The Best Lakes In Idaho: 10 Iconic Lakes For Fishing, Hunting & Birdwatching

Written by Sean Moore
Published: July 24, 2022
© James Sakaguchi/Shutterstock.com
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Idaho is home to a range of different types and sizes of reservoirs and lakes. Everything from ice fishing to water skiing is offered by the state’s various water systems. One of the lakes in Idaho has a history of a community banding together to prevent a natural disaster.

Fishing, hunting, and birdwatching are all prime activities for visitors to the state and locals. Anglers can visit Lake Pend Oreille for an opportunity to hook a native Kamloops giant trout. Another destination, Dworshak Reservoir is a hot spot for elk, deer, and bear hunters.

Idaho is a unique and beautiful state bordering Canada. One lake nearly touches the Canadian border offering a once in a lifetime ice fishing experience. National Geographic magazine dubbed Lake Coeur d’Alene “one of the five most beautiful lakes in the world” at one point in time.

Sounds exciting, right? Let’s dive into the 10 best lakes in Idaho!

1.   Lake Pend Oreille

Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho
Lake Pend Oreille is the largest lake in Idaho and one of the deepest in the United States

©Jeffrey T. Kreulen/Shutterstock.com

●  Surface Area: 94,720 acres

●  Max Depth: 1,150 Feet

●  Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

●  Boating/Docks Available: Yes

●  Swimming Permitted: Yes

●  Fishing Permitted: Yes

●  Best For: Fifth Deepest Lake in the USA, Largest Lake in Idaho, Stellar Fishing, Native Kamloops Giant Trout

Lake Pend Oreille is one of the deepest lakes in the United States. It was once used for underwater submarine research. The water-filled trench was formed by glacial activity during the ice age many years ago.

Anglers hit the lake these days in anticipation of hooking Kamloops, a species of giant rainbow trout that swims the waters of Lake Pend Oreille. Fishing opportunities exist along the one hundred and eleven miles of shoreline or by boat. The lake contains many other types of fish including lake trout, rainbow trout, bull trout, cutthroat trout, brown trout, cutbow, perch, black crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, whitefish, walleye, northern pike, northern pikeminnow, and kokanee salmon.

The lake is surrounded by the Green Monarch, Cabinet, Coeur d’Alene, and Selkirk Mountains. A plethora of wildlife call the lake and surrounding area home. Some of the species you might spot include white-tailed deer, elk, gray wolves, moose, mice, squirrels, black bears, grizzly bear, coyotes, mountain goat, cougar, and bobcats, along with bald eagles, osprey, owls, hummingbirds, hawks, woodpeckers, ducks, and the mountain bluebird.

2.   Bear Lake 

Bear Lake  Idaho
Two hundred and fifty thousand-year-old Bear Lake has been called the “Caribbean of the Rockies”

©Michele Vacchiano/Shutterstock.com

●  Surface Area: 70,400 acres

●  Max Depth: 207 Feet

●  Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

●  Boating/Docks Available: Yes

●  Swimming Permitted: Yes

●  Fishing Permitted: Yes

●  Best For: “Caribbean of the Rockies”, Brilliant Turquoise Water, Photography & Stargazing, Bear Lake Monster, Raspberry Cultivation

Bear Lake is a gorgeous body of water spanning from southern Idaho into Utah. The lake gets its intense turquoise color from suspended limestone immersed within the water. It serves as a very popular, full-service outdoor recreational playground for locals and tourists.

The lake is two hundred and fifty thousand years old, creating a habitat for some rare and unique fish species. Anglers can be on the lookout for a Bear Lake strain of the Bonneville cutthroat trout, Bonneville cisco, Bonneville whitefish, Bear Lake whitefish, and Bear Lake sculpin. Other species found in Bear Lake include Utah sucker, redside shiner, speckled dace, lake trout, common carp, yellow perch, green sunfish, and the Utah chub.

Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge is to the north of the lake. Many birds and animals inhabit the area creating great opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts, birdwatchers, and photographers. Some of the different animals and birds you might see include white-faced ibis, sandhill cranes, swans, ducks, geese, moose, mule deer, muskrats, skunks, and cottontail rabbits. Lastly, lake visitors interested in the paranormal can read up on the Bear Lake monster!

