If, at the start of our epic adventure to visit every single State, you had told us that Idaho would be one we’d visit twice, we’d probably have questioned your sanity. However, 47 States down the line we know that every State has something special, sometimes many special things – and Idaho is no different. In fact, Idaho might be home to the most special place we’ve been in all our trips – more of which later.
Our second trip to Idaho came after a week in Alaska in September 2018. We flew back in to Portland and then drove out along the Columbia River Gorge bound for the Gem State. Our first stop was right across the State line in a place called Lewiston. Lewiston is named after Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame – the chaps who led the American expedition into the western territory (very ably assisted by Sacagewea – the Native American without whom Lewis and Clark would have found life very difficult indeed). Next door to Lewiston is Clarkston (obviously named for William Clark), but since Clarkston was back in Oregon and Lewiston is across the State line, we decided to stop for lunch in Idaho.
Lewiston isn’t a big town by any means. It sits on the banks of the wide-flowing Clearwater river and the rather narrower Snake river. There’s not a lot to mark it out as a tourist destination but the tidal wave made of canoes next to an old railway line is pretty neat. Its also home to Zany Graze – a slightly odd restaurant that does all kinds of food – classic American, Mexican, Thai and an extensive sushi menu. It had good vegan options too and while it wasn’t spectacular, it was tasty and the service was great. There’s also a nice little pub with a great craft beer lineup connected to it, but we didn’t partake as we had a couple hours drive left to go!
Our destination in Idaho was somewhere we’d been six years previously. On our honeymoon we decided to make a six hour detour on the route from Montana to Washington to a tiny town called Cottonwood. We went two better this time – it was an eight hour detour, but worth every second. There’s even less in Cottonwood than there is in Lewiston – although it is a very sweet little town. But it is home to a dog. Not just any old dog, but a beagle. Not just any old beagle but the World’s Biggest Beagle. The Dog Bark Park. Sweet Willy – the hand-built, one bedroom bed and breakfast fashioned into the shape of a dog. Its as wonderful and mad as it sounds.
In addition to being the home of Sweet Willy, Cottonwood is the home of Frances and Dennis Conklin – the creators and owners of the B&B. The whole plot is all their work and speaking to them its abundantly clear how much love they have put into their project. They are the kindest, most generous and welcoming hosts you could ever hope for. We loved shooting the breeze with them almost as much as we loved staying in their beagle hotel. Frances and Dennis also have their very own real life dog Sprocket, a red labrador, who is as welcoming and friendly as they are.
The Dog Bark Park is just on the edge of Cottonwood, set back from the road but you feel like you’re right in depths of the rolling Idaho farmland. Once you climb the steps around Sweet Willy’s butt you go into his tummy via the front door. Its only three rooms – a bedroom, a bathroom and a games room in Willy’s head. You might think it’d be pokey inside but it isn’t, there’s plenty of room and the bathroom is actually pretty big. The games room is packed full of fun board games for all ages (we played Idaho-opoly – featuring the beagle as one of the properties!). We can honestly say we’ve never stayed anywhere quite like it. Literally every year we plan an America holiday and we talk about how wonderful our time in “The Dog” was. This time it was no less special than on our honeymoon. Its hard to describe how much we love this place. Its not just because its completely unique, its that Frances and Dennis, two such warm and friendly people, have put their heart and soul into the place and you can see it in every square centimetre of Sweet Willy. The homemade breakfast treats. The hand carved bedhead. Everything is made with love. Its genuinely perfect. Sorry every other B&B in the world – you cannot compete with this place!
Once we’d settled in we had a beer on the porch. Looking over the small patch of grassland that Sweet Willy sits in, while the sun went down – striking the fields of wheat in a perfect golden light, we felt supremely happy and relaxed. For our dinner there were very limited choices nearby – made more limited by the fact that we were in town on a Sunday night. However the Country Haus restaurant – about a five minute walk from the Dog Bark Park – was open so we popped down the road. Country Haus isn’t fine dining. Its pretty basic but it was lovingly served and went down very well with two hungry tourists.
We walked back up the hill to the dog and sat back on the porch – looking up into the night sky deep in the Idaho countryside we could see millions of stars. Is there a better place in all the fifty states? Maybe not. After whiling away some time on the porch we retired happily for a fantastic night’s sleep. The next morning we hoovered up the delicious treats left by Frances and Dennis before waiting until the last possible minute before we had to leave. Maybe next time we’ll make a ten hour detour to visit Sweet Willy.
Despite Cottonwood being in the middle of nowhere, there are other bits and bobs to see nearby. There are the impressive 19th century wooden trestle railway bridges dotted throughout neighbouring counties. The bridges aren’t just intricate in their design, they’re also absolutely massive – looming over you as you pass through the hills and along the prairies.
We also came across the Idaho County Farmer – a cute little tin statue out on a rural road about ten minutes from Cottonwood. Less-loved States yet again proving to be the kings of the American roadside attraction.
We can’t claim to have seen a lot of Idaho. The bits we’ve missed – the south of the state, the Snake River Canyon and Boise look really cool. But the bits we have seen up to now we’ve liked, and in some cases adored with every fibre of our beings. We would thoroughly recommend visiting Idaho just to see Frances, Dennis, Sprocket and the Dog Bark Park. Even if that means flying thousands of miles just to see a wooden B&B fashioned into the shape of a beagle – its worth it, believe us.
Rate the State – 10/10
Good for: The Dog Bark Park – obviously (also rolling countryside and surprisingly good craft beer)
Bad for: Beaches and people who like busy places!