16 Top-Rated Lakes in Idaho
Author Brad Lane lived near the border of Idaho border for 2.5 years. You could find him lakeside on many sunny summer weekends.
Like many natural attractions of the state, the best lakes in Idaho offer stunning beauty and rugged backdrops. From Lake Pend Oreille, the largest lake in Idaho, to alpine lakes only accessible by hiking trails, great lakes in Idaho stretch from the panhandle down to the Utah border.
Boating and swimming are abundant at vacation destinations like Lake Coeur D'Alene, Lake Cascade, and Priest Lake, as well as some world-class fishing opportunities. Other best lakes to fish in Idaho include Redfish Lake and Bear Lake. Many of these larger lakes in Idaho also provide boat rentals, cabins, and overnight stays at vacation resorts.
A common quality of the best lakes in Idaho is the stunning mountain backdrops seen from the shore. Some of the best lakeside mountain views in Idaho are framed by the zigzagging Sawtooth Mountains in the central part of the state. Bodies of water like Stanley Lake and Lake Cleveland exemplify the postcard effect of the Sawtooth Mountains. And both these picturesque lakes are accessible by car.
Plan your day by the water with our list of the best lakes in Idaho.
1. Lake Pend Oreille
With 111 miles of shoreline and a maximum depth of over 1,100 feet, Lake Pend Oreille is the largest and deepest lake in Idaho. Activity abounds at this massive lake in the southern panhandle, as does mountain scenery, with stunning Rocky Mountain peaks lining the entire shore. Numerous resorts, marinas, boat launches, and tourist-friendly towns can be found on every corner of the lake.
Fishing is one of the most popular activities in Lake Pend Oreille, with avid anglers casting a line for Kamloops rainbow trout, among many other species of fish. Other boating activities on Lake Pend Oreille include sailing, paddling, and guided cruises.
The popular Farragut State Park is at the far southern end of the lake, and the adjacent community of Bayview has boat rentals and hotels to spend the night. And on the north shore, the inviting mountain town of Sandpoint also offers easy water access and lakeside lodging.
Read More: Best Small Towns in Idaho
2. Priest Lake
In the northernmost portion of the Idaho panhandle, near the Canadian border, Priest Lake is one of the best lakes in Idaho for a vacation. Numerous resorts line the shores of this 19-mile-long lake, ranging from family cabins to luxury stays with world-class views.
The surrounding Selkirk Mountains add a rugged backdrop to the lake and provide extra scenic appeal to activities like swimming, fishing, boating, and water sports.
Known as "Idaho's Crown Jewel,'' Priest Lake provides plenty of fun off the water, too. Numerous hiking trails meander near the lake, and long sandy beaches comprise much of the shoreline. On the eastern shore of the lake, over 150 campsites at Priest Lake State Park accommodate tents and RVs.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Idaho
Read More: Best Places for Camping in Idaho
3. Lake Coeur d'Alene
Lake Coeur d'Alene is a beautiful body of water in the northern part of the state, often seen while driving along Interstate 90. It's the southern backdrop of the scenic city of Coeur d'Alene, 30 miles east of Spokane. And it's a popular recreation area for boating, fishing, and exploring the public space near the shore.
Visitors to Coeur d'Alene often enjoy the lake through an expansive city park and beach that abuts the water. This is where visitors can also access Tubbs Hill, a 120-acre hiking area that traverses the shore. Other lakeside attractions in the area include resorts, cruises, and weekend festivals throughout the summer.
Over a dozen boat ramps are accessible from the city, and several marinas and outfitters with boat rentals are available. The Coeur d'Alene Resort is a luxurious getaway close to the shore, which features a professional golf course and a famous 14th-hole floating green.
4. Redfish Lake
Redfish Lake is just south of the town of Stanley and is part of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The National Forest Service operates this beautiful alpine lake with surreal mountain backdrops.
