You must be signed in to save park lists.
Your Park Lists
add New List
Add Photo
You must be signed in to add photos.
state route ranger badge

Idaho State Parks

responsive menu icon
USA Parks
Northern Region
Priest Lake State Forest
Priest Lake State Forest Sunset at upper Preist Lake © Markus Coberly
A small boy and girl getting water for their camping meal.
Mountain Bluebird ©
Mountain Bluebird
Availability Search
314 Indian Creek Park Rd.
Coolin, Idaho   83821

Phone: 208-443-2200
Reservations: 888-922-6743
Priest Lake, which is often referred to by the natives as "God's Country", was originally called Roothaan Lake by Father Desmet in 1846 in honor of his Jesuit Superior in Rome. One of the prominent peaks in the Selkirk Range still bears the name Roothaan.

In 1865, Captain John Mullan designated this same lake as Kaniksu Lake on one of his maps. It is believed that "Kaniksu" was the Indian name of Black Robe, although this has never been authenticated. The name was gradually changed in the early 1900's from Kaniksu Lake to its present name of Priest Lake, which refers to the early-day Jesuit missionary priests who had established a base camp at Kalispell Bay in the 1840's.

The lake is one of three largest and most beautiful lakes in the Idaho Panhandle, and a very popular recreation attraction. The world's largest Makinaw trout was caught here in 1963. Dolly Varden, Cutthroat, and Kokanee are also caught in the lake. It is now illegal to fish for Dolly Varden and they are to be returned to the lake when caught.

Upper Priest Lake is part of the Upper Priest Lake Scenic Area. There were five small parcels of private land totaling about 420 acres on Upper Priest Lake. The Forest Service purchased these tracts in 1967 with the assistance of Nature Conservancy. The entire shoreline of Upper Priest Lake is now in either the State of Idaho or Federal ownership, and is administered as a scenic area.

Upper Priest River, which flows into Upper Priest Lake, is one of the rivers to be studied for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers system along with the lower Priest River which was famous in the early days as a log-drive stream. The first recorded drive was in 1901 and the last in 1949. The greatest drive took place in 1931 when 50,000 cedar poles and 125,000,000 board feet or logs were herded down the river by the "river pigs".
History of the Area
Priest Lake State Forest, located in the northern part of Idaho, has a rich history dating back to ancient times. Here is an overview of its history:

1. Native American Presence: Before European settlers arrived, the area surrounding Priest Lake was inhabited by the Kalispel and Coeur d'Alene tribes. These Native American tribes relied on the lake's resources for their livelihood, including fishing and hunting.

2. Exploration and Fur Trade: In the early 1800s, fur traders and explorers from the Hudson's Bay Company ventured into the region. They established relationships with the Native American tribes living in the area and exploited the fur resources of Priest Lake.

3. European Settlement: In the late 1800s, settlers began to establish permanent communities around Priest Lake. These settlers primarily engaged in logging and agriculture, utilizing the vast timber resources and fertile lands around the lake.

4. Establishment of the State Forest: In the early 1900s, concerns over excessive logging and unsustainable forest practices led to the creation of the Idaho Department of Lands to manage state-owned lands, including Priest Lake. Priest Lake State Forest was officially established to oversee the sustainable management and protection of the area's natural resources.

5. Conservation Efforts: Over the years, conservation efforts have been made to preserve the unique ecosystem of Priest Lake State Forest. In the mid-1900s, the U.S. Forest Service and Idaho Fish and Game collaborated to regulate hunting, fishing, and recreational activities in the region.

6. Development of Recreation: With the growing popularity of outdoor recreation, Priest Lake State Forest has become a popular destination for camping, boating, fishing, hiking, and wildlife observation. Numerous campgrounds and recreational facilities have been established to cater to visitors.

7. Wildlife Preservation: Priest Lake State Forest is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including moose, elk, black bears, wolves, and various bird species. Efforts have been made to protect and manage these populations, ensuring their long-term survival.

Priest Lake State Forest continues to be managed for sustainable logging practices, wildlife conservation, and recreational opportunities. It remains a cherished natural resource, attracting visitors from near and far to experience its beauty and serenity.
1. Priest Lake State Park: This park offers three separate camping areas - Indian Creek, Lionhead and Dickensheet. They offer both standard campsites as well as cabins for rent.

2. Luby Bay Campground: Located on the west side of Priest Lake, this campground provides access to a beautiful sandy beach and boat ramp.

3. Outlet Bay Campground: A smaller campsite located near the southern tip of the lake with easy water access for boating or fishing activities.

4. Reeder Bay Campground: Situated in dense forest cover providing plenty shade during hot summer days; it has 19 single unit sites available by reservation only from May through September.

5. Osprey Campgrounds: It's situated at an elevation of about 2600 feet offering scenic views over looking Cavanaugh bay.

6. Bartoo Island Group Site: Bartoo Island is accessible only by boat making it unique place to enjoy solitude amidst nature.

7. Coolin Vacation Rentals: If you are not into traditional camping they also provide vacation rental homes around priest lake area which can be booked online.

8. Beaver Creek Saddle Club Horse Camping Area: For those who love horse riding,this club allows horses within their premises along with overnight stay options.

9. Priest River Wildlife Management Area: While technically not part of state forest but its close proximity makes it worth mentioning ;it's perfect spot if you want combine wildlife viewing experience while staying outdoors.

Nearby Vacation Rentals
Search for a vacation rental

1. Navigation Trail: A 2-mile loop trail that offers a moderate hike with beautiful views of the lake and surrounding forest.

2. Lakeshore Trail: This is an easy, flat walk along Priest Lake's shoreline offering stunning water vistas and opportunities for bird watching.

3. Indian Creek Loop: An approximately 4 miles long moderately difficult trail featuring diverse flora & fauna, perfect for nature enthusiasts who enjoy solitude in their hikes.

4. Plowboy Mountain Hiking Trails: These trails offer challenging climbs to the top of Plowboy Mountain where hikers can experience panoramic views over Priest Lake State Forest area.

5. Hunt Creek Falls Overlook Trail: It's about one mile round trip leading you through lush greenery ending at a scenic overlook providing breathtaking view of cascading waterfall amidst dense woods.

6. Trapper Peak Outfitters Horseback Riding Trails: Though primarily used by horse riders these well:maintained paths also provide excellent hiking routes across varied terrains within state park boundaries.

7. Chipmunk Rapids National Recreation Trial: Approximately three miles long this trial takes you alongside roaring rapids making it ideal choice for those seeking adventure during their trekking expedition.

8. Upper Hughes Ridge Snowshoeing Route: During winter months when snow covers most parts,this route provides unique opportunity to explore beauty around on foot or via snow shoes.

9. Beaver creek campground trials: Starting from campgrounds these short yet interesting trials are great way to start your day exploring local wildlife sightings.

10. Two Mouth lakes Trials: Known as crown jewel among all other trails due its high difficulty level but rewards trekkers with mesmerizing alpine scenery including two pristine mountain lakes nestled between towering peaks.

Visitor Comments, Memories and Reviews
write a review
Share On

1. Start by heading north on Highway 57 from Nordman.
2. Continue driving for approximately 5 miles until you reach a junction with Reeder Bay Road.
3. Turn left onto Reeder Bay Road and continue for about 4 miles.
4. At the next intersection, turn right onto Dickensheet Road (also known as East Shore Rd).
5. Follow Dickensheet Road for around 6 miles until you see signs indicating the entrance to Priest Lake State Forest.

state route ranger badge

Idaho State Parks