Why Silverwood Theme Park is Worth the Drive

Silverwood theme park
(Silverwood)

If you are unfamiliar with Northern Idaho, you might find it odd that the town of Athol is home to the 413-acre theme park known as Silverwood. Unlike most tourist traps, it pretty much stands by itself. You’re driving along highway 95 and all of a sudden you’ll see a glimpse of a wooden roller coaster out in the distance. As you get closer, you find that this is a world you had no idea existed.

Once the home of the Henley Aerodrome airstrip, Silverwood Theme Park and Boulder Beach Water Park are essentially two parks in one. The original park opened its gates to the public for the first time in 1988 with just a handful of small amusement park rides. Today, it boasts of more than 70 rides, shows and attractions.

Our family’s recent trip to the park was mostly a positive one. Silverwood is beautiful, affordable and safe. Here you’ll find gentle rides for the small set and big, scary ones for the kids that have no fear. The park features an eclectic mix of classic carnival rides like the Scrambler and the Tilt-A-Whirl and newer ones like Panic Plunge and Spin Cycle but somehow, it all works.

One thing you’ll notice right away is how clean and fresh everything looks within the park. Walkways are wide, lined with healthy plants and dotted with beautiful flower gardens. Chipped paint and litter here is a rarity.

Thunder Canyon ride at Silverwood
Sure, it seems peaceful now. Don’t be fooled. Thunder Canyon is a wild ride!

Super Friendly

Silverwood is also one of the friendliest places too. Besides the two employees who barely acknowledged us at a coffee shop (but to be fair it was near closing time) and the poor bored girl resting on her elbow at a sandwich stand over in Boulder Beach, EVERY other employee we encountered here appeared to be having a good time. One employee, whose only job is to sells soft ice cream cones (that are bigger than your head by the way) told me how much she liked her job. When speaking to another employee about how nice the younger employees were at the park, she told me that her son also works at Silverwood. I was surprised to learn that he actually gets “yelled at” by some park guests for referring to them as “ma’am” or “sir” not understanding that he was actually showing them respect. Yeah, good manners can get out of control here. It must be a testament to the owners and managers. Good service and attitudes begins at the top.

Even the ride operators are super friendly. While boarding one roller coaster, my wife was politely reminded her that she couldn’t take her bag along on the ride. The ride operator explained how it needed to be stored in one of the nearby cubbies for safety reasons. I’m sure this girl has to remind guests of this fact many times each day, but there was no annoyance detected in her tone. Later at the water park, we heard one teen spout off the same long list of safety rules to riders over and over again without fail or attitude. Amazing.

A garden in Silverwood
One of clever and beautiful gardens. (Silverwood)

Super Safe

Boarding the rides here might take a little longer than at your average amusement park but with good reason. The cast and crew take safety seriously. It’s not just a motto, they really do. Ranging from late teens to early 20s, everyone here knows their job, and they all do it well without a cell phone to distract them. In addition, warning signs are posted liberally near the park’s attractions as well letting you know the dangers of standing up on a roller coaster and whatnot. Each ride has its own height requirement and you can count on the employees to measure each child. While you might think that your under-height darling “will be just fine,” she won’t make it on the ride no matter what you say.

A cart selling snacks and beer at Silverwood
A cart to purchase cotton candy, popcorn and beer!

Super Reasonable

Another great draw to this park is how amazingly affordable it is compared to similar parks. In some cases, admission is half the price of other parks, parking is just $5 and the food is inexpensive enough that the family can splurge on a good meal. Even so, if you want to save even more money, Silverwood actually allows outside food in the park (within reason of course and no alcohol). The park even features a picnic area between the parking lot and the entrance.

