Of North Idaho’s three major lakes, Priest Lake is the least developed and most pristine, with exceptionally clean and clear water. At 19 miles long and nearly 80 miles of shoreline, with the highest peaks of the Selkirk Mountains to the east and completely surrounded by state and national forests, Priest Lake stands out for those who want a superb natural experience.
Parks, beaches and trails: Priest Lake boasts one of the finest parks in the state in Priest Lake State Park, which actually has three separate units along the east side of the lake, at Lionhead at north end; Indian Creek at mid lake and Dickensheet along the Priest River below the lake’s outlet. Additionally the Forest Service has a dozen superb campgrounds along the western side of the lake, from large Beaver Creek at the north end to campgrounds on Kalispell Island mid lake. As for trails, Priest has many spectacular hikes and walks; the Lakeshore trail contours along a third of the western shore, while Navigation trail carries on to Upper Priest Lake, to mention just two of the 18 the Forest Service alone maintains.
Boating: More than a dozen boat launches are located around the lake. Most resorts and marinas have gas available as well as boat rentals and other boating services. Kayak, canoe and pontoon boat rentals are also available through guide and recreational rental services. The guide services also offer a variety of canoeing, kayaking and fishing packages. One prime destination is the unroaded Upper Priest Lake, accessible only by boat or trail and connected to the main lake by the idyllic 2-mile Thorofare where no-wake rules are in effect and makes for an outstanding destination for canoeists and kayakers.
Wildlife: Priest Lake is rich in wildlife, including rare species that can thrive only in the adjacent backcountry. Within the basin are black and grizzly bears, whitetail and mule deer, moose, elk, wolves, mountain lions, bobcats, mountain sheep and a few mountain goats, and the very rare mountain caribou. For bird life, the lake has a growing population of bald eagles and many ospreys; waterfowl abounds seasonally including wood duck and redhead. Great blue heron, wild turkey and many others abound.
Fishing: Mackinaw or lake trout grow to trophy size in Priest Lake; the state record 57.5 pound mack was taken here in 1971. But other fishing opportunities abound as well, ranging from to cutthroat fishing in the nearby alpine lakes, to brook trout angling in the numerous streams in the Priest basin, to catch-and-release fishing for westslope cutthroat in Upper Priest Lake, to great ice fishing on Cavanaugh Bay. There are a number of fishing charter and guide services available.
Info on activities and providers: Priest Lake Chamber
USFS parks and trails: Idaho Panhandle National Forest
State parks: Idaho Department of Parks and Rec
Fishing: Idaho Fish and Game recommended waters