Priest Lake State Park: a northern Idaho gem with smaller crowds

Priest Lake State Park: a northern Idaho gem with smaller crowds

State Park Overview

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Priest Lake State Park is the northernmost state park in Idaho. It is 15 miles from the Canadian border and a beautiful blue lake surrounded by mountains and pine trees. Less visited than its sister lakes (Coeur d’Alene and Pend Oreille), Priest Lake feels like a secret that you are lucky enough to be in on. 

Priest Lake State Park sign.
Priest Lake State Park entrance sign.


  • Very, very pretty
  • Not as crowded as other lakes      
  • Range of boating activities


  • Cold water
  • Takes a long time to get to
  • Will want to come back again and again and again

What To Do at Priest Lake State Park

  • Boat
  • Fish
  • Camp
  • Paddleboard
Girl on a paddleboard on Priest Lake, Idaho.
Paddle boarding on the lake.


There are three units that comprise Priest Lake State Park: Lion Head, Indian Creek, and Dickensheet. Different amenities can be found in the different units. In the section we went to, Indian Creek, there is a small camp store, RV hookups and camp spots, and vault bathrooms. For all of the details about Priest Lake, visit the Department of Parks and Rec website.

Crowd situation

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Better than the other lakes in this area, but it can still get crowded. We went the day after Labor Day and didn’t have any problems, but we heard Labor Day weekend had no available campsites.

Unique to Priest Lake State Park

A silent movie film star in the 1920s, Nell Shipman, made Priest Lake her home and starred and produced several movies here. Shipman Point is named for this impressive woman who bucked the gender roles in the 20s. Hey girl hey….

Priest Lake State Park dock.
Enjoying the last days of summer on Priest Lake.

A little history about Priest Lake State Park

One theory for the name Priest Lake is that the previous name for it, Kaniksu, meant black robe in the local native dialect. Get it? Black robe=priest. Logging was (and still is) big business in Northern Idaho. In an effort to protect the area’s resources in the 1900s, land around Priest Lake became national forest and then Idaho forest lands, eventually making its way to a state park.

Explore nearby

Pine trees at Priest Lake State Park.
Sun and shade at Priest Lake State Park.

Our experience at Priest Lake State Park

We visited the eastern part of the park. When we arrived, we popped into the quaint camp store to see what they had to offer (an odd selection of camping supplies and lake merchandise). I ended up with a Priest Lake sweatshirt and B got a wall hanging. Go figure. We then made our way to the water after driving through the camp spots. Parking spots next to the water were starting to fill up, but we scored a close one and blew up our paddle boards. The water was a little choppy, but we managed to paddle around a segment of the lake that had cool lake houses for us to look at. The water was pretty chilly, so I was glad I didn’t fall off the board. 

We talked to a few people and learned that most visitors to the park were from the area, not just in Idaho but in Washington also. It is pretty clear why, the scenery is hard to beat.

Two friends on the lake in northern Idaho.
Lake time for B and R.


Priest Lake State Park is a long ways from Boise. But if you are into clear water and pine trees, and don’t want to be surrounded by very many Boiseans, this might be the park for you. Nell was on to something.

Note: we visited Priest 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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