Super Responsible

To some, Silverwood might seem a bit conservative with their rules of conduct, but they are in place to assure that everyone has a good time. Swimsuits are only allowed to be worn in the Boulder Beach section, and they must be modest. People wearing clothing or body art that is deemed by the management as vulgar or rude will be asked to leave. Smoking and vaping is allowed in designated sections of the park only. Unfortunately, some of the park’s staff are a bit too trusting of their guests. We watched two employees tell one man that he needed to smoke in a designated area. He pretended that he didn’t know where that section was, and they nicely gave him directions. They walked away, and then he laughed continuing to smoke right where he was. However, that was the only incident we saw during our visit.

Tremors roller coaster at Silverwood
Tremors Roller Coaster

Planning Your Day

Unlike other theme parks, Silverwood opens later and closes earlier than most, so trying to cram everything that the place has to offer in one day can be a real challenge. If you can, visiting for two days will make for a much more relaxed trip. With that said, it is possible to see a lot of the park in one day if you plan things out well. Plus, it your kids are older, you’ll be skipping the kiddie rides. Here are some tips:

  • Visit Silverwood’s website and study the map and attractions. Make a list of the things you “have to see” and make those the first things you conquer when there.
  • Arrive at the park as early as you can. The lines will only get longer as the day goes on.
  • Spend the first half of your day in Silverwood when the weather is cooler before heading to Boulder Beach. However, be aware that Boulder Beach closes two hours before Silverwood does.
  • When entering the park, skip the Main Street section and head straight to Coaster Alley, Garfield’s Summer Camp or Country Carnival to take advantage of the shorter lines. (There is a lot to see in Main Street, but it will serve you well to come back and visit later in the day.)
Aftershock roller coaster at Silverwood
After Shock (Silverwood)

Coaster Alley

Most of the park’s main thrill rides can found in Coaster Alley. These include the wooden roller coaster Tremors (where riders climb 100 feet on the first hill before falling 103 feet down into an underground tunnel followed by three more — and through the ride’s gift shop!); Timber Terror, the park’s oldest roller coaster (considered an “air coaster” giving you a brief sensation of weightlessness) and Aftershock, which is totally different from the others. First, riders “hang” instead of “sit.” Second, you’ll climb up 191 feet in the air backwards before being let go. You’ll reach speeds up to 65 mph going through twists and turns as well as going upside down before being pulled up another 90-degree hill and do the whole thing one more time — backwards. It’s a very smooth but frightening ride.

The two others in this section include Panic Plunge and Spin Cycle. Panic Plunge is sort of like Disney’s Tower of Terror without the tower slowly takings riders up 140 feet before dropping them. Riders reach speed up to 47 mph before coming to a soft landing. It’s safe, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less terrorizing. Check out the videos below to see the Spin Cycle in action and then my “interview” after riding it!

Rides similar to Spin Cycle are popping up at different theme parks all across the country, but Silverwood was one of the first to attain this monster. Up to two dozen people can board this 104-foot tall thrill ride at a time. After getting locked into place, riders facing forward and legs dangling star to spin as the machine rocks back and forth getting higher with every sweep; eventually completing a full circle. And again. And again. And Again. While I was convinced at the time that I never need to do this ride again, now that I’m back home and I’m thinking, maybe one more time…

If you’re not nauseated after riding these coasters, you might want to stop by Chuckwagon John’s for an all-you-can-eat feast including wood-grilled chicken, pulled pork, hot dogs, mac and cheese, corn bread, country green beans, baked beans, corn-on-the cob, salads, watermelon, cookies and beverages. The full meal deal is $13.99 per person.

Thunder Canyon at Silverwood theme park
Thunder Canyon (Silverwood)

Country Carnival and Garfield’s Summer Camp

This section of the part also has its own share of thrills that are not as extreme as Coaster Alley and is more palatable for families of all ages. These include the Corkscrew Roller Coaster (which is fairly short, smooth and more fun than scary), the Roaring Creek Log Flume (which offers a gentle ride before a big drop and large splash at the end) and the amazing Thunder Canyon. While you may get wet on the flume ride, you WILL get wet on Thunder Canyon, so be sure to rent a locker near the entrance of the ride to store your valuables.

