Sara Sheehy worked in partnership with Visit Idaho to create this Travel Tip.

You may know Idaho for its mountains; those dense ranges of rocky crags reaching for the sky. Perhaps you know Idaho for its enticing natural hot springs. Or maybe, you know Idaho for its famous potatoes. We have all of these, but perhaps our best-kept secret is our lakes and rivers.

Whether you love kayaking, motor boating, fishing, paddle boarding or simply sitting with your toes in the sand, Idaho has a camping experience sure to delight. Check out some of my favorite waterfront campgrounds in the Gem State.

Camp on the Peninsula at Ponderosa State Park

scenic overlook
The view from Osprey Point at Ponderosa State Park. Photo Credit: Idaho Parks and Recreation.

Ponderosa State Park, in the beautiful resort town of McCall, Idaho, is situated on a thousand-acre peninsula on Payette Lake. Tall ponderosa pines provide shade and a bit of privacy from your neighbors. Amenities include bathrooms, showers, and hookup sites for RV’s. The swimming beach is perfect for families, and floating docks beg to be used for the perfect cannonball into the water. Kayak and canoe rentals are available, and hiking trails crisscross the landscape. Ponderosa State Park is popular during the summer so be sure to book in advance.

Camp Near the Birthplace of a River

water with birds
Check out the crystal clear waters at Big Springs. Photo Credit: Sara Sheehy.

Near the eastern Idaho town of Island Park 120-million gallons of spring water flow out of the ground every day. The small pools of crystal clear water that form at the headwaters of the Henrys Fork of the Snake River—and the trout that live in them—are a sight to see. Within a short walk of the springs is the US Forest Service’s Big Springs campground. The campground is small and primitive, tucked into a stand of Lodgepole pines. There aren’t many amenities, but the views are hard to beat.

Camp with Glacial Waters and Rocky Mountains

mountain lake
You’ll never be disappointed with the views at Redfish Lake. Photo Credit: Sara Sheehy.

Redfish Lake, located near Stanley, Idaho, is such a beautiful spot that even the locals reserve campsites here. At 6,500 feet above sea level, the lake has turquoise blue, glacier-fed water and sandy shores. The sunsets are unbelievable, but the sunrises are even better. The northeast end of the lake has five campgrounds and another two are located on Little Redfish Lake. Some of the campsites are available by reservation, while others are first-come-first-served. Amenities include bathrooms, water, and the nearby Redfish Lake Lodge for dining, live music, and boat rentals. Arrive early in the day to snag a campsite if you haven’t booked in advance.

Camp with a View of a Historic Dam

rv near river
Spend a night near the historic Swan Falls Dam. Photo Credit: Sara Sheehy.

Along the Snake River near Kuna, Idaho, the historic Swan Falls Dam spans from shore to shore. It was built in 1901 to provide power to the mines and is the oldest hydroelectric dam on the Snake River. The historic building is now a museum, which can be toured on Saturdays from mid-April to Labor Day. The dam has a pedestrian sidewalk that allows you to walk from one side of the river to the other. Fishermen and fisherwomen, birders, mountain bikers, and hikers will love exploring the shore. Best of all, camping is free.

Camp with Wildflowers on the Shore of Chatcolet Lake

lake at sunset
Enjoy a sunset at Heyburn State Park. Photo Credit: Beth Simanek/Heyburn State Park.

Heyburn State Park, designated in 1908, is the oldest park in the Pacific Northwest. Wildflowers bloom along the shores of Chatcolet Lake in the summer, providing a beautiful and unique camping experience. Bring a bike and hop on the nearby Route of the Hiawatha or the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes for a day of riding. Have a picnic, play horseshoes, or paddle one of the three lakes in the park. Whatever you do, don’t miss the sunset over the water from the comfort of your campsite.

On the hunt for more spots to camp in Idaho? Check out this Idaho camping guide to get a few ideas.

Sara Sheehy seeks adventure in the mountains of Idaho and beyond. She is the founder of Camp Academy, an online beginners guide to camping and hiking.

Published on April 24, 2018