Wallace Idaho. Where do I even begin with this adorable, historical, fun little town?
I’ve struggled with sharing too much when writing this post and taking away from the experience of visiting Wallace. I want you to be fascinated and surprised when you learn the tidbits and gems of this town just like our little party of six was when we went. Because of that, I’m going to give a brief history of the area and highlight a few things you need to do and spots you must see while in and around town. Just know, there is so much more to learn when you are actually in the town itself.
Where is Wallace Idaho?
Wallace is located along the Idaho Panhandle in Shoshone County. It was founded in 1884 by Colonel William R. Wallace. He purchased a chunk of land that soon became a town when the settlers began pouring in for the silver and gold deposits that were being found around the area. Wallace is a mining town to this day. Northern Idaho and its plentiful mines still hold the record for the largest silvers deposits in the United States. There are over 26,963 mining claims in Shoshone county alone, though at this time only 13% are active, which equates to about 3,753.
It survived not one, but two fires
In 1980, Wallace had its first fire, burning down buildings made with timber. After that, the town was reconstructed with brick. That was one of the smartest things they could have done because, in August of 1910, the U.S. had a fire knows as the Big Burn, which destroyed at least one-third of Wallace. It also consumed over three million acres. The Big Burn still remains the largest wildfire knows to have hit the United States, and possibly the biggest ever in North American history. It traveled through North Idaho, Montana, and Washington State.
It was almost bulldozed into oblivion
The I-90 overpass runs right above the side of the town, and that, my friends, is a story in and of itself. Wallace was going to be bulldozed when they were putting the freeway in, but, the townspeople had an idea up their sleeves, and it worked! They had the whole town placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s the only complete town to ever be registered fully. Once registered, the town couldn’t be touched. It was safe!
Why we picked Wallace to visit
I knew nothing about the history of the town when we decided to visit. My reason for going was very simple. It was cute, and they filmed one of my favorite movies there. Dante’s Peak with Pierce Brosnan in 1997. A classic volcano action and adventure movie, it’s a must-see before going!
We usually drive past Wallace early fall each year when we head out on our annual Ride the Hiawatha trip with my parents and siblings. We’d load the kids, our bikes, and lunches, and take off on the two-hour drive to bike the Hiawatha. As we passed over the town, I would always marvel at the pretty, quaint few blocks of 100+-year-old buildings that sat in between mountains rising up on all sides. The golden and burnt orange hues of autumn had begun taking over the mountainsides. And there, tucked in the middle sat the town, in an almost majestic manner. Like autumn was putting on a show just for its pleasure.
And so we booked a VRBO for late September
Experiencing Wallace | wHERE TO Stay
The town has a hotel, but to truly experience it, you need to stay in a historic building or home. We stayed at The Loft On Bank, which is prime real estate and in the center of the town. They really put effort into this VRBO. It’s stunning and perfect for a larger crowd. Everything is a 5-minute walk or less to get to. It’s right above the Wallace Brewery, another must-visit.
Where to eat
This small town boasts some great eateries! While we were only able to try a few in our three-day visit, so I’ll include others that were recommended to us as well!
The blackboard cafe
After we got into town we were all famished and wanted a late lunch. We headed out to street level from our apartment and found around a few corners the cute little cafe called Blackboard. It was buzzing.
The fun thing about Wallace is, businesses are more than they appear. The Blackboard is also a bookstore and coffee shop, as well as a mountain gear shop. Yep, all that can be found at the Blackboard. The food was made from scratch, water was served in mason jars, herbs grew in the windows, and everything was absolutely delicious.
For dinner that night we wanted to stay in, and since in a small town things close up shop fairly early, around 8 or 9, we opted to order pizza and run down and grab it. The pizza shop was about 30 steps away from our VRBO. It’s called the Pizza Factory and their food was delicious! The shop owner was also a hoot to chat with while we picked up the order. But then, all the shop owners were great and had such stories. Always stop and talk to the owners if possible. It gives you an inside glimpse of the workings of the town and secrets you’ll get nowhere else.