In Country Carnival you’ll find classic rides like Krazy Kars (bumper cars), a Ferris Wheel, Super Roundup and others. You’ll also find a bunch of carnival games and judging by the number of stuffed animals being carried around, the games are fair. Garfield is still the park’s mascot, but he isn’t seen as much anymore. However, he and Odie can be found in the Toy Store which also serves as a meet and greet. Garfield’s Summer Camp serves as the park’s kiddie ride section which such attractions as a really cool treehouse, the Tiny Toot roller coaster, the Krazy Koaster and the Puppy-Go-Round.

Wave pool at Silverwood
One of the Wave Pools at Boulder Beach (Silverwood)

Boulder Beach

You could easily spend a full day at Boulder Beach alone and if you have the time, I recommend it. As with the other attractions at Silverwood, plan to head over to the slides you really want to experience first before the lines get too long. Even so, there are plenty of other places in this section to relax and cool off at any time of the day.

For the small set, little guys could probably stay entertained all day at Pollywog Park (full of short slides, geysers and a giant water bucket that spills out every few minutes) and Toddler Springs (a splash area featuring a variety of geysers and fountains). The Elkhorn Lazy River is also a favorite for all ages. Just grab a tube, hop on and relax as you go round and round this never-ending “river” of warm water. Even the waterfalls are warm.

Riptide Racers at Silverwood
Riptide Racers (Silverwood)

For the more daring, I recommend challenging your family to race at Riptide Racer. Similar to those big slides you see at the fair, the six people can race down at the same time using a mat. You have to travel face first and you’ll get a face full of water as you splash down, so if that isn’t your thing (and you wear contacts) you may want to avoid it. Other family-friendly adventures include climbing up the Idaho trail to Avalanche Mountain. Here, your family can board a round raft and zoom down the simulated river rapids aboard the fiberglass terrain. The concept is similar to the Thunder Canyon ride in Country Carnival, but the line is shorter and you’ll already be wet anyway, so you’ve go nothing to lose! The other family raft ride is Ricochet Rapids which is a giant, totally enclosed water slide. The top speed for both is about 20 mph.

Avalanche water slide at Silverwood
Avalanche (Silverwood)

Thrillseekers will want to take a trip to the Velocity Peak Body Slides. After climbing up 100 stairs to the top, you are given three slides to choose from that can make a body whip down as fast as 55 mph. One slide is straight, another has hills and the third is totally enclosed.

After sliding, you might want to check out one of the two wave pools, or find a spot on the grass to lay out in the sun to rest and dry off.

This section of the park also features a variety of meal, beverage and snack items like burgers, sub sandwiches, hot dogs, chicken strips and ice cream. Mom and dad will appreciate The Cove, which is a float up bar (located just off the Elkhorn Creek Lazy River) serving tropical frozen drinks and beer. There is also one retail store, Boulder Beach Trading Company selling towels, flip flops, t-shirts and souvenirs.

The only negative thing I can say about Boulder Beach is that there is only one locker option to choose from and is $10. The locker is large and will probably hold all of your families belongings, but for us, our clothes were still wet from riding Thunder Canyon, so we set them out in the sun to dry leaving us with just our wallets, phones and keys to lock up. A smaller option would have been nice.

Steam train at Silverwood
Steam train No. 7.

Main Street

Similar in concept to Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A., this area serves as the main entrance to the park and the hub for most of the restaurants, shops and shows.

We stopped for lunch at the High Moon Saloon where you give your order at the bar and your food is brought to your table. They often feature live music, but we were disappointed that none was being played on that day. However, the food was great. I had fish and chips with a freshly-made coleslaw and crispy fries ($7.99), my wife enjoyed a huge roast beef sandwich ($6.99) and we both enjoyed a draft sarsaparilla root beer ($3). Regular soft drinks and bottled water are $2.50 and refills are just $1 (except for draft root beer).

