The story of Paul Bunyan, the lumberjack who was bigger than life, was one of my favorite tall tales when I was growing up. I loved imagining him and Babe, his blue ox, tramping through the forest, and eating pancakes. My dad told me that Paul Bunyan got that big from eating pancakes. To a short girl this meant eating lots of pancakes!! (Didn't work..still short.) That love of Paul Bunyan's tall tales did not dim as I grew older and when I heard they had Paul Bunyan days in St. Maries I had to go!
Over Labor Day weekend every year St. Maries, a small town in northern Idaho, gives tribute to our famed lumberjack by holding Paul Bunyan Days. This is a huge celebration. There is a parade, a carnival, great music, logging events, a 5K run and a huge fireworks display. They also boast the largest “topless” bar in Idaho, the Blue Ox. Before you start picturing naughties, this is actually a literal way of talking about their outdoor beer garden. It is enclosed with blue tarps and has no roof. Therefore….topless. Get it? Super clever!
The drive up from Boise was beautiful. St. Maries is truly a gem in Idaho and beautifully located right in the middle of the mountains. I must have stopped a dozen times before we even got to the city to take pictures of how beautiful it was. The town was full of people attending the event and everyone was having a great time. It was not much different from many other small town events around Idaho, but the atmosphere was unique and completely breathtaking. I enjoyed some huckleberry ice cream while I was listening to Bluegrass music being performed on the main stage. By the way, I was sitting next to a man who looked a lot like Paul Bunyan. Coincidence? Maybe…..
Location: St. Maries, Idaho. From Boise take I-84 approximately 46 miles west to US-95 Exit 3 toward Fruitland/Payette. Take a left. Stay on US-95 for 218 miles. Then take the ramp to the right for US-12 Missoula/Orofino. Keep straight on US-12 for 4 miles and take a left on ID-3. Stay on ID-3 for about 85 miles. It will turn into ID-5 and take you right into town.
Dates: Every year over Labor Day Weekend.
Cost: The only cost is what you purchase at the event. The music, events and fireworks display is free.
Lodging: This is a big event for the town and the last weekend of the summer for most people to go camping so make sure you have your plans made well in advance.
Riverfront Suites / 208-582-1724 / Located right in St. Maries
Seven furnished suites with kitchens / $85 a night
Fort Hemenway Manor B & B / 208-245-7979 / Located right in St. Maries
Four suites / $85-$275 a night / Wedding packages available
Idaho Pines Motel / 208-245-8710 / Located right in St. Maries / $75 a night
This is National Forest land mostly so there are a great many campgrounds around the area. However, I had a really hard time finding one because I didn’t preplan. They were all taken by the time I got up there and I ended up driving 20 miles away to find a camp spot. Here is a listing of the ones close to St. Maries. Make sure you go early to get a spot or you will be looking a lot further down the road.
Heyburn State Park Benewah Campground / 208-686-1308 / Further up ID-5 / RV and Tent camping / $12 a night
BLM Sheep Springs / RV and Tent Camping / Free
BLM Tingley Springs Campground / RV and Tent Camping / Free
Saint Joe National Forest Shadowy Campground / 208-245-2531 / RV and Tent Camping / $6
There are many more private and forest service campgrounds between St. Maries and other towns, but these are the closest.
Dining: Jim’s State Grill/ 6 am to 8 pm / Great food! Have some catfish bites.
My Kitchen Family Diner / Family homestyle food
Pizza Factory / 11 am to 9 pm / Pizza!
Grub Box / Sandwiches
There is a IGA in town so you can fill up with groceries if you are camping.
Special Notes. Ride the Ferris Wheel. It looked out over the entire valley and the view was spectacular! This is a fun event even if you are just going up for the drive. I recommend St. Maries any time of the year. It is beautiful, unique and a very special place in Idaho. By the way, I loved posing with the big lumberjack they have outside their high school. Make sure if you make it up there you get a pic too!