3.   Lake Coeur d’Alene

Lake Coeur d'Alene
Lake Coeur d’Alene was at one time called the “one of the five most beautiful lakes in the world” by National Geographic magazine

©James Sakaguchi/Shutterstock.com

●  Surface Area: 31,880 acres

●  Max Depth: 220 Feet

●  Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

●  Boating/Docks Available: Yes

●  Swimming Permitted: Yes

●  Fishing Permitted: Yes

●  Best For: Chinook Salmon, Popular Summer Tourist Site

Lake Coeur d’Alene was at one time called the “one of the five most beautiful lakes in the world” by National Geographic magazine. The lake was created during the ice age by the great Missoula Floods. Today the water and surrounding areas are enjoyed by scores of locals and tourists alike.

Anglers can fish from the shore or use one of the twelve boat launches provided at Lake Coeur d’Alene. The lake offers a range of fish types including chinook salmon, trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, and kokanee salmon. The thirty-nine-pound state record northern pike was pulled from Lake Coeur d’Alene many years ago.

Another attraction at Lake Coeur d’Alene is Tubbs Hill. This one hundred and twenty-acre natural preserve on the lake provides refuge to many different animals and birds. Visitors are likely to spot osprey, bald eagle, elk, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, roughed grouse, bluebirds, red-tailed hawks, woodland caribou, grizzly bears, Coeur d’Alene salamanders, calliope hummingbirds, and pygmy shrews.

4.   Priest Lake

Priest Lake Idaho
Priest Lake is great for year-round lake trout and also an ideal environment for winter water and outdoor recreational activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling

©APete/Shutterstock.com

●  Surface Area: 23,000 acres

●  Max Depth: 369 Feet

●  Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

●  Boating/Docks Available: Yes

●  Swimming Permitted: Yes

●  Fishing Permitted: Yes

●  Best For: Less Developed Atmosphere, Huckleberries, Record-breaking Lake Trout, Popular Winter Lake Destination

The northern area of Idaho, known as the Panhandle, is home to Priest Lake. The lake is so high in the northern US that the water nearly touches the Canadian border. This exquisite location creates an ideal environment for winter water and outdoor recreational activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.

Priest Lake is surrounded by the Selkirk Mountains creating a unique and picturesque scenery. Fishing is popular at the lake and anglers can expect to catch cutthroat trout, kokanee salmon, lake trout, brook trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, catfish, panfish, bullheads, cisco whitefish, and dolly varden trout. The largest lake trout in the US was pulled out of Priest Lake; the fish weighed in at nearly fifty-eight pounds!

Priest Lake offers plenty of amenities for full-service lake experiences; including a cabin and resort. The beautiful water and surrounding area is home to a range of wildlife. Some of the animals and birds you might see include black bear, grizzly bear, moose, white-tail deer, mule deer, elk, wolves, mountain lions, bobcats, mountain sheep, mountain goats, mountain caribou, bald eagles, ospreys, wood duck, redhead, great blue heron, and wild turkey. The Priest Lake area is also known for its huckleberries; make sure to try a milkshake!

5.   Dworshak Reservoir

Dworshak Reservoir Idaho
Dworshak Reservoir is known for top-rated bass fishing and hunting elk, bear, and deer

©iStock.com/Kevin Henderson

●  Surface Area: 19,000 acres

●  Max Depth: 632 Feet

●  Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

●  Boating/Docks Available: Yes

●  Swimming Permitted: Yes

●  Fishing Permitted: Yes

●  Best For: Bass Anglers Sportsman Society Top Rated Fishing Spot, State Record Smallmouth Bass, Hunting

The mighty Dworshak Dam is responsible for creating the body of water with the same name. The dam is the highest straight-axis dam in North America and the third tallest in the United States. Dworshak Reservoir is a top-rated fishing spot for bass and also known for great hunting.