Theatre of Illusion

For dinner, we decided to visit the Theatre of Illusion for Nick and Amanda Norton’s Phantasm show. (Nick and Amanda perform three performances a day for half of the week while Isaiah Daniels takes on the rest.) Nick has performed at Silverwood for 20 years now and it is pretty clear that he still enjoys putting on shows here. I’ve seen him perform three times now and each time his shows get better and better. At just 30 minutes in length, it’s a bit short for adults and just right for younger and squirmier audience members. Sure, he’s spooky in the promo picture, but his show isn’t scary.

The theater is also home to Caselli’s Pizzeria serving up surprisingly good pizzas, cheese-filled bread sticks and chicken Caesar salads. They have a great meal deal including a generous personal pan pizza, a bread stick and a beverage for $9.99. You will want to get here early to get a good seat and if you plan to order food. There are rows of chairs in the front, long tables to dine at just behind the chairs and rows of (unfortunately) hard bleachers behind the tables. While you can pretty much see everything from anywhere in the theater, you’ll be more comfortable up near the front. After each show, Nick and Amanda stick around to take pictures and sign autographs from budding magicians.

Other places to dine on Main Street include the Silverwood Coffee Roasting & Trading Co. (espresso and souvenirs), Lindy’s Restaurant (full service lunch and dinner dining) and the Victorian Coffee House (more espresso, tea and fresh-baked pastries).

Aboard Expedition Silverwood
Don’t worry – she makes it clear that she’s holding a “real fake” gun.

Expedition Silverwood

Other places worth stopping and exploring include the antique Carousel, the General Stuff Mercantile shop, the Sweet Treats candy shop and the historic Engine No. 7 steam engine train. Unlike the trains you’ll find at Disneyland, Old No. 7 only takes round trips; there’s no stopping at any other sections of the park.

The train departs on the hour and depending on the time or weather of the day, you’ll experience the park’s “Expedition Silverwood” stunt show along the way. Upon boarding the train, don’t rush through the Train Depot as it has great themeing and serves as a preview for the show. Unfortunately, the ride itself was a bit of a disappointment and that is really sad because the attraction has so much potential to become something really great. In a nutshell, the ride tries to piece together too many elements to make sense. Along your journey you’ll discover Bigfoot, wild west bandits, trolls, fairies and maybe a mermaid or two.

As it turns out, there is an explorer who has traveled to the Silverwood to find Bigfoot, but he has gone missing. His daughter, also an explorer, boards the train and bless her, doesn’t stop talking until the trip is completely done. Give this girl a raise. The actress who led our trip was amazing and was very animated as she walked up and down the aisle talking to passengers while also serving as a tour guide pointing out slow-moving animatronic characters.

The best part of the trip is when the train stops at a gold mine and a couple of hoodlums robs the train before facing the tour guide. Gunshots are fired, bad guys fall from high places and explosions happen inside a well. This stunt show is pretty good and funny, but way too short. When the train moves again, our guide suggests that the money “taken” from guests should go toward a local charity. This show is presented by a talented improv team, but unfortunately, their material could use a tune up as many of their jokes fell flat. I also didn’t appreciate the push for sales of licorice, popcorn and water before the trip and during the last minutes of the ride, not to mention the sales of “fairy dolls” to take home as a souvenir. This park is too classy for this type of hype.

Admission Prices and Stuff

Technically, Silverwood is open from May to October, but the hours vary from month to month. The theme park is only open on weekends in May and September and only open late on weekend nights in October. Boulder Beach is only open from June through August.

Silverwood is often offering discount promotions for the park, but generally, the regular admission options are as follows:

  • One Day Tickets: $49 (Ages 8-64); $28 (Ages 3-7 and 65 and up)
  • Two Day Tickets: $81 (Ages 8-64); $46 (Ages 3-7 and 65 and up)
  • Three Day Tickets: $111 (Ages 8-64); $61 (Ages 3-7 and 65 and up)
  • Parking is $5 per day

The admission price is good for both the theme park and water park. You cannot purchase tickets for the theme park only or the water park only.