There was a small market store at the end of our street, so we stopped there the first day to grab breakfast supplies. We have a few guys that like to cook in our party, and the huge gas stove in the loft was calling their names. We gathered eggs and other essentials from the store. If you’re staying in a VRBO, it’s a great place to stock up on water and snacks when you first get there.
The Fainting Goat Wine Bar and Restaurant
We walked past this outdoor eating area of the Fainting Goat when first exploring the town, and knew instantly we had to have dinner there one night. Isn’t it just beautiful tucked between those brick buildings?
Not only stylish and quaint, but this restaurant and wine bar also has mouth-watering food and the most fascinating way I’ve ever seen to choose wine.
They had a large wine dispenser imported from Italy.
Two wine dispensers, one containing red and the other white, are available. Each has small nozzles that dispense the wine of your choice after you enter your wine card into the top of the container. You can choose your pour size from a tasting to a half or full glass. They offer more than 30 wines and 40 craft beers. It’s a must-see to believe!
6th and Cedar Coffee
We also started every morning with a walk at dawn, I’m one of those crazy people that enjoy getting up early on vacation, and walking to 6th and Cedar for morning coffee before heading back to the loft for breakfast. Such a cute coffee shop that also turns into a bar afternoon.
Other places that were recommended to us that we weren’t able to visit but can’t wait to next time:
Red Light Garage
The shops in Wallace are a must. You’ll find thrift stores filled with three floors of treasures, a pawn shop with a mermaid, (let me know if you find it) gem stores, book stores, and so much more. Make sure you leave an afternoon to wander and get your fill of old, brick buildings.
This store is on the corner of 524 Bank Street and a must-see. If you’re a gem nut or just love rocks and history, you could spend hours here. Johnson’s Gems is more than a gem and mineral store though. It also has a full lapidary shop and jewelers on staff. They can repair and make custom jewelry onsite.
The Past and Present Shop
You also have to visit the Past and Present shop! It’s three floors of thrifted treasures for you to sift through. Lots of vintage home and decor finds. So much history within its walls.
North Idaho Trading Company Pawn Shop
Part pawnshop, part museum, this place has as many attractions as it does items for sale. From their mummified mermaid, bright red clawfoot tub, to the taxidermied hippo head and other odd sightings, it’s a must-visit.
These are just a few of the shops to check out while you’re there. Walking through town you’ll stumble on many more places to explore.
What to do & tours you need to go on
Bring your walking shoes to Wallace and be ready to explore! I always suggest going on the tours at the beginning of trips. Tour guides are a plethora of knowledge and will be sure to point you in the direction of what to do next.
I remember years ago going on a tour on our last day in Palm Springs. The old movie-making guide had rubbed elbows with the likes of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. He told us so much about the town and where to go and what to see. I was devastated when we had to leave shortly after the tour. I won’t let that happen again!
First things first, you need to visit the Silver Mines
Sierra Silver Mine Tour
If you only have time to do one thing, let it be this. The Silver Mine Tour is an open door into the past of Wallace and it’s surrounding area. Miners are the guides into the old mine, where at one point you are more than 800 feet underground. You’ll walk away in awe of miners and how resourceful and determned the first ones were to strike ore.
The trolly buses take you to the mine where you meet up with your guide, and ferries you back down once it’s over. Arriving back in town, the driver takes you on a little tour of the town and shares places of note in differrent times throughout history.
Like when President Roosevelt came to visit.
Inside the mine, it’s just all so fascinating. The tour guide welcomed all questions but covered everything so thoroughly that not many were asked. Just lots of wide eyes and “wows!” throughout the whole group as we went deeper into the mine and out the other side.
Northern Pacific Depot Museum
This is another must filled with history. For a $4 suggested donation, Mr. Wallace himself will take you on a tour of the depot on the weekends.
South Hill Stares
These are outdoor public stairways that are also on the historic registry. They were the means of navigating the town from the miner’s houses along the hillside. Start on one and try to find and go up all 12 starecases.
What do you think? Will you visit Wallace? In season is typically Memorial Day through Labor Day, with a bit of a spike during ski season. We went a couple of weeks into the offseason, and although some businesses were closed, most were open and welcoming!