Anglers heading to Dworshak Reservoir can find a number of fish species including smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, bull trout, rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, cutthroat trout, brook trout, and white crappie. Dworshak Reservoir has seven public boat launches enabling fishing in the deeper waters.

Hunting for elk, deer, and bear is popular in the area. Other wildlife species known to inhabit Dworshak Reservoir include black bear, bobcat, mountain lion, river otter, Pacific tree frog, bald eagle, osprey, great blue heron, and Canadian geese. Visitors can also explore nearby Clearwater National Forest for an extended lake experience with even more nature viewing opportunities.

6.   Lake Cascade

Lake Cascade Idaho
Lake Cascade is the fourth largest lake in the state of Idaho and known for great ice fishing

©NicoleeeeeKM/Shutterstock.com

●  Surface Area: 30,080 acres

●  Max Depth: N/A

●  Camping/Overnight Available: Yes 

●  Boating/Docks Available: Yes

●  Swimming Permitted: Yes

●  Fishing Permitted: Yes

●  Best For: Fourth Largest Lake In Idaho, Ice Fishing

Lake Cascade is a hidden gem known for great winter ice fishing. It’s the fourth largest lake in the state of Idaho and not one to be missed. When the lake freezes over its stunning eighty-six miles of shoreline give way to eager anglers.

A wide variety of fish inhabit Lake Cascade including perch, rainbow trout, coho salmon, sockeye salmon, largemouth bass, bluegill, coho salmon, white crappie, mountain whitefish, bridgelip sucker, and smallmouth bass. Of course, summer also is a fantastic time to visit the lake; out-of-state visitors and locals regularly enjoy water sports, boating, and swimming.

The surrounding Lake Cascade State Park offers many campsites and campgrounds for full lake vacations. A wide range of wildlife can be viewed in the area including waterfowl, deer, raccoon, eagles, black bear, owls, fox, songbirds, badger, elk, cougar, hawks, grizzly bear, and skunk.

7.   Palisades Reservoir

Palisades Reservoir
Palisades Reservoir is a popular ice fishing spot located in the Rocky Mountains near the Wyoming border

©iStock.com/Edelmira Botello

●  Surface Area: 16,100 acres

●  Max Depth: 168 Feet

●  Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

●  Boating/Docks Available: Yes

●  Swimming Permitted: Yes

●  Fishing Permitted: Yes

●  Best For: Ice Fishing, Hunting, Birdwatching

Palisades Reservoir is situated on the border of southeast Idaho; near Wyoming. It’s located in the Snake River Range of the majestic Rocky Mountains. The remote location and undeveloped environment provide a home for all sorts of animals, birds, and other wildlife. 

Ice fishing is extremely popular when the weather permits. The main fish species targeted by anglers at Palisades Reservoir include cutthroat trout, brown trout, kokanee salmon, and lake trout. Palisades Reservoir sports an impressive seventy miles tree-dotted shoreline. Boat launches and campgrounds are available and some shore fishing is possible. 

Other activities at Palisades Reservoir include horseback riding, hunting, birdwatching, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. Some of the many types of birds and animals that inhabit the area include peregrine falcon, pronghorn, black bear, elk, mule deer, wolf, mountain lion, rabbit, moose, great blue heron, western grebe, long-billed dowitcher, quail, coot, chukar, dove, grouse, snipe, goose, duck, pheasant and wild turkey.

8.   Blackfoot Reservoir

Blackfoot Reservoir Idaho
Blackfoot Reservoir located near Near Soda Springs, Idaho has been known as a killer fishing spot dating all the way back to the seventies!

©vagabond54/Shutterstock.com

●  Surface Area: 18,000 acres

●  Max Depth: N/A

●  Camping/Overnight Available: Yes 

●  Boating/Docks Available: Yes

●  Swimming Permitted: Yes

●  Fishing Permitted: Yes

●  Best For: Historic Legendary Fishing, Important Bird Areas

Blackfoot Reservoir is located near Near Soda Springs in southeastern Idaho. The lake is historically known all the way back to the seventies and eighties as a fishing hot spot. Boating, camping, and birdwatching are also very popular at the lake.  