Silverwood is located at 27843 N. Hwy 95, Athol, ID 83801. For more information, visit their website, give them a call at 208.683.3400 or send them a note at info@silverwoodthemepark.com.

The lobby at Triple Play
The lobby at Triple Play Resort Hotel and Suites. (Triple Play)

Lodging at Triple Play Resort Hotel and Suites

As big as Silverwood is, you would think that someone would build a hotel next to the park, but the park is only open for half of the year. Believe it or not, we stayed at one of the closest (if not the closest) hotels near Silverwood and it was still over 12 miles away in Hayden, Idaho. Don’t let that deter you. The drive to the theme park is a quick and easy one.

Triple Play Resort Hotel and Suites is a destination in itself as it features its own indoor water park, bowling alley, go karts, two miniature golf courses, laser tag, a ropes course, bumper cars, bumper boats a huge arcade and more. It’s not the cheapest hotel and shows a little wear and tear, but considering how many families come and go from this place every day, it holds up pretty well.

Basic Double Queen room at Triple Play.
Basic Double Queen Room (Triple Play)

The non-smoking hotel is very accommodating to families of all sizes and is pet-friendly offering a variety of different room sizes and prices to match including suites with extra rooms and bunk beds. You can even go all out with the Jacuzzi and fireplace suite if you want to splurge. For us, we settled for the basic two queen bed room. Our room looked and smelled clean and included a TV, DVD player, a desk, a small microwave oven, a small refrigerator and coffee maker. It even featured a deck outside (not all of the rooms do). The room was nice, but we did think it was comical that two of the exact same pictures hung on the same wall. The air conditioning worked a little too well for some of my crew, but my wife and I were happy with it and it was easy to adjust.

We also noticed that the bathroom was only supplied with one small tube each of shampoo, conditioner and two small bars of soap for the sink and shower. This makes sense though as many guests will scoop up whatever they didn’t use on their stay and take them home. Of course, we needed more and when I asked at the front desk for some, they gladly gave me as much as we needed. Later, I had to come back to ask for a toothbrush as I had forgotten mine. Again, no third-degree attitude for the request. In fact, every time we spoke to someone at the front desk, we were treated very well.

Triple Play Breakfast Area
Breakfast area. (Triple Play)

Amenities and Meals

Triple Play offers complimentary parking, a fitness center, high speed internet service and a hot breakfast buffet. The breakfast is similar to the ones that other hotels include with their stays, but the variety of food here was huge including three different juices, cheese omelettes, hard-boiled eggs, sausage, bacon, biscuits and gravy, muffins, bagels, hot and cold cereal, fruit, coffee and something I’d liked calling “the magic pancake box.” Just just push a button and in a minute or two, a freshly-made pancake falls out of the other side. Now, don’t expect a chef in the back preparing gourmet meals, because if you do, you’ll be disappointed. But there is plenty to eat and most of it was very tasty too.

The only real drawback here is that with exception of the pancakes and coffee, everything else is staged against one wall making it difficult for guests to pick and choose quickly. People were constantly getting in the way of others. If the room staged different stations of food around the room, it would have flowed a lot better. Also worth noting, the earlier you get to the breakfast area the better. It only gets busier as the morning goes on and breakfast ends promptly at 10 a.m.

Nobody works harder in this hotel than the guy we saw running back and forth refilling pancake batter and omelettes. He took pride in his job and was super-friendly too. We also met a woman cleaning tables who told us that she felt lucky to have a job that she loved.

“Did you see that? Two little boys in matching Spider-Man pajamas. That’s the best,” she told us. “It makes my day.”

Bumper Boats at Triple Play
Bumper Boats at Triple Play

Raptor Reef and Triple Play

Raptor Reef and all of the amusement park attractions at Triple Play are a separate fee, but you can get package deals with your stay that can cut down the cost considerably. (The hotel also offers tickets to Silverwood too.) Similar in concept to The Great Wolf Lodge, Triple Play is actually quite different that will probably appeal more to families with older kids as there is a lot to do. With that said, families with kids of all ages will have a good time here.

