The Kalispel Indians were the first inhabitants of the Pend Oreille River Valley. The Seneacquoteen historic marker on Highway 2, eight miles east of town, marks the Indian Campground and river crossing where the old Indian Trail to British Columbia joined the wagon road from Walla Walla, Washington.
The coming of the Great Northern Railroad spurred the town’s growth. Many Italian immigrants remained after the railroad’s construction.
In 1895 Henry Keyser, the first white pioneer to the area, built what is now known as “Keyser House” – home to the Timber Education Center and Museum.
The town’s first sawmill was built in 1897 as demand for lumber increased. Logs were driven down the Priest River to the sawmills from 1901 to 1949. Logging contests were held for many years. Logging continues to be celebrated yearly at the annual Timber Days which includes Friday night Hot Neon Nights Car Cruise through downtown Priest River, Saturday Huckleberry pancake feed breakfast at City Park, five or one mile fun run, parade, logging competitions, arts and crafts, food booths, Show and Shine Car Show, and Family Dance Saturday night.
Three large sawmills are still in operation in the Priest River area and timber still forms the basis of their economy. The Albeni Falls Damwas constructed on the Pend Oreille River in the early 1950s to prevent spring flooding. There is an excellent visitor center and viewing area. It is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters, who also maintain several campgrounds in the Priest River area with excellent facilities for camping, swimming, boating and picnicking.
Also in Priest River is the 6,368 acre Experimental Forest. Founded in 1911, it is one of the first in the nation. Run by the Forest Service and the University of Idaho, it provides a living, dynamic source of information about forest climate, water, insects, diseases, and vegetation. Depending on the season you can drive to the lookout for scenic views, huckleberry and mushroom picking and wildlife viewing.