a cushion of air. But as the bike was free and a hell of a runner, I'm definitely not complaining!

After turning off of I-90 onto SR-95 just inside Coeur D'Alene (the city), the first part of the lake you get to is also the most populated. Cougar Bay might sound intriguing but just keep rolling.

Route 95 is a fairly major four-lane thoroughfare, complete with cops, traffic and the rest. It's somewhat scenic, rolling through forested hills, but mostly dull. Down the west side of the lake it's all about getting to and from the water. There are a ton of fun roads that lead to bayside watering holes, launch ramps, vacation homes and nothing else, while the 95 keeps its distance. If you want to explore the area and not just continually double back to return to the highway, or continually run into dead ends, I suggest using GPS or spending a little time beforehand planning your route on an online mapping program. We took the Black Rock Marina cutoff in search of gas and found some. But what we also discovered was one of the hordes of beautiful little deserted roads of this area that leads to (almost inexplicably) a packed bar and grill, right on the water. "Shooters" was the name of this one, and the late lunch boat crowd had stopped in to feed and water themselves.

Heading back out to 95, we completed the first leg of our trek to the town of Plummer, deep in the Coeur D'Alene Tribal lands. Cheap gas, cigar and fireworks shops are the defining features of the town. The southern third of the lake is owned by the tribe, and they have the casino to prove it. From Plummer, we headed east toward St. Maries on SR-5.

The ride gets interesting right out of Plummer, heading into hillier country at first and then dropping down to the lake and flowing alongside it. Now that we were on actual good motorcycle roads that went somewhere, the two-wheeled population rose substantially. While the 5 was relatively deserted, at least half of the traffic we saw was motorcycles. And no wonder: we flew along the smooth asphalt sweeping through corners, surrounded by nature's glory. There are swampy stretches, majestic vistas, and a constant peek-a-boo game with trees and the lake as it fades into and out of view through the forest.

There's an overlook where you can get a view of a somewhat weird sight. The Saint Joe River threads its way to its conclusion between trees on a little spit of land that's surrounded by lakes on both sides. So a waterway, on a strip of land, in a lake (or a pair of lakes). A sign claims that ol' Saint Joe is the highest navigable waterway on earth, but at only 2300 feet that seems like it might be off.

Too soon the 19 miles to St.Maries are over and we're asking directions again. When we set off in the morning we only had a vague idea of how exactly to get to the Wolf Lodge Inn, so we kept asking. And at every point until now, people told us to go back up SR-95 to the Interstate and go east...not understanding that we wanted to go the long way. Even here in St. Maries, more than halfway around the lake, they were still telling us to go back, and whatever we did, avoid SR-97...Too twisty! People used to towing boats to and from the lake have different ideas of what makes a good road than do you and I.

I don't think I need to tell you that we did not avoid SR-97. Following the signs to Harrison, we first took the 3 and then the 97. From there it's straight up the 97 to steak. What is now a tiny, out of the way place, Harrison was once the county seat; a rich mining and logging town that all of the local resource wealth passed through. Now both it and St. Maries are good for those into 19th century buildings and friendly people.

97 was all that it was advertised to be. With fresh coat of asphalt for most of its length, it starts twisting through hills, then drops down to the water and stays there. Unlike the west side, you don't have to go looking for the secluded rockin' little bars on the east side of the lake, they're right there on or near the road. From slightly more highbrow/family-oriented places like Eddie's Bar and Grill at Arrow Point, to the raw live rock show allure of the Carlin Bay Resort, there are good times to be had on the road and at the watering holes all up and down the east side of the lake.

At the end of our ride, along the shores of Wolf Lodge Bay, the pavement was not quite the smooth blacktop of the earlier part of the ride, but it was more than made up for with clear views and fun, fast sections (and still no traffic).

All too soon the 97 crossed the interstate and we pulled into the parking lot of the Wolf Lodge Inn. While it had only been 150-ish miles to this point, wandering aimlessly takes it out of you, and we were ready for steak. It would have been easy to be let down after the day we had just had. Was it really possible that the best steak in the world was at the end of one of the best rides in the world? In a word, yes. And the dessert and fish are world-class, too. A porterhouse with the texture of a filet, and halibut both flaky and moist. The desserts are large and decadent. We didn't know how we wolfed down what we did, but were happy nonetheless.

We're not exactly sure how we stayed awake though those last 40 miles of I-90, but sleep came swiftly at an early hour that night.

The Wolf Lodge's World Famous Wood Pit Grill