Redfish Lake Lodge on the north end of the shore provides rooms, cabins, and boat rentals to enjoy the water. Numerous hiking trails span the area, some of which lead deep into the Sawtooth Wilderness.
Redfish Lake is the headwater for the Salmon River and an important piece of the salmon spawning process. The nearby Sawtooth Fish Hatchery releases thousands of salmon and steelhead smolt each year. Public fishing spots and local fly-fishing guides are available throughout the area to help visitors land a big one.
5. Lake Cascade
Lake Cascade is a large man-made reservoir 90 miles north of Boise. It's popular for fishing, camping, and boating on the water. The encompassing Lake Cascade State Park features hundreds of campsites spread across numerous campgrounds and 86 miles of shoreline.
Windy afternoon conditions often appeal to sailors and windsurfers at Lake Cascade. Ample fishing opportunities are available year-round, with ice fishing as one of the most popular activities in the winter.
Read More: Best National & State Parks in Idaho
6. Stanley Lake
Stanley Lake is one of the most scenic lakes in Idaho. It's within Sawtooth National Forest just outside the town of Stanley, with the striking McGowan Peak dominating the background. And with easy access that doesn't involve hiking, this postcard lake is one of the most popular lakes to visit in the Sawtooth Mountains.
Visitors can access this serene landscape with their vehicle by parking near the Stanley Lake Campground. A public boat ramp is available at the campground, and numerous hiking trails lead to other outstanding views of the lake.
7. Alice Lake
Nestled beneath craggy mountain peaks in the Sawtooth National Forest, Alice lake is one of the most popular hiking and backcountry lakes in Idaho. It's a moderate 6.9-mile hike from the Tin Cup Trailhead at Pettit Lake to reach Alice Lake, including a few creek crossings and 1,600 feet of elevation gain. The alpine backdrop of Alice Lake, though, is well worth the effort.
A looped hiking trail continues from Alice Lake to connect other scenic bodies of water in the area for those able to spend two or three days exploring the national forest. The Alice-Toxaway Lakes Loop spans approximately 20 miles, previewing much of what makes the Sawtooth Mountains the gem of the Gem State.
8. Lake Cleveland
Lake Cleveland is a popular high-mountain lake in southern Idaho near the Utah border. It's at an elevation of over 8,000 feet and is part of Sawtooth National Forest. The lake forms a basin at the impressive Mt. Harrison that looms over the water.
Idaho Fish and Game stock the lake, and vehicles can access both the east and west side campgrounds that border the water. Lake Cleveland is a great spot for kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards, as motorized vessels aren't allowed on the water.
Early winter snow accumulation often makes this backcountry lake inaccessible by vehicles for much of the year.
9. Payette Lake
Payette Lake is a glacier-carved lake near McCall in western Idaho, offering a scenic getaway just over two hours north of Boise. Like the nearby sparkling shores of Cascade Lake, Payette Lake is a popular destination for boating and relaxing on sandy beaches.
A giant peninsula cuts into Payette Lake and features numerous hiking trails, campsites, and picnic facilities operated by Ponderosa State Park. The park is also home to several eagle nests, and these massive birds fly freely throughout.
10. Palisades Reservoir
Palisades Reservoir straddles the Idaho and Wyoming border in the eastern part of the state and is one of the most popular lakes near Idaho Falls. This massive body of water is within Caribou-Targhee National Forest and has numerous public access points to enjoy activities like boating, fishing, and hiking. Several campgrounds also surround the shore, and primitive camping is available throughout the encompassing forest.
For a more remote lake experience, the backcountry Palisades Lakes are popular backpacking and hiking destinations just north of the Palisades Reservoir. From the Palisades Creek Trailhead in the Swan Valley, it's an approximately seven-mile hike to Upper Palisades Lake, and hikers pass Lower Palisades Lake along the way. It's a popular route on summer weekends that also passes by several great views of the Snake River Range.
