25 Best Lakes in Idaho
From glassy-blue glacier-fed lakes and enormous reservoirs to crystal-clear swimming holes, Idaho is polka-dotted with some of the most beautiful lakes in the country. Made up of mostly untouched mountainous terrain, the Gem State is home to a significant stretch of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, and the Snake River Plain, all of which feature spectacular, scenic, and tranquil bodies of water to explore and enjoy. Add to these pristine lakes, the highest waterfall, and the deepest gorge in the country, and Idaho takes the prize for being one of the best spots for adventurists, outdoor lovers, or anyone simply wanting to soak up the beauty of nature. If you feel like getting your feet wet, here are some of Idaho’s most splendid lakes. Photo: Bill Perry/Fotolia
The largest lake and a top tourist destination deep in the Sawtooth Wilderness, a federally protected wilderness area within the Sawtooth Mountains, Alice Lake is a spectacular alpine lake that rests at 8,600 feet above sea level. The lake is surrounded by breathtaking natural scenery, ranging from winding creeks and waterways to dense forests and woodland with jagged mountain peaks in the distance, which attract photographers from around the world. The lake lacks water-based sporting activities due to being frozen well into the summer, although it does offer excellent hiking and biking with several well-maintained trails around the shoreline.
Alturas Lake is a spectacular alpine lake situated in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in the Sawtooth Valley. Spanning from 21 miles south of Stanley to 30 miles northwest of Ketchum, Alturas Lake is the second-largest lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area with easy access along the northern shore, which also features several campgrounds and private camps. In the winter months, Alturas Lake has some of the best terrain and conditions for cross-country skiing and is home to one of two groomed Nordic trail systems in the Stanley Basin. Summer offers excellent fishing and birdwatching as well as hiking and mountain biking.
»American Falls Reservoir
American Falls Reservoir is all about enjoying the outdoors, with more than 56,000 acres of water that supports a variety of activities such as pleasure boating, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, water-skiing, and swimming. Splendid forested landscapes surround the lake, along with camping and picnic areas, recreation areas with boat ramps, fishing docks, and playgrounds, and offers a wealth of land-based activities such as hiking, mountain biking, bird and wildlife watching, and backpacking. Built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation by impounding the Snake River with the American Falls Dam, the reservoir traverses the nine-story dam and is located near the city of American Falls, 23 miles south of Idaho.
»Anderson Ranch Reservoir
Situated along the South Fork of the Boise River, the Anderson Ranch Reservoir is part of the Idaho reservoir system, which provides irrigation water and hydroelectric power for local southwest Idaho farms. The 4,730-acre reservoir offers a variety of land and water-based activities to visitors, from camping, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking to pleasure boating, fishing, swimming, wakeboarding, and water-skiing. The reservoir features several campgrounds ranging from basic to modern as well as a few boat launch ramps and private businesses that sell bait, in addition to other essential lake-lubber services. The 380 miles of varied terrain and spectacular scenery in winter is ideal for a variety of snow-based sports, such as snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
One of three major reservoirs built to irrigate the parched Boise Valley over 100 years ago, the Arrowrock Reservoir stretches 18 miles up the canyon and spans 3,141 acres of water with a depth of 260 feet. Located at the confluence of the main channel and the south fork of the Boise River, the Arrowrock Reservoir is just a 30-minute drive from Boise and, due to a lack of visitors, is an ideal spot to enjoy nature at its best. Arrowrock Reservoir offers smooth and calm waters for water-based activities such as leisure and powerboating, wakeboarding, water-skiing, and sailing, is renowned for excellent fishing, and has a few campsites along the shoreline that offer camping, picnicking, and swimming.
Dubbed the “Caribbean of the Rockies” due to its exceptionally clear, turquoise waters, Bear Lake is one of the most visited lakes in Idaho, not only for its spectacular beauty but also for its endemic fish species that call the lake home. Split proportionally between Idaho and Utah, the natural freshwater lake is a popular destination for water-based activities such as swimming, fishing, sailing, and scuba diving as well as hiking, mountain biking, raspberry picking, and wildlife watching. The Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Idaho side of the lake and is home to a diverse range of wildlife such as moose, muskrats, mule deer, swans, white-faced ibis, and sandhill cranes.
