15 Top-Rated Lakes in Idaho

Written by Brad Lane
Jan 20, 2020
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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 high mountain bodies of water like Alice Lake that are only accessible by hiking trail, great lakes in Idaho are found 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. Both of 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

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 popular lake near Sandpoint, 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.

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.

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.

2. Priest Lake

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 operated by Priest Lake State Park accommodate tents and RVs.

3. Lake Coeur d'Alene

Lake Coeur d'Alene | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Backdropping the scenic city of Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho, 30 miles east of Spokane, Washington, this natural body of water is popular 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.

Over a dozen boat ramps can be accessed near the city of Coeur d'Alene, as well as several marinas and outfitters with boat rentals available. The Coeur d'Alene Resort is a luxurious top-rated getaway close to the shore, which features a professional golf course and a famous 14th hole floating green.

4. Redfish Lake

Paddleboarding on Redfish Lake

South of Stanley, Redfish Lake is part of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and is operated by the National Forest Service. With beautiful 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 headwaters 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, Idaho

Ninety miles north of Boise, Lake Cascade is a large man-made reservoir popular with 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, and ample fishing opportunities are available year-round, with ice fishing as one of the most popular activities in the winter.

6. Stanley Lake

Stanley Lake

One of the most scenic lakes in Idaho, Stanley Lake is within the Sawtooth National Forest just outside the town of Stanley. With the striking McGowan Peak dominating the background, vehicles 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

Alice Lake and the Sawtooth Mountains

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.

For those able to spend two or three days exploring the national forest, a looped hiking trail continues from Alice Lake to connect other scenic bodies of water in the area. Spanning approximately 20 miles, the Alice-Toxaway Lakes Loop previews much of what makes the Sawtooth Mountains the gem of the Gem State.

8. Lake Cleveland

Lake Cleveland

At an elevation of over 8,000 feet, Lake Cleveland is a popular high mountain lake in southern Idaho near the Utah border. Part of the Sawtooth National Forest, Lake Cleveland forms at the basin of the impressive Mt. Harrison that looms over the water. The lake is stocked by Idaho Fish and Game, 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

A glacier-carved lake near McCall in western Idaho, Payette Lake offers 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.

10. Palisades Reservoir

Palisades Reservoir

Straddling the Idaho and Wyoming border in the eastern part of the state, Palisades Reservoir provides one of the most popular lakes near Idaho Falls. Within the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, this massive body of water 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. A popular route on summer weekends, the route also passes by several great views of the Snake River Range.

11. Bear Lake

The blue waters of Bear Lake between Idaho and Utah

Referred to as the Caribbean of the Rockies thanks to its turquoise blue water, Bear Lake is a popular lake in southern Idaho 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

Cutthroat trout on Henrys Lake

In the northeast corner of Idaho near the Montana/Wyoming border and Yellowstone National Park, Henrys Lake is a magnet for fishing, boating, and high mountain activities. 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

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 activity, 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 a great place to go fishing, swimming, and strolling on the scenic shoreline.

14. Lake Lowell

Lake Lowell in Autumn

A popular lake near Boise, Lake Lowell 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

Mother goose and goslings at Market Lake

A hot spot for wildlife enthusiasts near Idaho Falls, Market Lake is a federally protected wetland habitat teeming with birds. Popular with birders and hunters alike, Market Lake Wildlife Management Area 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 at Market Lake.

Official site: https://idfg.idaho.gov/wma/market-lake

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

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.

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