Anglers visiting Blackfoot Reservoir can hope to hook kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, yellow perch, mountain whitefish, and mirror carp. The forests surrounding the reservoir and nearby Caribou Mountain provide a home to many different types of birds and animals. This provides great birdwatching and hunting opportunities for Idaho tourists and locals.

Some of the different animals seen in the area include black bear, wolves, elk, moose, mule deer, bison, grizzly bears, mountain lion, and pronghorn. In addition to the animals seen at Blackfoot Reservoir, many types of birds frequent the area. A few of them are sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, trumpeter swans, American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, herons, American robin, northern flicker, house finch, mourning dove, song sparrow, dark-eyed junco, and black-capped chickadee.

9.   Lower Goose Creek Reservoir

Lower Goose Creek Reservoir
Lower Goose Creek Reservoir is located in the middle of Idaho in the southern end of the state.

©SANtosito / Creative Commons – License

●  Surface Area: 1006 acres

●  Max Depth: N/A

●  Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

●  Boating/Docks Available: Yes

●  Swimming Permitted: Yes

●  Fishing Permitted: Yes

●  Best For: Top Fly Fishing Spot, Open & Spacious, 1984 Flood Diversion Efforts

Lower Goose Creek Reservoir, also called Oakley Reservoir, is formed by the Oakley dam. It’s a popular fishing spot providing a wide range of species to target. Lower Goose Creek Reservoir is an undeveloped body of water without a lot of fancy amenities.

Camping and boating are both available but reports indicate the road to the lake is not the best quality; merely a dirt path. Some of the fish anglers can expect to catch at Lower Goose Creek Reservoir include bluegill, bullhead, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, brook trout, bull trout, cutthroat trout, largescale sucker, slimy sculpin, spottail shiner, Utah sucker, walleye, yellow perch, bridgelip sucker, mountain sucker, and speckled dace. 

At one point in the lake’s history, all nearby communities had to band together to help avoid a massive flood disaster. Luckily the water was diverted and no major problems resulted; but not without massive preventative effort. Read the tale of A Flood Cannot Happen Here by Kathleen Hedberg to learn about the fascinating story.

10. American Falls Reservoir

American Falls Reservoir
American Falls Reservoir is the largest lake in Idaho providing full-service outdoor recreational amenities

©JF Hobbs / Creative Commons – License

●  Surface Area: 56,000 acres

●  Max Depth: 30 Feet

●  Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

●  Boating/Docks Available: Yes

●  Swimming Permitted: Yes

●  Fishing Permitted: Yes

●  Best For: Largest Lake In Idaho, Rainbow Trout Fishing, Water Sports, Bird Watching

American Falls Reservoir is an extremely popular destination for tourists and locals looking to partake in fishing, camping, water skiing, windsurfing, canoeing, boating, and wildlife viewing.

The main attraction for anglers at American Falls Reservoir is rainbow trout, commonly weighing up to eight pounds. Many other fish swim the lake including brown, and cutthroat trout, crappie, yellow perch, whitefish, bullhead, and channel catfish. Various boat ramps and launches are provided around the lake to enable a full fishing experience.

The American Falls Reservoir area is an Audubon Important Bird Area, making it a birdwatcher’s delight. Over two hundred types of birds can be spotted so be sure to grab the binoculars and camera. Just a few of the many birds you might see include trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, black-bellied plover, American golden plover, snowy plover, killdeer, black-necked stilt, American avocet, greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, willet, spotted sandpiper, marbled godwit, sanderling, semipalmated sandpiper, western sandpiper, least sandpiper, Baird’s sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper, dunlin, long-billed dowitcher, Wilson’s snipe, and red-necked phalarope.


The Featured Image

Lake Coeur d'Alene
Lake Coeur d'Alene was at one time called the “one of the five most beautiful lakes in the world” by National Geographic magazine
© James Sakaguchi/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Sean is a professionally published author, mostly in the tech space. He's worked as a writer, editor, and reviewer for O'Reilly Media, Adobe, Manning, Addison-Wesley, and many more. Sean is also a lifelong musician and writes about audio production. Recently he's been focused on web3 and music NFTs.

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