Fun fact: did you know that 38% of Idaho is owned by the United States Forest Service? While its reputation is often most pronounced in the produce aisle, there’s far more growing in Idaho than just everyone’s favorite tuber. Check out our list below and get ready to discover some of the most rugged and pristine natural beauty this country has to offer.
There’s something for everyone at this recreation hotspot in central Idaho. Deemed “The Mile High Playground,” this area is perfect for paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and camping. Under the water’s surface, a lucky angler will find trout, smallmouth bass, kokanee and coho salmon. Above the surface, you may spot eagles, herons, hawks, osprey, moose, deer, and other wildlife. A boat ramp provides easy access on and off the water, while nearby Lake Cascade State Park has over 2,000 opportunities for camping so you can find rest after a long day of fun and exploration.
If working hard to get away from crowds is your idea of a getaway, look no further than Alice Lake. Another high alpine gem tucked away in the Sawtooths, this one sits at a cool 8,600 feet above sea level. As a result, there is often ice on the lake well into early summer, so it’s best to plan for a trip around July or August. It’s a hike to get there, but once you arrive at the lake, you’ll be greeted with crystal clear emerald water ringed by towering trees and soaring peaks. The water is cold and contains a small number of trout, so fishing is allowed but it\’s recommended to catch and release to support a sustainable population. Bonus: in late summer, wild huckleberries can be found dotting the hillsides, providing a delicious snack for animals and humans alike.
Lake Pend Oreille
Surrounded by picturesque mountains and rolling green forests, Lake Pend Oreille will provide endless amounts of fun for the intrepid explorer. The lake boasts almost 150 square miles of surface area, and is also measured to be the fifth deepest lake in the United States. The great depths are home to numerous species of aqueous creatures, and if you ask the locals, you’ll even hear about one that is surrounded by legend and mystery: the Pend Oreille Paddler, which is the area’s own version of the Loch Ness monster. If searching for clues makes you hungry, pull up to the lakeside town of Sandpoint and refuel yourself before enjoying a sunset over the nearby Selkirk and Cabinet Mountains.
Tucked away near the northernmost part of the Idaho Panhandle lies another destination you won’t want to miss. Essentially two lakes joined together, Upper and Lower Priest Lake have been a popular tourist spot for locals and visitors alike. Wildlife sightings are frequent, and there are some geological points of interest as well–the lake is a remnant of the Great Flood that affected this area over 10,000 years ago during the end of the last ice age. There may not be any glaciers left, but there are still plenty of things that make this a very cool place to explore.
Though a relatively smaller sized lake at just over 8 square miles, Henry’s Lake is still well worth a visit. Sitting just below 6,500 feet above sea level, the lake beautifully mirrors the surrounding peaks of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Near the north end of the lake runs a portion of the Continental Divide Trail, and on the southern side of the lake sits Frome Park, home to hiking trails, camping, and other amenities. Binoculars will help you spot the pelicans, trumpeter swans, bald eagles, geese, and other birds that frequent the area.
High in the Sawtooth Mountains is nestled Redfish Lake, named for the large population of sockeye salmon that were known to inhabit the waters prior to popular settlement. While their numbers have dwindled (the salmon are currently protected and forbidden to be fished), At an elevation of over 6,500 feet, the fresh mountain air hangs gently over your head as the crystal clear waters shimmer underfoot. The lake has a beach and a boat launch area making for easy access, and when you’re done you can stop for a bite at the Redfish Lodge which sits at the water\’s edge. Plan ahead and reserve a camp spot, or make it a day trip–either way, Redfish Lake is sure to impress.
C.J. Strike Reservoir
For a family friendly getaway in the southwester portion of Idaho, the C.J. Strike Reservoir is a great place to beat the summer heat. Four campgrounds and associated amenities provide easy access to the water as well as respite once your activities get the best of you. Big game fishing is also hugely popular here, and you’ll see anglers reeling in all kinds of varieties of fish including largemouth bass, channel catfish, black crappie, pumpkinseed, and rainbow trout. Bring your fishing pole and bring some sunscreen so you can stay safe while chasing that next big catch.
Lucky Peak Reservoir
Fed by the Boise River and just southeast of the city of Boise is this 4.5 square-mile area of liquid heaven. Start at Lucky Peak State Park, near the north end of the reservoir, where you will find a sandy beach that makes for a great launch point. From there, you can explore the shoreline as you navigate the expanse of the lake. The vast waterway stretches across three counties–Ada, Boise, and Elmore–before reaching the Lucky Peak Dam, the feature responsible for the creation of the lake itself. Although it was originally constructed for irrigation and water management purposes, the lake now serves as a major recreational hotspot for Boise natives as well as visitors from all over.
Don’t be misled by the name–the Deadwood Reservoir is truly home to an abundance of life and activity. The lake was formed in 1931 when President Coolidge authorized the construction of a dam on the South Fork of the Payette River. Due to the remote and rugged location, numerous roads had to be built to provide access to the area. Today, these roads provide a scenic approach to this wonderful spot. A picnic area and boat ramp provide access for watercraft, and camping opportunities surround the shoreline if you’re looking to make an overnight stay. Fun fact: the water is home to a diverse group of fish from the salmon family, and for this reason, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game makes use of spawning runs out of this reservoir to collect kokanee eggs which are then flown to hatcheries and eventually stoked into other lakes and reservoirs throughout the state.
Lake Coeur d’Alene
Last but certainly not least is this fabulous natural lake in the heart of the Idaho Panhandle. Fed by two outstanding fishing rivers–the Coeur d’Alene and the Saint Joe–the lake stretches for approximately 25 miles and is ringed by impressive mountains and lush forests. At the northern end of the lake sits the City of Coeur d’Alene, a haven for summertime funseekers. Catch a breathtaking view of fireworks from the nature trails at Tubbs Hill, grab some ice cream, or work on your short game at one of the many golf courses that the area has to offer. It may have more traffic since this is a resort town, but there are many reasons so many people come here each summer to live, play, and explore.
As you can see, Idaho is home to a vast variety of natural wonders waiting to be enjoyed. There is tremendous variation from the north end of the state to the south, so there’s bound to be something for every paddle preference. Bring a camera, we’d love to see where you end up! Have fun and stay safe out there.
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north end of the state to the south, so there’s bound to be something for every paddle preference. Bring a camera, we’d love to see where you end up! Have fun and stay safe out there.
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