Since Silverwood has its own water park, you may want to skip getting a pass to Raptor Reef and just purchase tickets for the other amusements at the hotel. However, if you do get tickets to Raptor Reef, you’ll have more time at the Silverwood to ride the rides and experience the slides back “home.” (Also remember that Boulder Beach isn’t open in May, September or October.) Set at an even 86 degrees, Raptor Reef features a wave pool, a children’s splash play area, a variety of slides and more.

Outside, your family can try out the beautiful and well-kept 18-hole miniature golf course featuring it’s own volcano. Depending on how well the car trip was, you might want have some family therapy time on the Bumper Boats or challenge each other for a race on the go karts. Inside, budding daredevils can enjoy the climbing wall or ropes course.

Our family tried out the indoor and darkened miniature golf course. It’s only nine holes and fairly simple to play, but the glow-in-the-dark atmosphere made it a lot of fun. Next door is the glow-in-dark bumper cars which looked like a lot of fun with its neon lights and mirror-lined walls. We also enjoyed playing a variety of redemption games with game prices that ranged from just 25 cents to $3 each.

We thought about playing a game or two of bowling, but we were just too tired from our drive from Seattle. The bowling center looked great, but even so, it will be closed from September 10 to sometime in October to make way for a new a new Brunswick “boutique” bowling, featuring brand new lighting and sound, as well as a video projection wall to stream sporting events and other entertainment.

One Negative

Overall, our stay at Triple Play was a positive one. The place issues a “quiet time” at 10 p.m. Still, some families are just loud and for that purpose, the place offers ear plugs at the main desk for those who need them. We didn’t bother and our sleep wasn’t disrupted.

The only negative thing worth mentioning was that after a long day at Silverwood, we came back to room to find that housekeeping had not been there. We spoke to the folks at the main desk and they asked if we had placed a “do not disturb” sign on our door. When I told him that we hand’t, he immediately apologized. I told him that it was okay, but we would be needing new towels for the morning. He then asked if I still wanted the full maid service as he was happy to do so. I told him that just the towels would be fine. He stated that he could have someone bring them to me, but it would take a little while. I said that would be fine. Later at 11 p.m. and my eyes struggling to stay open, I went to the desk again to check on the towels. Again, they apologized for the delay and said that someone would be by right away. And he was right! In less than five minutes, we had new towels.

Triple Play’s check in time is 4 p.m. and check out time is 12:00 noon. If you purchase a Raptor Reef pass, you can actually start splashing about before your room is ready and since the water park opens at 10 a.m., you can’t get some more slides in before it’s time to leave.

Triple Play Resort Hotel and Suites is located at 151 West Orchard Ave, Hayden, ID 83835. Visit there website or give them a call at 208.772.7900 for more information.

The Relic Smokehouse and Pub in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
The Relic Smokehouse and Pub in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Dining Nearby

During our short stay, we only ate one meal outside of Silverwood and Triple Play but The Relic Smokehouse and Pub was the most memorable. From the rounded ceiling to the distinct smokiness in the air, everything is this little dining spot was unique. And busy too!

We were seated immediately at the family-friendly pub and had the most attentive server, an older gentleman who we assumed owned the place since he was so busy handling customers, cleaning counters and whatnot. While waiting for our meal, we sipped glasses of hard cider (the pineapple was awesome!)

I had the smoked ribs with a side of mac and cheese with bacon and smoked apples (think of an apple pie filling that has been smoked). The portions were big and the prices reasonable. The place is known for their smoked brisket, pork sandwiches and cheesecakes. Definitely worth a stop.

The Relic Smokehouse and Pub is located at 1901 E Sherman Ave.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho 83814. Give them a call at 208.966.4082.

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Author: Jeffrey Totey

I write about arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.

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