A fishing expedition was part of a cheap getaway that centered around the states’ spectacular natural beauty — with some quality food in the mix.
The fishing rod on the starboard aft side (or back corner — I was proud of myself for learning some navigation terms) of our little vessel sprang taught, like a bowstring. Our guide, Shane Moon, jumped to his feet with a quickness I didn’ t expect from a guy who looks like he could play lineman for a college football team. “O. K., we’ ve got one, ” he said. The sun hadn’ t yet shown its face in the purplish-blue sky, but it was light out, maybe 5: 30 in the morning, and dozens of boats dotted a wide section of the Columbia River where it forks. I was excited. I had gotten a fish, and it was still pretty early, so I was feeling good about the prospects for the day. The question: Would I be able to keep it?
“Let’s hope it’s a king, ” Mr. Moon said as he scooped it up into the net. It was not a king, or Chinook salmon. It was a fat, silvery sockeye salmon, and Mr. Moon shook his head. He cut it loose and the fish wriggled away, disappearing into the bluish-gray water. It wasn’ t the first time this would happen. Washington State carefully monitors its rivers and lakes, giving constant updates on what fishermen are and are not allowed to keep, and sockeye had just been placed on the no-fish list. The catch-and-retain window, I was learning, is extremely narrow. We were looking for king salmon, but it could not be wild — it had to be from a hatchery (a clipped fin is the giveaway) .
Patience and acceptance were just a couple of lessons I learned during a not-always-fruitful but highly instructive fishing expedition, part of a cheap getaway in Washington and Idaho that centered around the states’ spectacular natural beauty — with some quality food in the mix. I’ d booked a “Long Weekender” package through the Hilton Honors app, which offered a 50 percent discount on Sunday night during a three-night stay. My first two nights at the Hampton Inn & Suites Spokane Valley cost $139, and so the third night was a mere $69. The hotel was comfortable enough, but, most importantly, it was a good home base for heading back and forth in my $22-per-day Alamo rental car between Spokane, Wash., and Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, 25 minutes away on Interstate 90.
My first order of business was to explore Coeur d’ Alene, a small city with a cute, compact downtown area. It also has beaches — not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Idaho. I parked on Sherman Avenue, downtown’s main drag, and walked over to the prosaically named City Park and accompanying beach, along Lake Coeur d’ Alene. The slightly gravelly shoreline isn’ t going to give Oahu a run for its money anytime soon, but it’s a fun, lively scene: lots of swimmers and picnickers, and I enjoyed wading in the cool, but not cold, water.
Lounging and sunbathing (it was hot that weekend) was the pastime of choice when I was there, but other outdoor activities are widely available: Cruises on the Saint Joe River are offered, as well as kayaking ($9 per hour) , parasailing (from $65 per person) and something called a SUPsquatch — a massive paddleboard that fits up to 9 people ($50 per hour) . The park also hosts weekly summer concerts; I attended a fun performance by Bram Brata, a steel drum ensemble.
I wanted to do a little kayaking, but decided I would hunt for a slightly better deal. I found it at Fun Unlimited in Post Falls, which offers a three-hour, early-bird kayaking special from 9 a.m. until noon for just $22. After signing a quick waiver, I paddled east on the Spokane River, toward McCabe’s Island, then turned back around and went toward the site of the town’s first lumber mill, now the Post Falls Dam. It was a perfect day for kayaking — just be careful of motorized watercraft.
After kayaking, it was easy enough to visit Post Falls Park, a small but picturesque green space on the Spokane. The views of the dam are great, as well as those of the pretty-but-inaccessible Avista Bridge. You can, though, do what I did and trek down past the rocks to the Spokane itself and hike a bit along the river.
Tubbs Hill, 120 acres of hiking trails and public park, offers a great way to stretch your legs and take in panoramic views of Coeur d’ Alene and the surrounding area. I parked on South 10th Street, on the hill’s backside, and entered the trails from there. I spent an hour or two on the hill before realizing how hungry I’ d gotten.
Fortunately, Hudson’s Hamburgers, a no-frills spot that’s been in business for an impressive 110 years, wasn’ t far away. Best of all, the simple double cheeseburger with onions, pickles and spicy mustard ($5.60) , was everything a burger should be. Service was efficient but cordial. “Never had a TV ad, a radio ad, nothin’ , ” said Steve Hudson, the owner, from behind the counter.
The rest of Coeur d’ Alene doesn’ t skimp on quality food, either — I had good drip coffee ($2.30) from Vault, the resident hip coffee shop, and enjoyed the Greek Village Salad from Olympia Restaurant on East Lakeside Avenue, a mountain of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion.
The most surprising spot was Daft Badger Brewing, a fun and busy brewpub smack in the middle of a residential street. (“It might be why we close relatively early, ” my server told me.) They have a refreshing (and potent) Blood Orange I. P. A. that is hearty without overdoing it on the hops ($5) . It went well with a Not Your Mother’s BLT Sandwich, which adds sundried-tomato mayo and provolone cheese to the classic formula ($11.95) .
Lest Idaho take all the glory, there was just as much good grub and quality suds on the other side of the border. In fact, the deal I found at The Wandering Table in Spokane was probably the single best deal of my trip. The chic spot just west of Riverfront Park allows for a near-luxurious lunch experience for a pittance. Customers can choose three dishes that individually range from $12 to $20 on the menu for a total of $15. I had a salad of charred broccoli with drop peppers and pine nuts, a healthy portion of albacore tuna in rice wine with pickled pears and a jalapeño aioli, and two immodestly large chicken wings slathered in a sticky Vietnamese glaze. It was all quite good, and entirely too much.
Garageland on West Riverside Avenue is another good spot to grab a quick bite, in a slightly more casual setting. And I can also recommend Zola’s as an option for a solid meal and a beer, especially on Sundays when there’s an all-day happy hour. If the collegiate vibe at Zola’s is not your thing, head to The Observatory, where the mood is more tattoos, board games and microbrews.
With such a bevy of food and natural splendor in the Spokane/Coeur d’ Alene area, it does raise the question — Why did I travel so far (Brewster, where I booked my trip with Moon’s Guide Service, is 130 miles from Spokane) to go fishing? Believe me: I asked myself the same question as I drove bleary-eyed toward the Grand Coulee Dam in the middle of the night.
The answer, naturally, was price. Mr. Moon offered an eight-hour trip for just $200 — about half of what some guides were offering. Additionally, salmon fishing wasn’ t quite as weather-dependent as fly fishing, also popular in the area — I reached out about fly-fishing lessons to a shop in Coeur D’ Alene, only to have the class canceled at the last minute because it was too windy.

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