Idaho’s Panhandle: Hot Days, Cool Lakes

cruise on the lake

by Henry Allen

When summer temperatures rise, nothing feels quite like the cool waters of a pristine lake. Mountains, pine forests, wildlife and three huge, pristine lakes make Northern Idaho a recreation wonderland. From a tranquil float on a calm lake to making waves in a speed boat, the lakes of the Idaho Panhandle offer it all. 

Lake Coeur d’Alene

The city of Coeur d’Alene sits front and center on the lakeshore with every amenity you would expect from a resort town. So why not go big and rent your own tricked-out pontoon boat for a day on the lake with your family or friends. Different models are available from The Buoy CDA Boat Rentals (the same folks that operate a floating, cruise-up restaurant and bar on the lake) and from Summer Snow Outfitters. 

If a day on the water isn’t your style, maybe a day in the water is. Head to Coeur d’Alene City Park, which has a wide sandy beach that can draw crowds on a warm summer day, perfect for taking a dip. Keep in mind, these waters are frigid most of the year, but begin to warm up in July. The park is on the edge of downtown, next to Coeur d’Alene Resort, within walking distance of plenty of spots to get refreshments or a meal. 

Lake Pend Oreille

Idaho’s largest lake is Lake Pend Oreille. As you’d expect from such a massive and deep (more than 1,000-feet deep) body of water, it has plenty of coves, beaches and lakeside towns to explore. And sometimes being on the water can be as much fun as in the water. 

Enter the Shawnodese, a 40-foot vintage tour boat operated by Pend Oreille Cruises. Pick from a menu of cruises that run from 1.5 to 3.5 hours, including scenic tours (the 3G Cruise), wildlife tours (Birds of Prey Cruise), a narrated history tour (Lake History Cruise) and many others. The cruises depart from the Sandpoint City Beach or from the town of Hope, about a 20-minute drive from Sandpoint. 

If speed on the waves is more your style, Sandpoint has a number of outfitters where you can rent personal watercrafts. Or head to the City Beach for a refreshing swim in the lake. Downtown Sandpoint, near City Beach, is within walking distance. (Fun fact: Sandpoint has been officially dubbed America’s most beautiful small town by more than one source.)

Priest Lake

Northernmost of the big three lakes in the Panhandle is Priest Lake. This pristine mountain lake sits at an elevation of 2,500 feet. There are many ways to enjoy the lake on a hot summer day, and by settling in at one of the lake’s resorts you’ll have many options at your fingertips. Fishing draws many vacationers to Priest Lake, and for good reason—lake and rainbow trout, and large mouth and small mouth bass. Elkins Resort rents boats and gear and even comes with a fishing guide who will do his best to make sure you reel in a big one. (The Idaho record for lake trout was set at Priest Lake in 1971 with a 57.5 pounder.)

Elkins Resort offers rustic luxe-cabins, excellent Northwest dining, boat rentals and more. When you’re not on the water or relaxing with a cold one, work up a sweat on one of the many trails that surround Priest Lake, such as the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars (some estimated to be as old as 3,000 years). Then head back to the resort and jump in the lake.  

Plan Your Trip

North Idaho Tourism, visitnorthidaho.com

Coeur d’Alene, coeurdalene.org

Sandpoint, visitsandpoint.com

Priest Lake, priestlake.org