»C. J. Strike Reservoir
Set along the Snake River in southwestern Idaho, the C. J. Strike Reservoir is a 3,000-hectare reservoir and family-friendly lake that is extremely accessible, making it a great summer destination for enjoying outdoor recreational activities and watersports. The 7,500-acre lake was created in 1952 when a hydroelectric dam was built across the Bruneau and Snake Rivers and offers excellent fishing and teems with a variety of regular and big game fish from largemouth bass to rainbow trout as well as a wealth of opportunities to enjoy nature. Camping is offered along the lake’s shoreline at four campgrounds, all of which have shady picnic areas and a boat launch. Things to Do in Idaho
Located less than 75 miles from the Canadian border in Idaho's northern region, Cocolalla Lake is a little-known 805-acre lake that offers an array of recreational opportunities and watersports throughout four colorful and action-oriented seasons. The southern shore of the lake is mostly made up of wetlands, but both it and the western shoreline are also home to beautiful summer cottages and year-round residences. All types of watersports can be enjoyed on the lake, from canoeing, kayaking, and pontooning to powerboating, sailing, wakeboarding, and water-skiing, and there are plenty of land-based activities like hiking, mountain biking, birding, and wildlife watching. The lake is stocked by a year-round fishery and provides excellent fishing for crappie, channel catfish, perch, and largemouth bass.
Photo: Benjamen McLachlan/Fotolia
»Coeur d'Alene Lake
Nestled in the Idaho Panhandle at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Coeur d'Alene Lake is a 30,000-acre glacier-formed lake and one of Idaho’s spectacular recreational jewels. Named for the wily trading practices of local Native American tribes by early French traders, the lake was formed by the Missoula Floods over 12,000 years ago, rests at 2,125 feet above sea level, and is fed by the Coeur d’Alene and the Saint Joe. Surrounded by pristine forests and mountains, the lake offers a wealth of recreational and outdoor activities for both locals and visitors to enjoy, including hiking, mountain biking, golfing, wildlife viewing, swimming, cliff jumping, kayaking, fishing, and sailing.
Dworshak Reservoir is a 19,000-acre lake near the town of Orofino in northern Idaho that extends into the Bitterroot Mountains and boasts beautiful scenic vistas. Formed by damming the North Fork of the Clearwater River in 1973, the 53-mile long reservoir was once used for logging; however, today it is a popular destination for recreational tourism. Diverse outdoor recreational offerings can be enjoyed throughout the year, like hiking, biking, fishing, camping, game hunting, kayaking and canoeing, and swimming. Dworshak State Park features several campgrounds from basic to modern and there are numerous picnic and recreation areas, children’s playgrounds, marinas for boat launching, and swimming areas around the reservoir.
Formed by ancient floods that dammed streams and created crystal-clear lakes in northern Idaho’s Selkirk Mountains, Hauser Lake rests at the southernmost edge of the mountains just 15 miles northwest of the picturesque city of Coeur d'Alene. Originally named Mud Lake, the 625-acre lake was named after the governor of Montana, Samuel T. Hauser, and is renowned for its scenic natural beauty and wealth of recreational and outdoor activities. Boating and fishing are the primary recreational activities on Hauser Lake, which is well stocked with a variety of fish species; however, the lake is also home to beautiful sandy beaches which are ideal for sunbathing and swimming, and plenty of campgrounds for backpacking, camping and picnicking.
Photo: Gregory Johnston/Fotolia
Located in the scenic Idaho Panhandle in Kootenai County, Hayden Lake boasts a timbered shoreline, pristine sandy beaches, and sparkling water and is one of the most popular recreational lakes in the region. The irregular shaped 3,800-acre Hayden Lake stretches for 7 miles with about 40 miles of shoreline and is surrounded by towering tree-covered mountains that rise to an elevation of 6,000 feet and extend into the Bitterroot Mountains. This panoramic landscape is dotted with permanent residences and vacation rentals, and Hayden Lake's public beach, known locally as Honeysuckle Beach, is an excellent spot for relaxing in the sun and swimming. Hayden Lake also offers superb fishing and other activities like canoeing, kayaking, and sailing.
Photo: Dmitry Naumov/Fotolia
»Hells Canyon Reservoir
Marking the border between Idaho and Oregon, the three Hells Canyon Reservoirs are among the most scenic locations in southwest Idaho. Hells Canyon Reservoir is the farthest north of the three Hells Canyon reservoirs, the other two of which are the Brownlee Reservoir and the Oxbow Reservoir. Stretched along 25 miles of the Snake River and boasting 2,412 acres of water, Hells Canyon Reservoir has a depth of 81 feet and offers excellent fishing and a variety of water-based activities such as jet-boating. Over 50 miles of hiking trails can be accessed from Hells Canyon Reservoir, and the Hells Canyon Creek Information Station is open to visitors during the summer months.
