I remember as a kid vacationing at a local lake and playing along the shore, appropriately named Ideal Beach. We swam to the floating dock, paddled around on air mattresses, and made countless sand castles. The cooler of snacks mom brought always hit the spot, and the ice cream was the best in the world. But the sand in my swimming suit wasn’t much fun…This summer, build new family memories with your kids and grandkids at one of Idaho’s beautiful lakes. Many of our lakes are in the mountains or in remote wilderness locations, but plenty are easily accessible and family-friendly with loads of activities and amenities nearby.

A lake shore with mountains in the background.
Redfish Lake during the summer.

Redfish Lake, Stanley – Beach it or rent anything that floats: paddleboards, canoes, kayaks, and even paddleboats. Take a lake cruise or a shuttle ride to the main trailhead for the Redfish Lake Drainage.

Payette Lake, McCall– Wiggle your toes in the warm sand or romp on jet skis, kayaks, paddleboards, and boats from Mile High Marina. Enjoy an afternoon or evening scenic cruise with McCall Lake Cruises, or head to Ponderosa State Park for swimming, fishing, boating, and camping with lake views.

Soft sand beaches on Payette Lake.
Soft sand beaches on Payette Lake.

Lake Cascade, Cascade – Swim at the beach, take a water sport boat tour, or rent jet skis, WaveRunners, boats, and anything you might need for water skiing/boarding/tubing at Invert Sports. Tamarack Resort overlooks the lake, and rents kayaks and paddleboards from the golf shop. Lake Cascade State Park is situated on the southwestern side of the lake and offers lake-view camping, swimming, and much more.

Sail boats on Cascade Lake
Sailboats ready for the day at Cascade Lake. Photo Credit: Idaho State Parks.

Priest Lake, north of Sandpoint – Way up in north Idaho, Priest Lake is a hidden gem. Some of the lodging properties along the lake are beachfront, making swimming fun and relaxing super easy. Blue Diamond Marina offers rentals, including canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and a variety of powerboats. Head to Priest Lake State Park for excellent day use areas with large sandy beaches and designated swimming areas.Learn about more swimming and shore access areas.

Priest Lake
Gorgeous summer views at Priest Lake.

Lake Coeur d’Alene, Coeur d’Alene – There are more than 55 lakes within easy driving distance of Coeur d’Alene in north Idaho, but none more scenic and full of activities than Lake Coeur d’Alene itself. There’s so much to do: swimming, lake cruises, kayaking, boating, paddleboarding, sea plane tours, and lakeside dining. Want a real thrill? Try the Jetovator!

A sunset over a lake in the wilderness.
Sunset, Lake Coeur d’Alene

Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint – Lake Pend Oreille is a deep-water lake and home to a U.S. Navy submarine research center. Its shoreline is dotted with rental cabins and resorts, and Farragut State Park offers public beach access and spectacular lake views. Sandpoint’s City Beach is a local favorite for swimming or launching a kayak. Visit the local marinas for rentals and services, and take a narrated lake cruise aboard the Shawnodese.

Sunset at Lake Pend Oreille
Sunset at Lake Pend Oreille. Photo credit: The Idaho Club.

Bear Lake, near Montpelier – Bear Lake spans the border of Idaho and Utah in Idaho’s southeastern corner. Often called the “Caribbean of the Rockies” for its intense turquoise blue water, the lake is best known for its waterskiing, swimming, sailing, jet skiing, and fishing. Paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, and watercraft of all sorts can be rented at local shops and marinas.

Kids playing on the shores of a lake.
Photo Credit: Bear Lake Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Trip Tips

  • Plan ahead! Some popular inns in more remote locations—like Redfish Lake Lodge—get full six months in advance. Don’t panic if it’s summer and you haven’t made reservations, though. Check for cancellations or expand your lodging choices to include guest ranches, B&Bs, cabins, and campgrounds.
  • Many lakeside communities host music festivals and concert series in the summer, so grab a lawn chair and let the kids dance the evening away under the Idaho stars. Redfish Lake Lodge hosts music on the lawn on Sunday nights all summer long; Roseberry Music Festival happens mid-July near McCall and Cascade; and Sandpoint holds its summer concert series on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille in August.
  • So many lakes, so little vacation—how do you choose? If you want to get away from it all, try Redfish Lake, nestled in the craggy Sawtooth Mountains, or Priest Lake, a sportsman’s (and woman’s) paradise. Payette Lake’s relaxed family feel is reflected in the neighboring town of McCall, where you can grab a casual meal and ice cream cones on the shore. Sandpoint, by Lake Pend Oreille, is a quaint little town that’s been voted America’s most beautiful, and Coeur d’Alene offers upscale galleries, shopping, golfing, and eateries.
  • If you don’t have the budget for daily kayak and paddleboard rentals, try renting $5 inner tubes at a local marina or gas station. They’ll keep the whole family surprisingly entertained.

Laurie McConnell

Published on April 15, 2015