Life can feel dreamlike in Post Falls, Idaho, as one walks the quiet streets lined with one-story traditional ranch-style houses, many sporting rusty wagon wheels as décor in their lawns. Worn iron railroads overgrown with prairie grasses, a sign for a haunted house painted on barnwood, and the high steeples of the many churches conjure a quintessential American West vibe. Post Falls is a mill town that dodged the fate of abandoned ghost town, due in no small part to a handful of enterprising founders and the Spokane River. Many towns like it on the frontier have not been so lucky.
Most folks flying past on Interstate 90 to or from the aquatic fun of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, have probably never stopped in little Post Falls. However, the road warriors are missing out, for Post Falls is a fantastic, unique boating stop unto itself. Not only is Post Falls charming and unassuming, but it also marks the spot farthest down the Spokane River a boater can cruise before the mighty Post Falls Dam system blocks the way.
Erected in 1906, the venerable dam has been supplying electricity and irrigation to northern Idaho area for over a century. While a barrier to boaters, the dam system, which operates across three branches of the Spokane River, does create breathtaking falls that are easily accessible by green, wildflower-filled parks and trails. The dams also deepen the waterway upstream, making for prime boating right on the town’s waterfront. Add the marinas, hyperlocal businesses (including a few killer bars and restaurants), and the many offerings of the great outdoors, and boaters should be easily entertained for a few days before packing the boat onto the trailer or heading out to the bigger waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene. They will probably be back.
There are a few unique considerations when boating Post Falls. Firstly, the dam system controls the depth of the Spokane River and the lake upstream. There is reportedly an 8’ depth difference between low and high water, and that can mean the difference between a fun day out or a grounding for some. Also, the depth of the water affects the bridge clearance of both the U.S. Highway 95 bridge and Spokane Street Bridge that reportedly varies between 20’ and 40’.
Of course, you must do everything in your power as skipper to avoid the dams downstream. Booms with signage blocking the way should get the point across. You, your boat, and crew will not survive a brush with the concrete walls and white water, so stay upstream. Signs are posted when the water is too fast to swim, so use common sense and stay near shore when taking a dip. Finally, the Post Falls reservoir above the dams is nearly empty of boat traffic in the gorgeous fall and spring, but the hot summer attracts boaters from far and wide and can rival Lake Union in Seattle with traffic. Know your rules of the road and drive sober, Cap’n.