Hello? Where are you? A bird's-eye view of Priest Lake exposes Idaho's quiet side.
Perched high in Idaho’s panhandle, about two hours northeast of Spokane, Wash., Priest Lake remains one of the Gem State’s most remote and least developed vacation spots. Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene may be jumping come summer, but stand on the quiet shores of this pristine lake—40 miles from the nearest stoplight—and you very likely won’t miss the crowds.
Driving north along Highway 57, you’ll pass thick stands of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and tamarack. Turn off the road at the bite-size hamlet of Nordman and head down to where the water shimmers.
Named in honor of Father Pierre-Jean de Smet, a Jesuit missionary who explored the area in the 1840s, the 25-mile-long lake is actually composed of two smaller bodies of water connected by a 2.5-mile-long river known as the Thorofare. The northern portion is accessible only by boat or on foot; forest and sandy beaches fringe the southern end, where a handful of small, rustic resorts cater to lake lovers.
At Elkins, the 32 posh cabins feature private kitchens, stone fireplaces, and spacious outdoor decks. So much for roughing it. Still, most cabins have no telephones or televisions. Indoor entertainment means a game of cards or a good book. Over at Hill’s Resort, you can work up a sweat on the tennis court or keep cool while sipping a huckleberry daiquiri. Of course, the lake remains the main attraction, whether you’re lounging on the beach or are out on the water itself—canoeing, waterskiing, swimming.
Anglers will relish fishing for cutthroat and Mackinaw trout. But for a classic day trip, pack a big lunch, rent a boat at Blue Diamond Marina in Coolin, and cruise up through the Thorofare for a picnic on the secluded shores of Upper Priest Lake.
Should you manage to pull yourself away from the water, take a drive about 14 miles north of Nordman to the Roosevelt Grove of the Ancient Cedars. Most of these 150-foot giants have been around at least eight centuries, with a few 2,000-year-old specimens on hand as well. That rush of cascading water you hear comes from Granite Creek and 612-foot Lower Granite Falls—both a short walk from the grove. Take some time to sit on a mossy rock and marvel at the towering trees with their peeling, papery bark. After you return to Nordman, stop off at Hill’s for a slice of sweet huckleberry pie. Then book yourself a cabin for next year.
Photography courtesy Tom Holman
This article was first published in July 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Pick up the AAA Idaho, Montana, & Wyoming TourBook, Northwest CampBook, and Idaho & Montana map. For more information, contact the Priest Lake Chamber of Commerce, (208) 443-3191, (888) 774-3785, www.priestlake.org. Area code is 208.
TO DO AND SEE
Blue Ribbon Fishing Charters 661-6969, www.fishingidaho.com. Priest Lake Golf Course 152 Fairway Dr. off Hwy. 57, 443-2525, www.priestlakegolfcourse.com. Priest Lake Ranger District Hiking and camping. 32203 Hwy. 57, 443-2512, www.fs.fed.us/ipnf/priestlake/.
Chimney Rock Cafe Casual breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Milepost 28, Hwy. 57, 443-0202. Millie’s Burgers and pub grub. Hwy. 57, 443-2365.
Elkins Resort From $95. 404 Elkins Rd., 443-2432, www.elkinsresort.com. Hill’s Resort From $160. 4777 Lakeshore Rd., 443-2551, www.hillsresort.com. Priest Lake State Park Camping, cabins. $12–$45. 314 Indian Creek Park Rd., Coolin, 443-2200, (866) 634-3246, www.idahoparks.org.