Wallace, Idaho – I have always had a crush on Wallace.
I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that makes this beautiful, old mining town so appealing to me, but I always love to visit.
Located smack in the middle of endless national forests and mountains, Wallace is close to Silver Mountain Ski Resort and Lookout Pass Recreation Area – which is near the access point to the Trail of the Hiawatha – and it is the heart of the Silver Valley.
The town bills itself as “the center of the universe” complete with a sign for selfies and a compass rose sunk into the asphalt at one of the downtown intersections.
Like many old mining towns, it has a rough and tumble past which started with a gold rush just after the Civil War. Wannabe miners arrived with the clothes on their backs and a gold pan. They settled in tents and shacks along creeks and rivers, hoping to find the motherlode. And some did strike gold.
Yet the Silver Valley takes its name from the late 1800s rush on silver, lead and zinc. Mines with names like Bunker Hill, Hercules and Sunshine were founded back then, and by some estimates hardworking miners dug more than 1 billion ounces of silver out of the Silver Valley.
Life wasn’t easy during the gold and silver rush. Wallace was a boomtown, sprouting overnight fueled by the needs of miners and fur traders. It also burned twice: a fire in 1890 erased most of the wooden buildings, but the people of Wallace were smart and rebuilt in brick, so when the second fire hit in 1910 the damage wasn’t quite as bad.
The railroads came to Wallace via new tracks blasted through mountain tunnels and nailed to towering trestles spanning rivers and ravines. In some cases, there were a train connection between Idaho towns before there was a road.
In its heyday, hotels and banks, butchers, bakers, and merchants of all sorts lined the streets of bustling Wallace.
Today, the pace is a little slower and it’s lovely.
Wallace is famous for its secondhand stores like North Idaho Trading Company on Bank Street, which has everything from books, to bottles to mounted moose heads and jewelry.
The Fainting Goat a Wine Bar reminds you that you aren’t that far from some of this country’s greatest wine producing regions and there are great restaurants for all tastes throughout the cozy downtown area.
Visit the 1901 Northern Pacific Railroad Depot which is now a museum and take a Sierra Mine Tour which starts with a trolley ride through downtown before it takes you underground.
There are lots of places to stay and things to see in Wallace. Please do call ahead as COVID restrictions impact some sightseeing destinations and museums.
Photo by Ben Tobin @capturing_spokane