Bonners Ferry is located in the northern most county of the Idaho Panhandle. With a population of 2,500, it is the county seat of Boundary County, the only county in the USA to border two states and a foreign country.
Bonners Ferry is named after Edwin Bonner who established a ferry across the Kootenai River during the late 1800s gold rush.
Today Bonners Ferry is a gateway to the Selkirk Mountains and the surrounding wilderness and is home to the largest hops fields in the world.
A giant red billboard on the outskirts of town welcomes visitors to Trump Country, “love God, guns, family, freedom, and your neighbor!”
I spent around a week in the area while mostly camping and hiking, but also found many other things to do in Bonners Ferry.
Where to Stay in Bonners Ferry
First, if you don’t want to camp, you may stay at the Best Western Plus Kootenai River Inn Casino & Spa which is located right across the river from the Bonners Ferry’s historic downtown. Try your luck at the casino or enjoy their river setting. There are also smaller venues scattered about.
For camping, Bonners Ferry allows a three-night stay at the Boundary County Fairgrounds which is just southwest of the historic district. There is also 24-hour parking between the designated signs at the Visitor Center and the museum.
Camping and Hiking
For wilderness camping, you likely won’t have cell service, but on the way to all the hikes I took there are some dispersed locations and forest service campgrounds. See my list of hikes in Bonners Ferry and AllTrails will get you on your way to the right location.
Instead of finding a dispersed camping site like I usually do, I stuck with cell service and camped in town and also parked at the Snow Creek Falls Trailhead and the Section 16 – Paradise Valley Trailhead. Hiking Trails are everywhere. My favorite was Roman Nose Lakes.
Visit the Fish Hatchery
I didn’t try my luck at the casino tables, but I did try my luck at the Kootenai Tribal Sturgeon Hatchery. It is located on the Kootenai Tribe land on the other side of the river from Bonners Ferry. Once you get to the community, you will find the hatchery all the way down at the end to the left.
I didn’t have much luck with getting a tour. The tribe member manning the office said, there weren’t any sturgeon there in July, so that was that. I feel like he could have at least told me about their process and shown me the inside of the facility, but oh well. If you want a tour, go on a weekday during the sturgeon spawning season April to June.
Stroll the Historic District
Fortunately, I didn’t need any luck to stroll Bonners Ferry Historic District. The quaint downtown includes a few shops, a variety of restaurants, the Visitors Center, a war memorial and the Boundary County Museum.
I tried visiting the museum, but it was closed this particular Saturday due to the docent attending a memorial service. That said, there were a few displays outside about the Dust Bowl and trains that were very well done.
The war memorial outside of the library was also well done. While every life lost is a tragedy, seeing the list of names of the WWII stone as compared to the nearly empty slate in Afghanistan is a stark reminder of the magnitude of WWII.
I have been listening to several WWII historical fiction books, and I’m constantly choking back tears. Its unfathomable what happened to so many all across the world. And then if someone managed to survive, just finding or contacting their relatives was difficult! I’m so amazed at the resilience many people had. And sometimes I find myself discouraged with current generations that take things like texting for granted and can’t be bothered to respond. But I digress.
Where to Eat in Bonners Ferry
Alright, back to Bonners Ferry. Leaving you with WWII thoughts probably doesn’t make you too hungry. But Bonners Ferry has some good restaurants to try. I quenched my thirst with a local beer from the Kootenai River Brewing while having a salad and grabbed a papusa at the Bonners Ferry Pupuseria & American Diner + Cigars.
The Kootenai River Brewing Company is situated across the street from the river and has a nice atmosphere with live music on some weekends.
The walls of the pupuseria are covered in photos of family members, stars and even former President Trump. The restaurant is not attractive from the outside, and I likely wouldn’t have tried it, but it got excellent reviews on Google. The gentleman at the counter really wanted to sell me some macaroni salad and gave me a free sample. Their American food was just as good as their Salvadorian food!
Had I eaten out more often, I definitely would have made it to Under the Sun. There is seating both inside and outside. And it shares the space with a cute store! I tried getting breakfast there on a Monday, but it was closed. I should have known better since I was in a small town!
Check out the Farmers Market
While Monday may be a little quiet in Bonners Ferry, Saturdays are busier. The small Farmers Market which features local products from woodworking to dried morels attracts locals and visitors. It sets up in the Visitor Center parking lot every Saturday during the summer.
Look for Wildlife
Of course, there is only so much to do in a small town. But for the outdoor enthusiasts, Bonners Ferry affords visitors plenty more options.
Within minutes of Bonners Ferry is the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge. The 2,774 acre refuge includes wetlands, meadows, forests, and even farmland. It attracts deer, moose, migratory birds and more.
I took the 4-mile scenic drive and both times saw several deer. I also spotted a bald eagle perched in a tree overlooking the river.
Furthermore, the wildlife refuge features a few trails. Myrtle Falls is popular choice. The trail to the waterfall, located across the street from the Visitor Center, is less than a mile long and a portion of it is paved. Unfortunately, it is not dog friendly, so Annie had to stay behind. In fact, only the 4-mile driving loop is dog friendly and a leash is required.
Speaking of waterfalls, Bonners Ferry is home to many! If you are a waterfall lover like I am, spend a day chasing them. Along with Myrtle Falls, I hiked to Snow Creek Falls and Copper Falls. Copper Falls is almost to the Canadian border, so while up that way, plan some other activities.
I tried finding Smith Creek Falls, to no avail, but in the process I stumbled upon the diversion building which diverts water from Smith Creek as part of the Smith Creek Hydroelectric Project built in 1990. The electricity produced by this project can power 40,000 homes. Up around this area are some beautiful, dispersed camping sites.
Take a Look at the World’s Largest Hops Farm
Also, in the valley below you’ll find Budweiser’s Elk Mountain Farms. Its 1,700 acres make it the largest hops farm in the world!
Don’t be surprised if you run into a cattle drive going right down the middle of a road or if a baby grizzly crosses your path. Both happened to me! I’ve always heard that bears like beer. He was starting young! Oh, how I would have liked to capture that photo.
Eat in Good Grief
Upon my return to Bonners Ferry, I stopped at Good Grief with the population of 3…2 dogs and 1 old grouch according to the sign. The woman at the Bonners Ferry visitor center suggested I eat there. If you blink, you will miss the one restaurant/store on the side of the highway and surrounded by wilderness.
I tried to stop in for lunch, but they do not serve lunch on Sundays or Mondays. I thought Sunday would have been an optimal weekend day. Oh well. While I missed the pizza and the burgers, which I’m told are divine, I managed a slice of mixed berry pie. It was delicious!
Take a Scenic Drive
From Good Grief instead of taking Hwy 95 back to Bonners Ferry, go behind the store and take the Moyie River Loop Scenic Drive along Moyie River Road #211. The road passes through lush forest while crossing the river and railroad tracks a few times. It ends on Highway 2 at the Travel Center where campers can get a $6 shower.
Across Hwy 2 from the Travel Center is the 3 Mile Antique Mall. Don’t worry, it is not three miles long, but it does showcase a variety of antiques. I particularly liked the carousel horse and the old coca cola machines.
With the exception of the nightly trains and swarms of mosquitos, I liked Bonners Ferry. It offered everything a camper needed including a nice Safeway grocery store, a laundromat, and quarter carwash for VANgo all within a mile of one another. There was even a travelling notary that came to my van for me to sign the closing papers on my townhouse!
For those who might want more action, visit during the third week of July for their festival, River Days or head south to Sandpoint and Schweitzer Mountain Resort for more lake activities and touristy options. ETB