People who know me know that I love theme parks and waterparks. My two teenage boys and I just made the 6-hour drive to Northern Idaho to visit Silverwood - the largest theme park in the American Northwest.
This was our second time at Silverwood (the last time in 2019), and I kept thinking of tips and advice I'd want to give myself on our next trip. So, I'm writing it here in case someone else finds it useful.
Silverwood is unlike any other theme park or water park I've visited. First, it's fairly remote. The nearest city is Coeur d’Alene (population: 55,000), a 30-minute drive away. Spokane, Washington, is a 1-hour drive.
However, if you're in Seattle and like road trips, Silverwood is a 5-hour drive. I live in Vernon, BC, and it took us about 6 hours to drive south and reach the theme park.
But there's something special about Silverwood that draws over 800,000 people a year to the park. It has a quality and attention to detail that makes it unique. In 1986, the founder, Gary Norton, famously outbid the Walt Disney Company on a 1915 steam train. Two years later, he started Silverwood with the train and built the theme park around it. Despite outshining Disney at the train auction, Norton exemplifies many of Disney's principles: the park is clean, family-friendly, and has its character.
While Disneyland is deeply integrated into Anaheim and boasts hundreds of hotels, Silverwood's closest town is Athol (population 724) and has very few accommodations options.
We found an Airbnb, just 7 minutes from the theme park, and it was amazing. If you can find accommodation around Athol, do it!
Although the park officially opens at 11 am, the parking and front gates open at 10 am. If you want to ride popular rides before the park gets busy, we recommend arriving around 10 am.
Don't bring too much stuff! On our first day, we brought a massive bag with snacks, extra clothes, and drinks. On days 2 and 3, we just brought two backpacks: one for Boulder Beach (towels, sunscreen, swimsuit) and another general one for the theme park (sunscreen, water bottle, hats).
Get a locker! When we arrived at the waterpark or theme park, we'd immediately get a locker and ditch all of our valuables there. Lockers are $10 per day, so we budgeted $10 x 2 for each day. It will make your day so much smoother.
The food in the park is reasonably priced compared to other tourist attractions. Our favorite spot was the Kool Cactus (in the theme park), which had burritos and burrito bowls priced at $9.99.
In the summer, it gets hot in Northern Idaho (it was 97°F / 36°C while we were there). The waterpark attracts big crowds; it gets busy!
If you arrive at the waterpark early, you'll see a line up on the grass, close to the fence. That's the right line to be in for when the gates open.
The most popular slide is Ricochet Rapids (the big green tube you see from the highway, where you ride a giant raft). The lineup gets very long, and it's not uncommon to wait 45 minutes. Your best bet is to arrive at the park early (10 am), park, and get in line for the waterpark. Once the gate opens, run to Ricochet Rapids. When we did this, our wait was about 5 minutes.
If you get to Ricochet Rapids too late (and the lineup is already long), go to Avalanche Mountain. It's another family raft slide, just not enclosed in a tube. It has a dual-loading station, so the lineup goes much faster.
Grab a lounge chair early in the morning in the shade. That's where we'd leave our towels, sunscreen, and water.
Wear flip-flops when walking around the waterpark; the cement grit will rub your feet raw! Many of the slides won't let you wear water shoes or flip-flops, so ditch them at the entry to the slide to retrieve them later.
The food lineups in the waterpark get very long between 1 pm - 3 pm. If you're planning on leaving the waterpark around that time, it's better to go to the theme park side and eat there.
Carry a small backpack with you. Most of the rides have cubbies, where you can put your bag on the ride. We would put our keys, phone, sunglasses, and hat in the bag before getting on the ride, and would retrieve them when we got off.
In our opinion, the best roller coaster (which also has the smoothest ride) is Stunt Pilot. The coaster has two trains, each accommodating 10 passengers, and operates with a continuous-loading station. This means that while one train is on its journey, the other can unload and load new passengers. This design is brilliant and means much shorter wait times.
When it's hot outside, the Roaring Creek Log Flume and Thunder Canyon are very busy. The Log Flume gets less busy around 7 pm, but Thunder Canyon is busy all day. If you want a short line, get there early!
One of my boys' favorite things to do was pay a quarter to spray strangers on Thunder Canyon.