Henrys Lake State Park: camping, fishing and bears, oh my!
If you like camping in a campground and lake fishing, Henrys Lake State Park is the park for you.
State Park Overview
There is a lot to recommend Henrys Lake State Park. However, if I am being perfectly honest, this park was not my exact cup of tea. It is beautiful and if you enjoy camping in a campground beside a lake and/or fishing in a lake, this park will fit you perfectly.
Henrys Lake State Park is also a really good option if you find yourself unable to reserve a camp spot in Yellowstone National Park. The state park is just 15 miles away, but not nearly as busy. That does not mean you will be able to pull up on a weekend in the summer and get a spot, but it should be easier than the more popular campgrounds in Yellowstone.
Important note: Henrys Lake is Idaho’s only seasonal park. It gets heavy snows at 6,470 feet above sea level. This makes winter access impractical, if not impossible.
Another important note: the name Henrys Lake does not contain a possessive apostrophe in compliance with naming conventions of the US Board on Geographic Names.
- Beautiful views
- World class fishing
- Wildlife sightings
- Clean restrooms
- Limited tree coverage and shade
- Windy conditions on the lake
- Bear country!
- Leeches in the lake, so no swimming
What To Do
- Fish. Henrys Lake is kind of famous for its fishing and the lake holds many records for trout.
- Camp….assuming you like campground camping. The campers here are very friendly so you will make friends (whether you set out to or not).
- Go on a hike. The trails are limited and the rangers strongly recommend you carry bear spray. You may also see some moose.
There are various restrooms around the campground. The one we used was very nice and even had showers. For all of the specifics, check out the parks and rec’s website for Henry’s Lake State Park.
The campground was relatively full when we visited, but the park did not feel crowded. However, the few people we ran into were very friendly. Expect to make friends easily. The lake is large so it should not be difficult to find a secluded spot to fish.
Unique to Henrys Lake State Park
The rangers at Henrys Lake State Park are very proud of their slough (pronounced sloo), which is basically a swamp. It is a little unique to run into one in Idaho, since we are essentially a high desert. There is a little trail that runs alongside it and the slough is home to all sorts of critters including trumpeter swans, osprey, otters, and more. You may even spot a moose or two.
A little history about Henrys Lake State Park
The park is named after Andrew Henry. He was an American miner, army officer, frontiersman trapper and entrepreneur. He is probably best known as co-owner of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.
Something else to note about Henrys Lake State Park: it is a breeding ground for trumpeter swans. In fact, rumor has it that in the early 1940s, the U.S. Amy abandoned their construction of a training outpost here because the military did not want to interfere with those breeding grounds.
- Harriman State Park is located 30 minutes to the south. There is a lot of history to explore at this park and we can highly recommend horseback riding.
- Mesa Falls is about 45 minutes away. Lower Mesa Falls is a lookout area with signage and restrooms. At Upper Mesa Falls, you can get right up next to the falls. The views are gorgeous! Note: this will be a busier area and you may have to fight the crowds a bit for a good photo opp.
- The Ashton-to-Tetonia Trail starts in Ashton, Idaho, which is about 45 minutes south of Henry’s Lake State Park. This trail is awesome and is one of our favorites in the whole Idaho State Parks system.
- The west entrance to Yellowstone National Park is about 20 minutes away.
- West Yellowstone, Montana, is about 20 minutes away and it is a great town for food, lodging and even a bit of shopping.
- Island Park, Idaho, is also a good place for lodging and food, but this town is very spread out. However, any outdoor activity you could ever want to do in the mountains is probably possible in Island Park.
- The Spencer Opal Mines in Spencer, Idaho, is about 1.5 hours away. You can actually mine for opals there! (Assuming no Covid-19 restrictions.) The road is dirt for about 15 miles, but it is a nice dirt road. And the pretty opals are worth the drive.
Our experience at Henrys Lake State Park
This was a first-time visit for both R and me. We arrived at the park knowing our options for activities would be limited, but we planned to go on a short hike and I planned to do a bit of casting practice. The first view of the lake took my breath away. It is really quite pretty. I was, however, surprised by the lack of trees. The ranger at the gate was very helpful and nice. She provided a map and told us all about the slough. And leeches. R’s dreams of swimming went out the window real fast.
Hiking at Henrys Lake State Park
There is a limited trail system at Henrys Lake, but it is worth checking out. However, you will be repeatedly warned by rangers and fellow campers to watch out for bears. They recommend bear spray and bells. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time enjoying a hike when I am worried about bears attacking (and one did attack in May). We had bear spray, but R lost it somewhere on the trail. So instead we talked loud and made noise. No attacks, but not particularly enjoyable either.
There is a very short trail along the slough. It is a good place to see critters. We did not catch too many since it was the middle of the day and just about everything was bedded down out of the sun. We met a new friend while walking along the slough and she told us that just that morning she saw a moose in the slough. She then invited herself to go with us on our hike!
Making new friends at Henrys Lake State Park
This was the friendliest park we visited. Strangers basically inserted themselves into our activities. We enjoyed these strangers, but found their behavior a little odd. Perhaps that is typical of campgrounds? We don’t hang out in them so I am just not sure. But if you show up at Henrys Lake State Park, don’t be surprised if you meet some new friends right away.
Fishing (kind of) at Henrys Lake State Park
I am a super novice fly fisherwoman. Mostly, I have aspirations and gear. I do not have a lot of experience. Henrys Lake felt like a good place to get some of that experience. However, after a bit of research, I realized I was not prepared to do the kind of fishing required at Henrys Lake (it is almost 100% subsurface fishing). My limited experience (and gear) only includes dry fly fishing (for now). So instead, I spent some time practicing my cast.
If you have more experience and gear than me, I recommend you don’t miss Henrys Lake. It is well known for its fishing and it even holds Idaho’s record for brook trout. Apparently, 18-inch trout are common, but you can catch even bigger fish. Be sure to stop by a local angler shop to talk flies and tips.
Also, be careful of the wind. It was a bit windy while I was casting, which I am sure is why no one was out on the lake fishing. When we arrived, it was clear and calm and there were a lot of boats. But when the wind picks up, people head back to shore.
While I was casting, a nice man who was camping at the campground stopped by to discuss technique. He mentioned how finicky the fish are in Henrys Lake. It’s a lot of fun, but not always successful. But isn’t that just fishing in general?
Henrys Lake State Park is a great place to visit if you like to lake fish. It is also a good option for camping, particularly if you want to be close to Yellowstone. There is not a lot to do here if you do not like to fish and camp. And I wish there were a few more trees around. But the views are worth a stop if you are in the area.
Note: we visited Henrys Lake State Park as part of our Idaho State Parks Challenge. The challenge consists of visiting all of Idaho’s state parks in one year. We made up this challenge to see a bit more of our beautiful state and help alleviate the restlessness caused by Covid-19 travel restrictions. Feel free to join the challenge!
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