Priest Lake State Park – Coolin, Idaho

July 2015

Kathy’s time traveling with me was rapidly coming to an end. What started as a week in San Diego was coming to an end with our last stop in Idaho. We had been winging it much of our six weeks together regarding where to stay and our last Idaho stop was no different.

We knew we wanted to go way up the Idaho panhandle and actually were eyeballing staying somewhere on Lake Pend Oreille. Maybe around Sandpoint, Idaho. But we changed our minds after conversing with a local over the Fourth of July and consulting our campground options. We chose to head up to Priest Lake so I jumped online and made a reservation for a few nights at Priest Lake State Park.

Indian Creek Unit

Located just 30 miles south of the Canadian border, the Indian Creek Unit is one of three sections of Priest Lake State Park. It is kinda up there and a wee bit remote. The perfect place to end our stay in Idaho.

We made online reservations for 3 nights and ended up paying just shy of $40 a night, which is pretty steep for an electric and water hookup site in a state park. The “beauty” of Idaho state parks is that you get the “pleasure” of paying a $5 a day vehicle fee, combined with the online reservation fee, causing the steep nightly price. I really hate states who nickel and dime the camping patrons of their state parks. But they have a captive audience, so you just end sucking it up and dealing with it.

The campground itself was pretty damn crowded. This was the height of camping season and people were looking to spend some time on an incredibly gorgeous lake. Located just 80 miles outside of Spokane, this is a pretty popular location. Depending on what loop you got a site on, privacy varied from nonexistent to pretty good. Fortunately we were in the pretty good section. Downside is lack of a cell signal here.

The closer to the lake you got, the more open the sites were and the less privacy you had. But you could get a cell signal, when we couldn’t at our site even using the signal booster. This meant that when it came time to work, we had to head to the beach and commandeer one of the picnic tables with an incredible view. Another “crappy” office location. 😉

There are a couple of trails in the park, which we took advantage of to explore the area. We climbed up View Point Trail and got a good (but smoky) view of the lake. We followed Old Flume Trail (named after the log flume used during the logging days to get the logs to the lake) along Indian Creek and found an inviting place to enjoy the running water.

There was a forest fire or two in the area, but not very close by. However the smoke from said fires was present as a haze blanketing the lake and surrounding mountains. This made for a less than idea scenery viewing situation, but it was a pretty spectacular location despite this.

Priest Lake

Priest Lake was hands down the best lake we stayed at during our trip. It was AMAZING! The water was crystal clear and very inviting.

Lower Priest Lake is the main lake and at 19 miles long and over 300 feet deep, it is a whole lot of lovely water. Upper Priest Lake is considerably smaller and more remote. More on this shortly.

Did I mention that the water in Priest Lake is amazing? Well let me just state that fact again so that you are clear on this. Speaking of clear, the water is incredibly clear in the shallower parts, and incredibly blue in the deeper parts. It also happens to be great to swim in.

Kathy has a hard time passing up the opportunity to take a dip in a body of water, whether it is a lake or a river. Most of the time I can resist the temptation, but not here. No sir! I swam and swam and swam. Multiple times. Hell, I didn’t even bother putting on a swimsuit. I just jumped in off the boat dock with my flip flops on and whatever shorts and shirt I happened to be wearing. It was heavenly!


We noticed that the state park offered kayaks for rent and since both of us love to get out on the water, we thought we would give it a try. We were told that the best kayak trip would be to start at the upper end of the main Priest Lake and paddle the 2.5 mile thoroughfare to Upper Priest Lake. And to do so we needed to start at the Lionhead Unit of Priest Lake which was at the top end of the lake and up a 12 mile gravel road. Thankfully we were just taking the Jeep there and not the house as well!

We rented a couple of kayaks from the entrance gatehouse and found our way down to the beach where our watercraft waited for us. The lake water required us to take a dip in it before we launched. All in the name of being wet to stay cool. Really. It had nothing to do with the crystal clear water beckoning us. Not at all.

We aimed for the entrance of the thoroughfare which was marked by a breakwater made from wooden pilings and boards. The wind was making the lake a bit choppy, but once we got behind the breakwater all was calm in the world. The shallower water allowed us to see the bottom. Oh, that water. The crystal clear water.

We leisurely paddled up the 2.5 mile thoroughfare and were occasionally passed by power boats making their way to the upper lake. The entire thoroughfare is a no-wake zone, so the boats were going slow and didn’t cause any issue with our kayaks. Paddle, paddle, paddle we went. Up the lazy river (aka, thoroughfare) looking at the scenery and whatever bits of nature that made their presence known, until we were on Upper Priest Lake.

Due to the mileage we had to put in on the way back, we only paddled a little bit into Upper Priest Lake. We also stopped at one of the primitive campsites and had a bite to eat. And played in the water a bit.

The trip back down the thoroughfare was uneventful and once we were back to the main lake we decided to head south a bit and float in the middle of the lake. Enjoying our surroundings. Not wanting to go back ashore. But we finally did after covering somewhere in the range of 8 miles via kayak. Not a bad way to start a day!

Priest Lake pano

Priest Lake pano

2 thoughts on “Priest Lake State Park – Coolin, Idaho

  1. You must give Lions Head campground at Priest Lake a try! Ditch your fancy RV and break out the tent! Beautiful, huge, private sites (even the ones on the beach are quite private). Been going here for years! 12 hour drive from Alberta Canada; won’t stop doing it yearly until the dollar goes below 50!!!!


    • My “fancy” RV is so “large” it doesn’t even have a place for a tent. 😉 But seriously, I would love to explore the area some more. Been well over a year since I’ve been there, and might return in 2017. Maybe. Really hard to plan that far ahead. 🙂


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