From glacier-fed lakes to gargantuan reservoirs to crystal blue swimming holes, the Gem State is practically polka-dotted with lakes. Whether you’re miles deep into the backcountry searching for Sharlie the Loch Ness monster or you’re just a mile away from town, the following 10 best lakes in Idaho are truly wondrous to behold.

1. Priest Lake

sunset at Priest Lake Idaho
Sunset at Priest Lake | Photo courtesy of Nick Postorino

Aptly named “Idaho’s Crown Jewel,” this ethereal lake is comprised of two bodies of water—upper and lower—connected by a thoroughfare. The ancient lake dates back to the last ice age, and provides year-round outdoor recreation along its white-sand beaches. Whether on water skis, or hiking along the water’s edge, the lake’s mirror reflection and unique clusterings of islands draw visitors from across the country.

2. Lake Pend Oreille

Sunset at Lake Pend in Idaho
Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of the Interior

Idaho’s largest lake is also the fifth deepest in the U.S. During World War II, submarine researchers tested equipment in the great blue, but today, its waterways and rocky banks are reserved for boaters, fishermen in search of rainbow trout, and swimmers. Lake Pend Oreille is home to both resort communities and untamed forests filled with grizzly bears and grey wolves.

3. Lake Coeur d’Alene

Sunrise at Lake Coeur d'Alene
Photo courtesy of Stan Petersen

Idaho’s Panhandle snags the third spot on the list with Lake Coeur d’Alene, another geological wonder from the ancient Missoula Floods, where glaciers carved the terrain of the Pacific Northwest. The popular resort destination provides a summer home to movie stars, stand-up paddleboarders, cliff jumpers, and fishermen alike, who are drawn to the deep blue waters and surrounding forests.

4. Payette Lake

Woman enjoying the view at Payette Lake in Idaho.
Photo courtesy of Benmillett

Payette Lake, and its sister body of water Little Payette, have astounded sailors and anglers in search of mackinaws for decades. The fantastic lake and sandy beaches are home to resort communities like McCall, yet protected by conservation efforts at Ponderosa State Park and the Payette National Forest. Locals claim the lake is home to Sharlie, a “Loch Ness” monster first sighted in the 1920s.

5. Lake Cascade

view of Lake Cascade
Photo courtesy of Idaho Fish and Game

Formerly known as Cascade Reservoir, this massive lake is surrounded by the Boise National Forest and is home to world-class ski resorts, including Tamarack Ski Resort, on the western shore of the lake. The reservoir is well-known amongst fishermen baiting Kokanee salmon.

6. Redfish Outlet Lake

Spectacular view of the Redfish Outlet lake in Idaho
Photo courtesy of Idaho Fish and Game

The Sawtooth National Forest spans across Idaho and Utah, offering more than 1,100 unique alpine lakes. While it would take years to explore them all, start at Redfish Lake, near the headwaters of the raging Salmon River. Crystal blue waters and sandy beaches attract kayakers, sunbathers, mountain bikers, and outdoor adventurers of all varieties to explore the jagged Sawtooth Mountains.

7. Yellow Belly Lake

Yellow Belly Lake in Idaho
Photo courtesy of Sam Beebe

Silly name aside, Yellow Belly Lake is one of the largest lakes in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, but it isn’t easy to get to. Overgrown forests and an impossibly rocky road made it a difficult drive, but it has long been a popular Idaho backpacking destination along the Yellow Belly Trailhead. If you’re looking for a nearly private alpine lake, this is a perfect option.

8. Bear Lake

Bear Lake on the border of Idaho and Utah
Photo courtesy of Pattys-photos

Bear Lake is split proportionally between Idaho and Utah. Dubbed the “Caribbean of the Rockies” due to its phenomenal turquoise waters, the lake is a popular destination for sailing, fishing, raspberry picking, and swimming.

9. Hunt Lake

Hunt Lake in Idaho
Photo courtesy of Bradley Beck

If you’re willing to climb over a boulder field, you’ll discover the brightest (and arguably coldest) lake in Idaho. Hunt Lake is a tiny glacial lake at the edge of a talus field. Visit in July and there will probably be snow on the ground, but the view and completely secluded environment are well worth it. If you’ve got extra gas in your tank (energy that is) you can hike even further to Fault Lake.

10. Henrys Lake

Kayaking at Henrys Lake
Photo courtesy of Idaho Fish and Game

This high mountain lake is just 15 miles west of Yellowstone National Park, and a haven for fishermen, with perhaps the best fly fishing in all of Idaho. Flanked by the Centennial Mountains and the Henry’s Lake Mountains, the gorgeous lake valley is a popular destination for boaters (though conditions get rough) and hikers.

Article written by Jordy Bird

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