Idaho is one of the most unspoilt states in the USA, with most of it being made up of untouched mountainous terrain. It is home to a large stretch of the Rocky Mountains, the Snake River Plain and the Great Basin, with 38 per cent of the state being held by the United States Forest Service. This is more than any other state in the country, proving again how beautiful and scenic Idaho is.
Its scenery and landscapes attract thousands of visitors that come to explore all of Idaho’s natural beauty. It also happens to be home to the deepest gorge in the country and its highest waterfall; Shoshone Falls. Idaho boasts numerous mountain ranges, rivers and lakes, making it an excellent destination for any adventurist or outdoor lover. If you ever visit the ‘Gem State’ and like getting your feet wet, these are the 15 best lakes in Idaho.
1. Lake Pend Oreille; Bonner & Kootenai counties
Idaho’s largest lake is surrounded by national forests, making it extremely picturesque. The 38,000 hectare lake also happens to be the fifth-deepest lake in the country, boasting clean water and magnificent scenery.
Lake Pend Oreille was formed during the ice age and resembles the shape of an ear, which can be seen from the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway and State Highway 200. Nearly all of its 178 kilometre shoreline is made up of mountains.
The lake is a popular destination not only for those that love natural scenery, but also for those that love water sports. It features numerous paddling trails, as well as offering fantastic sailing, stand-up-paddle barding, water skiing and fishing.
2. Bear Lake; Bear Lake County
This natural freshwater lake sits at the Idaho-Utah border and is equally split between the two states. The magnificent Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge is on the Idaho side, which is home to sandhill cranes, white-faces ibis, swans, geese, moose, mule deer and muskrats.
Bear Lake is famous for its spectacular turquoise colour, giving it the nickname the ‘Caribbean of the Rockies’. It is also known for the folklore the Bear Lake Monster, which was last seen in 2002.
This is one of the most visited lakes in Idaho not only for its beauty, but also for its endemic fish species. It also features a lovely three kilometre long beach, some great hiking trails and offers numerous recreational activities, like sailing, fishing and scuba diving.
3. Lake Coeur d’Alene; Kootenai & Benewah counties
The very north end of this natural lake sits in the city of Coeur d’Alene, with the city and the lake being named after the Coeur d’Alene people. The 40 kilometre long lake stretches across two counties in northern Idaho and features 175 kilometres of shoreline.
The lake was formed by the Missoula Floods over 12,000 years ago and today is fed by the Coeur d’Alene and the Saint Joe. It sits at an elevation of 648 metres above sea level and is surrounded by mountains and forest.
In the summer, Lake Coeur d’Alene is a popular tourist destination, with visitors coming to enjoy its beaches and its stunning views. There are two trails along its shoreline, as well as two golf courses; the Gozzer Ranch Golf & Lake Club and the Coeur D’Alene Resort Golf Course.
4. Redfish Lake; Custer County
Sitting at an elevation of 1,996 metres, Redfish Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Idaho, what with the mountain peaks that frame it. The lake sits at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
Redfish Lake gets its name from the brilliant sockeye salmon that used to swim around it. Today, they can still be seen in fewer numbers and must not be removed from the lake.
The lake features an 18 kilometre shoreline that is encircled by a trail. In addition to this, it is also a very popular spot for canoeing, kayaking and camping.
5. Priest Lake; Bonner County
This stunning lake sits in the northernmost portion of the Idaho Panhandle and extends for 31 kilometres. The 11,000 hectare is separated into two areas; Lower Priest and Upper Priest, with the former being the primary lake.
Priest Lake dates back to the last ice age nearly 10,000 years ago. Since then it has played an important role in the logging industry as well as being a popular destination.
There is some pristine wildlife living around the mountains and forest that surround the lake, including moose, bear and deer. This makes it extremely popular amongst tourists, as does its great year-round recreational activities and accommodation options.
6. Lake Cascade; Valley County
Pegged ‘The Mile High Playground’, Lake Cascade is a playground for nature lovers, especially anglers. It is well stocked with smallmouth bass, trout, kokanee salmon and coho salmon.
The 12,200 hectare lake is home to the Lake Cascade State Park, which features over 2,000 campsites for visitors to enjoy. It also offers hiking, bird watching, snowmobiling and skiing, as well as having a boat ramp.
Those that prefer to be more comfortable can stay at the Tamarack Resort, which sits on the western shoreline of the lake. The resort is open all year, as is Lake Cascade and the Lake Cascade State Park.
7. Stanley Lake; Custer County
This beautiful alpine lake can be found at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains just northwest of Redfish Lake. It sits within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area at 1,985 metres above sea level.
There are three separate camping grounds surrounding the lake, all of which have a day use area, hiking trails and a boat launch. They also feature a swimming area and picnic areas, while offering canoeing and boating in the lake itself.
