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Priest Lake State Park cabins well located bargain for winter sports enthusiasts

On a whim last month, Dan DeRuyter loaded his fat-tired snow bike and drove from Spokane to Priest Lake, where he found a little piece of heaven off the East Shore Road north of Coolin.

He described the groomed trails at Priest Lake State Park as “fabulous” and his discovery of cozy cabins for rent as “a sweet deal.”

“I’d heard about snow biking at the Nordic center at Indian Creek and it surpassed all of my expectations,” he said. They welcome snow bikers and snowshoers to use the edges of the groomed cross-country ski trails.”

He checked out the Nordic trails on the west side of the 19-mile-long lake and then drove back around to the east side to check out the park trails at Indian Creek Campground. After logging about 12 miles of snow riding through the woods, some on a snowmobile trail, and then on the Nordic trail along the lake shoreline, he returned to his rig.

“That’s when I noticed that the cabins are available to rent during winter,” he said.

“As I drove home feeling tired from the day’s workout, I pinched myself for not just staying the night. I could have been in a cabin having a beer instead of driving in the dark.”

So he returned the next weekend and did it right.

Reservations for the six cabins can be made online at ReserveAmerica.com. Prices range from $53 to $90 a night depending on the size of the cabin (they accommodate 2-8 people) and whether you’re an Idaho resident. Non-residents pay a little more. State Parks season pass holders get a discount.

“We were just out clearing snow around the cabins – the weather has been giving us a workout this season,” Lucas Wingert, one of the staffers at the park’s Indian Creek Unit, said Tuesday. “For people who ski, snowshoe, snowmobile or ride (snow) bikes, this is a great snow year.”

Snowmobilers have quick access from the cabins to groomed snowmobile trails.

Park staff uses an UTV to groom about 4 miles of beginner-rated Nordic trails that range into the forest and back along the lakeside beach.

“There aren’t a lot of groomed Nordic trails open to snow bikers, so we’re seeing more of them up here,” he said. “With at least two and a half feet of snow, conditions have been great and everybody shares and gets along.”

The lake is frozen from shore to shore, something that doesn’t happen every year, he said.

Even during prime conditions, use of the cabins is light during winter. DeRuyter had no trouble getting a reservation on short notice.

He parked his rig and launched for another day of pedaling the Nordic trails, visiting with the few cross-country skiers he saw, and observing tons of tracks made by deer, moose and other critters.

By day’s end, he was ready to savor the rewards of staying the night at the lake in an electrically heated cabin.

“I’d brought a cooler with steaks and goodies and a few beers,” he said. “A park ranger came by with a bundle of firewood. They’re very visitor oriented there. And I cooked the steak on the grill over the fire pit. It was outstanding.”

He brought a Jet Boil camping stove for heating water and a sleeping bag for a quick crash. He noted that the bed mattress in the one-room Caribou Cabin left much to be desired. “I’d probably bring a sleeping pad next time,” he said. “But the cabin was warm and dry, a real treat after being out all day.”

The winter cabins don’t have water, but passage is plowed to the heated restrooms near the headquarters.

“It was good to get out at night,” he said. “The owls are mating or something and they were hooting up a storm. I put on my puffy jacket and sat out on the porch swing for a long time listening to them.”

Power in the cabin allowed him to charge his phone and bike lights, which he used for a night tour of the Nordic trails on his balloon-tired cycle. “That was magical,” he said.

The next morning, he rose early and set out to ride the freshly groomed snowmobile trail before snowmobilers came out to track up the perfectly smooth corduroy.

“It was really nice, smooth as a desk top – as good as it gets. However, the trail to Bear Ridge is being plowed for a logging operation, so I was limited where I could go. Basically I had to go uphill. After 6 to 7 miles, I was toast. A real pull on a fat bike, but a great ride back down.”

DeRuyter carries extra clothing on his bike for the downhills. “It’s no problem staying warm going uphill, but you can freeze coming down on a bike.”

A mobile app he downloaded from the Priest Lake Chamber of Commerce web page includes grooming reports for Nordic trails as well as the snowmobile trails, he said.

“I’ll be back,” he said. “With some buddies next time.”

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