History of Lake Coeur d’Alene

Once described by National Geographic as one of the five most beautiful lakes in the world, Lake Coeur d’Alene is 25 miles long and 10 miles across at its widest point, with an average depth of about 100 feet.

About Lake Coeur d’Alene’s History

This natural lake is fed by two rivers, the Coeur d’Alene River and the St. Joe River. The single outlet is the Spokane River, which flows to the west to join the Columbia River on its way to the Pacific Ocean.

How Was Lake Coeur d’Alene Formed?

Lake Coeur d’Alene, Northern Idaho’s second largest lake, was created during the last Ice Age, when the Earth was much colder, and huge parts of the ice covering the continents started to melt and move away. These melting ice masses left behind large areas of land that we now know as lobes. These lobes were formed as the ice slowly retreated and shaped the landscape.

Throughout history, the lake has been used by Native Americans in canoes, early explorers, cargo steamships, tugboats pulling log drives, and now all sorts of recreational craft.

The lake – and later the city of Coeur d’Alene – is named after the French name for the tribe of American Indians who lived in this region when French fur traders began to arrive in the late 18th century. The name is French for “heart of the awl,” thought by some to be a reference to the tribe’s “sharp” trading practices.

This region has a proud timber and mining heritage. Those industries are still very much a part of life in North Idaho. At one time, there were more than 50 steamships working on the lake, hauling logs, mine ore, and passengers on vacation. When more modern methods of transportation arrived, some of the steamers were set afire and sunk during Fourth of July celebrations. Today, several of those early day boats can still be found on the bottom of the lake in the “steamship graveyard.”

Historical CDA Lake Landmarks

Coeur d’Alene Lake as a historical point of interest in the Pacific Northwest has no shortage of landmarks. While some of these landmarks include important geographical locations, many are places that have been constructed over time and some even still stand today!

Fort Sherman

When General William T. Sherman ordered a fort to be constructed on the lake in the 1870s, he named it Fort Coeur d’Alene. That site, later called Fort Sherman, is now occupied by North Idaho College, a junior college on the lake. The town of Coeur d’Alene was founded in 1887.

Cedar’s Floating Restaurant

Cedar’s Floating Restaurant is a Lake Coeur d’Alene landmark. On Valentine’s Day, 1996, the Spokane River rose to extreme flood stage, and The Cedar’s Floating Restaurant was in danger of being carried away from its moorings. Tugboat captain Oscar Mooney spent several days in his boat pushing the restaurant against the river’s flow to help save the local landmark.

The Floating Green

Another Lake Coeur d’Alene landmark is the Floating Green at The Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course. The green weighs 5 million pounds and is moved using cables attached to the lake bottom to vary the yardage between 75 and 175 yards. Each year there are 3 or 4 hole-in-ones recorded on the green. About 24,000 balls per year miss the target and end up on the lake bottom, where they are recovered by divers.

Tubbs Hill

Tubbs Hill is a 120-acre natural preserve on the lake with hiking trails, great views of the lake, a swinging bridge to navigate, and access to secluded beaches. You can reach the three-mile loop trail at the Tubbs Hill entrance just east of The Coeur d’Alene Resort.

The Coeur d’Alene Resort

The Coeur d’Alene Resort has 338 beautiful guest rooms and suites, a top-ranked destination spa, excellent restaurants and lounges, and an award-winning golf course featuring the world’s only floating green. Conde’ Nast Traveler named The Coeur d’Alene Resort “America’s Top Mainland Resort and the World’s Top Travel Product.”

The Floating Boardwalk

The Coeur d’Alene Resort Floating Boardwalk, completed in April 1985, is the world’s longest of its kind at 3,300 feet long, 12 feet wide, with a 60-foot-long bridge on the west side. The boardwalk and 362-slip marina is built with 16,000 cedar logs, 28,000 pounds of spikes, 16,000 lag screws, 8,000 pounds of bolts, 500,000 board feet of lumber, and 5 miles of bumper strips.

Animals of Lake Coeur d’Alene


Lake Coeur d’Alene is home to Idaho’s famed bird of prey – the osprey. A large bird with wingspans up to six feet, the osprey hovers above the water while searching for fish. The bird dives feet-first into the water to catch its dinner, with a unique foot designed to catch and hold the slippery fish.

Eagle Migration and Lake Coeur d’Alene

Lake Coeur d’Alene is also a winter migratory stop for the bald eagle. Each December and January, large numbers of eagles return to Beauty Bay to feed on spawning kokanee salmon. You can see the birds on an eagle-watching trip with Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises.

CDA Lake Fish

The lake is filled with fish including kokanee salmon, large and smallmouth bass, and a variety of trout. A fisherman once hauled in a 39-pound Northern Pike, an Idaho state record that stood for years.

Lake Coeur d’Alene Boating History

Traveling Lake Coeur d’Alene by boat is not a new concept. For more than a century, people have been using the beautiful north Idaho lake for work and for play. The mountain lake is steeped in a rich history that many of those who tour the lake by boat today may not know about!

While many of the boats on the lake today are for recreation — enjoying the eagles or catching a sunset — that wasn’t always the case. At one time, 100 years ago, there were more than 50 steamships working on the lake

The Amelia Wheaton was the first steamboat on Lake Coeur d’Alene, built for military use.

Shortly after, the Idaho was built — the largest steamer of the era! The passenger boat could carry up to 1,000 people, which was quite a feat for the time.

As more modern modes of transportation arrived, the steamers became obsolete. Instead, these were used as excursion boats to transport passengers around the lake.

Lumber and silver ore were transported using boats on thoroughfares like the Coeur d’Alene River. The products came from places like Spokane, Cataldo Landing, and Rathdrum, all transported by boat on local waterways. 

As time passed, many of the mills and mines closed. Instead, trains brought tourists to the beautiful northwest to take in the lakes and mountains.

Now, Lake Coeur d’Alene is one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Coeur d’Alene Cruises is here to help you see the lake firsthand, and experience all the rich history our area has to offer.

What Celebrities Have Houses & Enjoy Lake Coeur d’Alene

Lake Coeur d’Alene is home to plenty of well-known names like Mathew McConaughey, Wayne Gretzky, George Clooney, and even John Elway!

What is Coeur d’Alene Known For?

Originally, the Coeur d’Alene area was known as a trading hub with the local tribes. Today, it’s known as a luxurious lake destination with world-class golfing and amazing resorts.

What is the meaning of Coeur d’Alene in English?

The name Coeur d’Alene translates to “Heart of the Awl.”

Come Learn About Lake Coeur d’Alene with CDA Cruises!

There’s no better way to learn about the history of Coeur d’Alene lake than to come to see it in person with CDA Cruises. Book a cruise today and one of our knowledgeable guides will be happy to share everything they know about this beautiful destination.