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Nestled in the magnificent Caribou-Targhee National Forest in the far north corner of Eastern Idaho, Henrys Lake is a stunning mountainous body of water that sits at an elevation of 6,500 feet above sea level. Situated on the southwest side of the Henrys Lake Mountains just over the border from both Montana and Wyoming, the 6,500-acre lake attracts thousands of visitors every year, who come to enjoy superb fishing, hiking, and camping. Several wetland areas along the shores attract and protect a diverse range of birds, waterfowl, and wildlife, and the area is surrounded by spectacular mountainscapes of the Centennial and Henrys Lake mountain ranges.
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Located in the Sawtooth National Forest, the Independence Lakes are made up to four tiny alpine lakes that can be found at the end of one of south-central Idaho's most popular hiking trails in the Albion Mountains. The four small lakes can be reached by a relatively comfortable 3-mile hike on a well-maintained trailhead, which passes the popular climbing spot of City of Rocks. The most significant lake features about a half-mile of shoreline and is stocked with a variety of fish species including rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and bluegills, providing excellent fishing. The other lakes are considerably smaller and are thought to be unproductive for anglers.
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»Island Park Reservoir
Island Park Reservoir is a 7,000-acre reservoir and recreational paradise located southwest of West Yellowstone. Formed by the dam built across Henry's Fork, a tributary of the Snake River, the Island Park Reservoir is surrounded by the magnificent Caribou-Targhee National Forest and boasts 64 miles of shoreline with several campgrounds and boat ramps operated by the US Forest Service. The Reservoir offers a wealth of recreational opportunities, including four major boat ramps providing access for canoeing and kayaking, pleasure boating, pontooning, jet-skiing, windsurfing, water-skiing, and sailing. There is excellent fishing in the lake, as well as sandy beaches for sunbathing and swimming.
Photo: Gregory Johnston/Fotolia
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Formerly known as the Cascade Reservoir and now fondly called “the Mile-High Playground,” Lake Cascade is a beautiful 12,200-hectare lake and natural playground for adventurers, outdoor enthusiasts, and nature lovers. Well-stocked with a variety of fish, including coho salmon, kokanee salmon, trout, and smallmouth bass, the lake is a fishing haven for anglers and recreational fishers. It is also home to Lake Cascade State Park, which features over 2,000 campsites and a boat ramp for launching craft and offers hiking, mountain biking, and birdwatching in the summer, along with snowmobiling and skiing in the winter months.
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»Lake Pend Oreille
Lake Pend Oreille is Idaho’s largest lake and the fifth deepest in the country, with depths reaching 1,152 feet. Set in a valley carved by glaciers from Canada and surrounded by two national forests, the 38,000-hectare lake was formed during the last ice age and resembles the shape of an ear. It was used for testing equipment by submarine researchers during World War II, but today its picturesque waterways and rocky banks are reserved for recreational purposes such as pleasure boating, fishing for rainbow trout, sailing, and swimming. The dense woodlands and lush landscapes around the lake are home to a plethora of wildlife, including grey wolves and grizzly bears.
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»Lucky Peak Lake
Located just outside of the capital city of Boise, Lucky Peak Lake (sometimes called Lucky Peak Reservoir) is a 1,140-hectare lake that stretches across three counties. Set along the Boise River, the lake is home to Idaho's most visited state park, Lucky Peak Reservoir State Park, which is situated at the north end of the lake and boasts a beautiful sandy beach for excellent swimming and beach volleyball. At the opposite end of the lake is the Lucky Peak Dam Recreation Area, which has a boat ramp, a lovely beach, and several picnic tables. Lucky Peak Lake offers all types of recreational activities, from boating, fishing, and swimming to camping, hiking, and canoeing.
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The Magic Reservoir was formed in 1909 when the Big Wood River was dammed to provide irrigation water for local farming, and it has provided recreation to both residents and visitors for the past century. Boasting 3,700 acres of water and surrounded by spectacular natural scenery, the Magic Reservoir is home to two small settlements on the eastern and western shorelines, one of which has its own airport. The lake has many boat ramps providing access for powerboating, sailing, and water-skiing activities during the warmer months, but fishing is the favored sport at Magic Reservoir, which is stocked with perch, brown trout, rainbow trout, and smallmouth bass.
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Set in a beautiful river valley east of Idaho Falls in southeast Idaho, Palisades Reservoir is a 16,000- acre lake formed by the impoundment of the Snake River with 70 miles of shoreline, the southern end of which extends into Wyoming, south of Yellowstone National Park. Surrounded by verdant forests and majestic mountain vistas in the distance to create spectacular scenic views, Palisades Reservoir offers a wealth of outdoor recreational activities for both summer and winter, including camping, fishing, game hunting, wildlife viewing, and a variety of watersports. Numerous boat-launching ramps provide anglers excellent access to the reservoir's fishing sites, which are well-stocked with brown trout, cutthroat, kokanee salmon, and mackinaw all year round.