Stanley Lake is a great spot to go fishing and spot wildlife. It is also popular amongst artists and photographers thanks to its magnificent scenery.
8. Henrys Lake; Fremont County
This stunning mountainous lake sits at an elevation of 1,973 metres above sea level. Henrys Lake is located on the southwest side of the Henrys Lake Mountains in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
It is not a large lake, being 2,100 hectare, but it is extremely picturesque thanks to its surroundings and its colour. In addition to the mountains, the lake’s shoreline is also home to the Henrys Lake State Park and Frome Park, while the Continental Divide Trail skirts the north end of it.
Fishing is one of the most popular things to do at Henrys Lake thanks to its abundance of Yellowstone cutthroat and rainbow-cutthroat hybrids. It is also a haven for birdwatchers, being home to white pelicans, Canada geese, widgeon, trumpeter swans, bald eagles, and a plethora of other species.
9. Alice Lake; Blaine County
This is largest lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness, which is a federally-protected wilderness area within the Sawtooth Mountains. The alpine lake sits at an elevation of 2,622 metres above sea level.
Alice Lake’s surroundings makes it exceptionally beautiful and serene, attracting photographers of all levels from all over the globe. This makes up for the lake’s lack of water activities, which is due to the fact that it often stays frozen well into the summer.
Hiking is the main reason for visiting the lake and its surrounding area. It can be accessed on foot via the trailhead at Pettit Lake or by car via Sawtooth National Forest road 208.
10. Sawtooth Lake; Custer County
Sawtooth Lake sits in the Sawtooth Mountains at an elevation of 2,571 metres. The lake is accessible via the Iron Creek trailhead and campground, which is an eight kilometre hike.
The alpine lake remains frozen right into July thanks to its high elevation. This means that it does not offer much in terms of recreational activities other than hiking and camping.
The scenery at Sawtooth Lake is incredible, what with Mount Regan sitting right at the south end of it and Alpine Peak at the east end. This makes it a fantastic spot for taking beautiful photographs.
11. C.J. Strike Reservoir; Owyhee & Elmore counties
C.J. Strike Reservoir sits along Snake River in south-western Idaho. The 3,000 hectare reservoir is an extremely accessible, family-friendly lake, making it a great summer destination.
Fishing is the main reason for visiting the lake, which is swarming with both regular and big game fish. Black crappie, channel catfish, largemouth bass, rainbow trout and pumpkinseed are a few of the species found in the reservoir.
Camping is offered along the lake’s shoreline. There are four campgrounds in total, all of which have picnic areas and a boat launch.
12. Alturas Lake; Blaine County
Alturas Lake is the second largest lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and sits at an elevation of 2,138 metres. The lake is easily accessible by road and offers plenty of recreational activities.
Swimming, boating, canoeing, water skiing, and fishing are all offered within the lake. Those that prefer to stay on land can enjoy hiking and mountain biking.
There are several campgrounds along the lake’s shoreline, which are all quite serene thanks to the stunning surrounding Sawtooth Mountain Range. There is also a picnic area sitting at the north tip of the lake for day-trippers.
13. Warm Lake; Valley County
At 260 hectare, Warm Lake is the largest lake in the Boise National Forest. The lake sits at an elevation of 1,615 metres above sea level and boasts some magnificent scenery.
Nature lovers flock to the lake to get a glimpse of the wildlife, which includes moose, black bear, elk and mule deer. The lake is also home to large birds like osprey and bald eagles.
People come to Warm Lake for its great camping and fishing. There is also a swimming beach at the north end of the lake, as well as two lodges for those that would prefer not to sleep in a tent.
14. Lucky Peak Reservoir; Ada, Boise & Elmore counties
Although Luck Peak Reservoir is just 1,140 hectare, it stretches across three counties. The reservoir sits along the Boise River just to the southeast of the city of Boise.
The Luck Peak Reservoir State Park sits at the north end of the lake and features a sandy beach with some good swimming. The Lucky Peak Dam Recreation Area is at the opposite end, which also has a nice beach, as well as a boat ramp and picnic tables.
One of the best ways to see the lake is from the viewpoint that is located just off of State Highway 21. The highway will also lead you to the Arrowrock View Point for some great views.
15. Deadwood Reservoir; Valley County
This reservoir is located in the Boise National Forest at an elevation of 1,626 metres above sea level. It was created by the damming of the Deadwood River in 1931.
The reservoir is a popular recreation area offering fantastic canoeing, swimming, water skiing and boating. It is also fantastic for anglers wanting to catch kokanee salmon, rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon.
Deadwood Reservoir’s surroundings makes it a great place for hiking and camping. There are three campgrounds along the lake’s shoreline, all of which have a boat ramp for accessing the lake.