11. Bear Lake
Bear Lake is a popular lake in southern Idaho, often referred to as the Caribbean of the Rockies, thanks to its turquoise blue water that spans the Idaho and Utah border. Half of this lake is in Idaho, and the other half is in Utah, and both shorelines provide numerous recreational opportunities throughout the year.
Bear Lake State Park encompasses the entire body of water and provides access to seven different public boat ramps. The North Beach unit is a popular place to go for those coming from Idaho. Fishing is a very popular activity at Bear Lake, with anglers often aiming to land some species of fish that are found nowhere else in the world.
12. Henrys Lake
Henrys Lake is a magnet for fishing, boating, and high mountain activities in the northeast corner of Idaho near the Montana/Wyoming border and Yellowstone National Park. The surrounding Henrys Lake State Park offers visitor resources, including boat ramps, fish cleaning stations, and a swimming beach. The state park also operates a campground with over 80 campsites available.
Anglers often aim for cutthroat, brook, and hybrid trout species in Henrys Lake, and world-class stream fishing is available on the connected Henrys Fork of the Snake River. Hiking opportunities are also abundant at this high mountain lake, and wildflowers often line the hiking trails in the late spring and early summer.
13. Alturas Lake
In the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, south of Redfish Lake, Alturas Lake is a large natural body of water surrounded by forest. The lake is popular for most motorized boating activities, but no Jet Skis are allowed.
Numerous camping areas surround the shores of Alturas Lake, including the Alturas Inlet Campground. The day-use area on the north side of Alturas Lake is great for fishing, swimming, and strolling on the scenic shoreline.
14. Lake Lowell
Lake Lowell is a popular lake near Boise and is part of the larger Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge — one of the oldest national refuges in the country. Motorized and non-motorized boats are allowed on the 9,000-acre lake between April 15th and September 30th, while the water is reserved exclusively for wildlife during the extended winter season. A public boat ramp is available at the Lower Dam Recreation Area.
Lake Lowell is a premiere landscape for wildlife viewing. Migratory birds are particularly easy to spot at Lake Lowell, and wildlife photography has become increasingly popular at the refuge. A popular bird blind is available to get the best view.
15. Market Lake
Market Lake is a hot spot for wildlife enthusiasts near Idaho Falls and a federally protected wetland habitat teeming with birds. Market Lake Wildlife Management Area is popular with birders and hunters alike and is mostly comprised of wetlands and marshes, with hiking trails meandering throughout the floodplain.
Annual migrations bring a lot of visitors to the park during the fall, and Idaho Fish and Game releases pheasants each hunting season.
16. Lucky Peak Lake
Lucky Peak Lake is a massive reservoir in the southwest city limits of Boise. The southern end of the reservoir, at the Lucky Peak Dam, is a hot spot for recreation activity close to the city. This area, encompassed by Lucky Peak State Park, is a less-than-10-minute drive from downtown or a pleasant 30-minute bicycle ride on the Boise River Greenbelt.
The Discovery Unit of the state park near the dam, including Sandy Point Beach, is popular for swimming, fishing, and picnicking in the green space. The Spring Shores Unit, farther north, offers additional amenities like boat docks and campgrounds.
Map of Lakes in Idaho
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Exploring Idaho: Idaho has a lot to offer besides great bodies of water, and the top-rated tourist attractions of the state feature other big natural attractions, like Hell's Canyon, Shoshone Falls, and Craters of the Moon. For vibrant streets and a high dose of the culture of Idaho, the state capital of Boise is a great place to visit for fun things to do. With rugged backdrops and luxurious accommodations, the best resorts in Idaho offer first-class places to stay.
Other Cities in Idaho to Visit: Nearly every city in Idaho has its own scenic appeal, and the lakeside city of Coeur D'Alene is no exception. In the southeastern part of the state near Wyoming, Idaho Falls is another fun city and a gateway to places like Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. Farther south, Twin Falls offers similar scenic attractions on the Snake River.