Although the mention of Idaho may evoke images of potatoes, Idaho is just as famous for its wilderness. Countless kayakers and whitewater rafters make the pilgrimage to Idaho each year to explore its spectacular rivers. However, the lakes in Idaho deserve as much attention as the rivers. While certainly not an exhaustive list of the beautiful lakes worth paddling in Idaho, this will point you toward some unforgettable days out on your paddleboard. If you’re not from the area, I recommend planning a road trip!
As with most lakes, I recommend launching in the morning to avoid boat traffic and wind.
Sawtooth Mountains—Redfish Lake and Pettit Lake
Redfish Lake is the most popular lake in the Sawtooth mountains and its laidback beach resort vibe makes this a great lake for families.
Afternoon boat traffic can be heavy near the north side of the lake, where the lodge and campgrounds are located. Launch from the north side and then escape to the southern side of the lake for some peaceful paddling.
Although there are several other beautiful lakes near Redfish Lake, Pettit Lake deserves a special mention and is my recommendation for beginners due to the relative solitude of the lake. Although motorized boats are allowed, I never saw a boat on this lake during my week long stay. It offers the scenery of a high mountain lake without having to pack your board on your back.
If you are lucky enough to snag one of the 12 first-come first-served sites, launch right from the campground. Otherwise launch from the day use area, which has a better beach than the campground and does not require a fee.
Temperatures are chilly overnight in the Sawtooth Mountains. My mom and I bundled up for a sunrise paddle in the middle of July but were in shorts by early afternoon.
Although Utah claims the southern half of this aquamarine lake, my favorite beach is at North Beach State Park on the Idaho side. The $5 Motor Vehicle Entry Fee is well worth the white sandy beach.
Summer weekends come with heavy motorboat traffic. Paddle close to shore, especially in the afternoon when the wind picks up.
Swing by Garden City, UT on your way home for a raspberry milkshake. Although most people have a spot they swear by, I have yet to try one I haven’t liked.
Growing up in southeastern Idaho, I thought Coeur d’Alene in the panhandle of Idaho to be half a world away. The southern shore of the 19 milelong Priest Lake is an additional 75 miles north of Coeur d’Alene.
Launch from Kalispell Bay Boat Ramp on the southwestern side of the lake to paddle the 1.2 miles to Kalispell Island. There are several first come first served campgrounds or you can paddle the 2.5 mile circumference of the island before returning to the boat ramp.
If you’re feeling adventurous, launch from the north side of the lake at either Lionhead campground or Beaver Creek campground and paddle to Upper Priest Lake via a narrow passage called the Thorofare. This section is known for plentiful wildlife sightings. Since the Thorofare is a little over 2 miles each way plus paddle time on the upper lake, plan and pack accordingly.
This is grizzly country; pack bear spray if you plan to do any adventuring off your board.
The resort town of McCall is worth visiting on its own without even launching your board. Check out any of the three breweries in town after a day of paddling.
In the middle of summer, escape the crowds by padding the east section of the lake or venture to the north side of the lake and paddle a slack water area called the Meanders.
Make reservations several months ahead if you plan to camp at Ponderosa State Park.
Reservoirs are usually not my favorite places to paddle due to high boat traffic and typically underwhelming scenery but Palisades is certainly an exception to the latter with its pine tree lined shores and mountain views. There’s enough paddling to keep you busy for a full weekend.
Unfortunately, motorboats do crowd this reservoir. By early fall, boat traffic dies down significantly and this is my favorite time to paddle here. Bundle up and head out on the water in the morning before the afternoon winds pick up. Bring a small collapsible table, a camp chair and a thermos of hot chocolate to continue enjoying the scenery after you have finished paddling.