GOLD CREEK LODGE: HARD ENDURO, SOFT SUNSETS
BY: STEPHEN W CLARK
Close your eyes and imagine a place where the single track flows like a dark ribbon of chocolate dirt through the forest. A place where you can eat, sleep and drink enduro. A place so remote only fellow riders seek it out, and the gift shop sells bib mouses. A place where the rides are as challenging as the evenings are relaxing and after a long day on the bike the beer flows like the springs of water you see on the trail. Welcome to Gold Creek Lodge.
Located in the Idaho Panhandle on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille, Gold Creek Lodge is a destination built almost exclusively for enduro riding. The multi-acre forested property has a hotel campground, restaurant, bar, store, rental operation, and the best part: instant access to countless miles of motorized singletrack trails. As the crow flies, it is close to Coeur D’ Alene but is very remote because it is only accessible by either 45 minutes of dirt road or from the other side of the lake by boat. There’s no cell signal, making it a fantastic place to unwind and disconnect from the day-to-day world. Really the only stress at Gold Creek is keeping your bike running and surviving the day’s ride.
My good friend Kory Cowan and I did a once in a lifetime motorcycle trip in Austria a few years ago, and we always had intentions of making another trip, but like everyone else, the possibility of international travel has been largely off the table for the last few years, so we needed to find something a little closer to home. Back in 2015, I had visited Gold Creek when it first opened and got a small taste of what the area had to offer. Since then, the owner Dave McCahill and his team have really fine-tuned the operation, adding more camping spots, a store, rental bikes, and much more. Word has spread, and it’s not uncommon to run into top riders like Colton Haaker, Cody Webb, or any other top ten finishing World level Hard Enduro riders at the Lodge. I’ve always wanted to go back, so Kory and I found a free weekend, loaded the 300’s in the truck, and headed North to ride with Dave and our common buddy and all-around ripper, Kaleb Retz.
Luck was on our side because we arrived at Gold Creek just at the end of a rainstorm, so the dirt was about as perfect as it could have been. Slightly muddy in sections but mostly dark loamy dirt without a single ounce of dust. Every riding area has its legendary trail, the one where the stories of blood, sweat, and tears are endless. In the case of Gold Creek, that trail is Packsaddle. We had heard stories of pro riders having meltdowns on the trail, and it has become almost a rite of passage for riders visiting the Lodge, so we at least had to give it a try. Dave did his best to warn us and try to talk us out of it, but Kaleb really pushed the idea. So off we went, slightly nervous but excited to see how we would do. A crew of guys from Montana were also at the Lodge with similar aspirations of summiting Packsaddle and set off before us. The first part of the trail when we were fresh was really fun, challenging, and technical but not the same dragging your bike over boulders in a cloud of coolant steam kind of way to what was coming up. Typically on trail rides, we try to keep the group together by waiting at intersections, but Packsaddle really isn’t that kind of ride.
It’s more of an every man for them self death march to the summit with the unspoken rule that you can tap out at any time and take the ride of shame back to the Lodge. Everything is relative, but I feel like I’ve ridden with my fair share of capable enduro riders on challenging trails over the years, but I’ve never ridden a trail that is so hard for so long, it literally felt like it was never going to end. The relentless trail switchbacks its way up the hill through a countless number of very tough boulder sections, and while the moisture made the normal trails perfect, that moisture translated into the mud and slick, slimy rocks. I lost track of the number of times the coolant in my bike boiled over as I pulled off my sweat-soaked helmet and gasped for air in a cloud of steaming coolant. For a rider with my lack of abilities, there becomes a time on a ride like this that it really comes down to the will you have to get to the top; so we pushed, fell over, spun, boiled over with every big effort getting us slightly closer to the top.
The Montana crew were stopped in the hardest section with a chain wedged around the countershaft sprocket, so a few of those guys were super nice to pull my forks up through the rocks. The last I heard from them, they were considering removing the swingarm. With the rest of my group ahead, I continued my march to the summit. Two steps forward and one step backward, I made slow progress towards the top. Completely exhaust and well past the point of it even being fun on a bike that had been beaten to within an inch of its life, we finally arrived at the top. Or the almost top. For the really ambitious riders, there’s a short but ridiculously difficult section of the boulders that you can ride to the very top. I chose to hike. In the spirit of capturing content, Kory was a trooper and rode/pushed/drug his way up the super nasty section to the very top. The view from the top was absolutely incredible and quickly made it all feel worthwhile. We spent a good hour at the top taking photos and hanging out with other riders, and cheering on the ambitious guys who rode to the top before starting to head back down. The trail down was surprisingly challenging as well, with more mud, rock drop-offs, and tight switchbacks. We had started with intentions of doing a much longer rider, but Packsaddle took a lot more time, effort, and coolant than we expected, so we made our way back to the Lodge.
Don’t let our lack of good judgment of picking trails sway you away from going to Gold Creek. There are countless other trails in the area that are much flowier. Next time we will probably ride those trails. The gravel roads in the area are equally as endless, so for riders on bigger bikes navigating the Panhandle, Gold Creek could make a great place to stop.
Back at Gold Creek, we washed the bikes and wound down from the day with some appetizers and a cold beverage before heading out on the lake. Kaleb took us out on the Gold Creek Mastercraft surf boat for a sunset surf session. Sitting on the boat watching the sunset reflect off the glassy water, I felt like I should pinch myself. It was so relaxing and such a stark contrast to the challenging day we had on the trails. In a place like this, it’s easy to lose track of time, and before we knew it, we were sitting around a fire and had missed dinner. Obviously, in a place this remote, there are limited options for dinner and not wanting to let us go to bed on an empty stomach, Dave put the boat back in the water and cruised us across the lake to Lakeside. This place was wild with an almost Venice’esque feel with lanes of floating houses connected by walkways. We floated into town and docked at a little waterside bar where we enjoyed a burger and a beer before heading back across the lake and back to Gold Creek.
Our trip was short, but I feel any length of trip to Gold Creek would never be long enough. It’s a really special place in so many ways. More often than not, the locations we find ourselves in on bike trips are destinations popular with people seeking out a vast myriad of recreation activities. This is completely fine, but what makes Gold Creek unique is that it’s a facility completely dedicated to enduro with the trails to back it up. Gold Creek is a one-stop shop for an epic time, so if enduro is your thing, you really should add a trip to your bucket list. www.goldcreeklodge.com