The Satwooth Mountains of central Idaho have no shortage of lakes, yet of all the ones you can drive to, Stanley stands among the nicest. This smallish lake (about a mile across) sits at 6,500 feet about 7 miles west of Stanley, which is the hub and gateway for travelers into the Sawtooth. Two campgrounds line the shore and several trails begin from here. There’s a boat ramp and fishing. Plenty of people show up during the day to boat, swim, and fish, but most clear out in the afternoon, leaving a sublime all-to-yourself feeling. While the trails heading into the mountains from here see fair use, they are empty in the early morning and that is when we saw a wealth of wildlife.
Diamond Lake is an easily accessible sub-alpine lake in the northern Bitterroot Mountains south of Superior. In a region full of lakes, this is one of the few that you can actually drive to – and most of the time you can make it there in a regular passenger vehicle. The lake, which is a few hundred yards long, is wedged into a narrow valley just shy of the Montana-Idaho state line. It’s easy to toss a kayak or canoe into the bone-chilling waters, but the real reason to come here is to take the 1-mile hike to Cliff Lake – a truly spectacular alpine lake guarded on three sides by soaring cliffs. The trail to Cliff passed under avalanche chutes and rarely melts out before July 1; the easy road access makes this a prime and highly scenic summer skiing spot. If you do come just to visit Diamond, there is a pit toilet and a few spots where you could pitch a tent.
Priest Lake is dotted with resorts, homes, and campgrounds, but all it takes is a 4-mile pedal to leave the crowds behind. A trail from Beaver Creek Campground at the quieter north end of the lake leads along the Navigation Trail just more than 4 miles to Upper Priest Lake. Motorized boats can navigate from the main lake to Upper, but there are no roads leading here, ensuring a mostly quiet afternoon. A tiny hike-in campground on the south end of Upper Priest Lake offers shade, a few tables, and an unparalleled view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The trail here is wide and nearly level -- so level that Cooper pedaled his bike here in little more than an hour. Some day we'll return with a full camping kit and take advantage of this spot.
Lake Pend Orielle is a large, pristine mountain like in northern Idaho. The best part about Lake Pend Orielle is the sheer wildness of it. The majority of the lake shores are undeveloped and there are only a few towns scattered about. In fact, the majority of the area surrounding the lake is made up of national forests and state parks like Farragut State Park. If you want to boat, fish, hike, and camp far away from the noise and stress of civilization, then Lake Pend Orielle is the place!
As far as camping goes, there are plenty of options. The major parks surrounding the lake like Bayview, Farragut, and Lakeview all have boat launches and camping facilities, but my best in my opinion are Whiskey Rock and Maiden Rock. Both of these are more remote and uncrowded than the more popular ground and feature some incredible boulders that are fun to explore.
There are also plenty of trails circling the lake and hikers have a good chance of seeing native wildlife like eagles and ospreys or even mountain goats with a little luck. If it's your first time at Lake Pend Orielle, try crossing the Pedestrian Long Bridge, a massive elevated walkway that crosses the bridge and offers stunning panoramic views.
Lake Redfish is a massive and clean mountain lake in Idaho's Challis National Forest and a great place to spend a summer weekend. Idaho is obviously a looong ways from the beach, so what's the local summertime solution when you need to cool off? Head to Lake Redish! While the water is a bit chilly even in August, the lake has several soft, sandy beaches where you can set up the deck chairs, break out the picnic cooler, and take a swim or simply relax in the shade.
There are two main bases of operation for those visiting Lake Redfish. The first is the Redfish Lake Lodge, a private restaurant/boat rental area which, while a bit pricey, is probably your best option if you're just visiting and don't have your own gear. They have reasonable rental prices on canoes and kayaks which will let you explore the lake and find your own little sandy corner away from the crowds that sometimes gather around the lodge. Other other main starting point is the state campgrounds, but it's more appropriate if you have your own camping gear, boats, fishing gear, etc.
There are rental cabins scattered around the lodge and they'r really state of the art! I'd even go as far to call it "glamping." I mean, everything was new, the floors were heated...just amazing. You can ask or call the lodge to find out about availability. If you're visiting in summertime, I'd suggest getting a cabin for a couple of days (better during the week to avoid crowds) and doing some swimming and fishing with the majestic Sawtooth Mountains in the background.
Bear Lake is a large and spectacularly-blue lake located on the Idaho-Utah border. It enjoys the nickname "Caribbean of the Rockies" thanks to its turquoise color and the truth is that the color of the water is both beautiful and surprising. If you see and unmarked photo of a person swimming in Bear Lake, you'd swear it was taken from somewhere in the tropics. And, as you'd imagine, the lake is one of the most popular summertime destinations in the area. There are lots of little beaches, marinas, and campsites scattered around the shores of the lake but if it's your first time in the area and you're not sure where to begin, I'd suggest heading to North Beach State Park just on eastern shores of the lake. There, you'll find a fantastic sandy beach to set up shop and some campsite outfitted with electricity and running water.
Bear Lake is also a popular place among fishermen. There are several boat rental places (typically one per marina) in the vicinity of the lake where you can find a guide to take you to the best places. One interesting piece of trivia: the lake is home to several types of trout and whitefish that aren't found anywhere else on Earth!