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Nestled beneath the peaks of the West Mountains and enshrouded by the Payette National Forest 100 miles north of Boise, the breathtaking Payette Lake, and its sister body of water Little Payette, are known as being Idaho's Four-Season Playground. Set in Idaho's Long Valley, Payette Lake spans more than 5,000 acres with a depth of over 300 feet and has been welcoming visitors since the late 1800s, from Native American tribes and frontiersmen to Finnish settlers. The lake is renowned for its excellent fishing, particularly for mackinaw, along with brown and rainbow trout, and is a favorite among sailors. who come out to enjoy a range of watersports such as canoeing, kayaking, jet-boarding, wakeboarding, and water-skiing. Payette Lake completely freezes over in winter, so ice-fishing and ice skating keep the winter “lake lubbers” entertained.
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Hailed as being Idaho’s “Crown Jewel,” Priest Lake is an ethereal body of water that rests in the northernmost portion of the Idaho Panhandle and extends for 19 miles. Naturally created some 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, the ancient lake is comprised of two bodies of water – the Lower Priest and Upper Priest – that are connected by a thoroughfare and provides year-round outdoor recreation along its white sandy beaches. While the lake still operates a lumber industry, it is best known for year-round entertainment, which includes hiking, mountain biking, fishing, swimming, and a variety of watersports in the summer, along with snowmobiling, ice-fishing, and cross-country skiing in the winter.
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Known for its spectacular natural scenery of towering mountains and dense forests, northern Idaho's Twin Lakes are two unforgettable bodies of water. The 850-acre crystalline lake is made up of two bodies of water, the upper and lower lakes, the upper of which stretches over 500 acres with a maximum depth of 20 feet, while the lower is 350 acres with a depth of 60 feet. Connected by a narrow 10-foot channel, the lakes are a favorite for enjoying a range of outdoor activities, such as fishing, pleasure boating, wakeboarding, and water-skiing as well as land-based adventures like hiking and wildlife watching.
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Williams Lake in Lemhi County is a fly-fishing haven, attracting anglers from all over to fish for rainbow trout in the clean, clear waters. Located about 15 miles south of the city of Salmon in the central region of Idaho, the 185-acre lake was created when a landslide blocked Lake Creek about 6,000 years ago and is now surrounded by thickly forested canyon walls and boasts a depth of 185 feet. In addition to providing an excellent spot for fly-fishing, it is also a birder’s heaven, where a diverse variety of large raptors, shorebirds, and songbirds can be seen on and around the lake. Water-based activities include boating, kayaking, and swimming, while ice-fishing is popular in the winter.
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25 Best Lakes in Idaho
- Alice Lake, Photo: Courtesy of knowlesgallery - Fotolia.com
- Alturas Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Juhku - Fotolia.com
- American Falls Reservoir, Photo: Courtesy of MaciejBledowski - Fotolia.com
- Anderson Ranch Reservoir, Photo: Courtesy of rsooll - Fotolia.com
- Arrowrock Reservoir, Photo: Courtesy of olga355 - Fotolia.com
- Bear Lake, Photo: Courtesy of swisshippo - Fotolia.com
- C. J. Strike Reservoir, Photo: Courtesy of Juhku - Fotolia.com
- Cocolalla Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Benjamen McLachlan - Fotolia.com
- Coeur d'Alene Lake, Photo: Courtesy of ablokhin - Fotolia.com
- Dworshak Reservoir, Photo: Courtesy of gdvcom - Fotolia.com
- Hauser Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Gregory Johnston - Fotolia.com
- Hayden Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Dmitry Naumov - Fotolia.com
- Hells Canyon Reservoir, Photo: Courtesy of hdsidesign - Fotolia.com
- Henrys Lake, Photo: Courtesy of DSGNSR - Fotolia.com
- Independence Lakes, Photo: Courtesy of Venera - Fotolia.com
- Island Park Reservoir, Photo: Courtesy of Gregory Johnston - Fotolia.com
- Lake Cascade, Photo: Courtesy of rck - Fotolia.com
- Lake Pend Oreille, Photo: Courtesy of amenohi - Fotolia.com
- Lucky Peak Lake, Photo: Courtesy of knowlesgallery - Fotolia.com
- Magic Reservoir, Photo: Courtesy of Colby - Fotolia.com
- Palisades Reservoir, Photo: Courtesy of Sherri - Fotolia.com
- Payette Lake, Photo: Courtesy of oneblink1 - Fotolia.com
- Priest Lake, Photo: Courtesy of wollertz - Fotolia.com
- Twin Lakes, Photo: Courtesy of knowlesgallery - Fotolia.com
- Williams Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Juhku - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Bill Perry - Fotolia.com
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