Hike to Idaho’s picturesque Priest Lake is a summer treat
Lakefront campsites offer good fishing and mountain views.
Coeur d’Alene Press
Northwest travel guides
PRIEST LAKE, Idaho — The Lakeshore Trail No. 294 is ideal for peak summer-heat hiking.
Meandering along the northwest shoreline of Priest Lake, the trail is an ideally shaded corridor through large cedar stands and other old-growth timber. Beams of sunlight streaming through the canopy cover in spots and reaching the lush forest floor are the only hints of summer heat.
Quiet beaches — some of which are very sandy — can be found in numerous spots along a hiker or mountain biker’s journey.
The lake water is very cool, clean and refreshing, and the slope into the lake is gradual. Soft, smooth stones and sand are in the shallows.
Picnic tables, bear safes, and raised metal fire pits are available at designated campsites.
Matt Davis, Priest Lake district ranger for the Panhandle National Forests, said the National Recreation Trail is popular with hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers.
“An overall gentle grade, great views and lake access make this trail a popular destination,” Davis said.
The campsites along the trail are free and open to anyone. The U.S. Forest Service maintains the sites through donations.
“Donations go to fix picnic tables, supply toilet paper at Bottle Bay, pump outhouses and clean up garbage,” said national forest spokesman Jason Kirchner.
Fishermen could land a cutthroat trout or smallmouth bass from the shoreline.
“Cutthroats tend to cruise the shorelines, so it’s not unusual to be able to cast to them,” said Jim Fredericks, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “Lake trout can be caught from the shoreline in the early spring or late fall, when water temperatures are cold, but not so much in the summer.”
Cutthroat are all catch-and-release.
Phil Cooper, a wildlife conservation educator in Coeur d’Alene for Fish and Game, said he has a friend who lives in Nordman who trolls the west shoreline and consistently catches cutthroat.
“He caught 53 in one afternoon,” Cooper said. “I would think that casting from shore would produce good results, (but) perhaps not as good as trolling.”
The trailhead is two hours north of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, traveling Highways 41 and 57.
At Nordman, turn onto Reeder Bay Road. The first trailhead is approximately 5 miles in on the right marked “Lakeshore Trail.”
The trail is fairly long. From the first trailhead it’s 5 miles to Bottle Bay and 7 miles to Beaver Creek Campground.
During the weekdays, a hiker might see one or two others out enjoying the trail. As for animals, there are chances of seeing moose, or if the timing is just right, a cinnamon-colored black bear.
The trail itself is well-maintained and clearly defined and well-marked. The ground is soft with occasional rocky spots or exposed tree roots.
With the exception of some lakeshore cabins that look at Twin Islands, there is no visible development along the trail.
Views of the Priest Lake Selkirks, glacially carved peaks on the east side of the lake, are hard to resist for those carrying a camera. Many of the rocky peaks, including Lion’s Head and Gunsight, reach more than 7,000 feet.
Multiple small streams washing down to the lake cross the trail. Excellent wooden foot bridges transport trail users over the top of many of them. There are some soggy spots, so boots might not hurt, but other shoes work, too.
Debbie Butler, a Priest Lake resident, said she hikes the trail a couple times each week, enjoying it for years.
“You can see various mushrooms, wildlife, (and) plants,” Butler said. “Each section has something different. There is one segment that has quite a bit of rock, some rock outcrops, then it changes so you’re more into some old-growth cedar (and) hemlock.”
She said hikers can use the trail 12 months out of the year. It’s not just a summer paradise.
For about six weeks in the summer, the shoreline does have campers, starting the Fourth of July weekend and continuing through Labor Day, she said. Many campers arrive by boat, she said.
During weekdays there are often many open campsites, she said.