Winchester Lake State Park is a hidden gem in the middle of Idaho. Peaceful, beautiful, and the perfect place to stay for a night.

bridge reflection on the water at Winchester Lake State Park
Dusk is the perfect time to explore the lake.

State Park Overview

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Winchester Lake State Park is not large. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in peace and serenity. This little park surprised us in the best possible way and stole our hearts. Not surprisingly, we are not the only ones who love this park.

“I don’t have any one favorite thing about our park. I guess I just love all aspects of Winchester Lake State Park, especially the people,” said park ranger Frank Cirimele.

Pros:

  • Gorgeous views
  • Peaceful lake
  • Great yurts
Winchester Lake canoe and trees reflection
Oh my.

Cons:

  • Lots of geese who are quite noisy
  • Remote location (which can also be a pro) so you are going to have to do some driving to get there
Winchester Lake State Park welcome sign
Welcome to one of the best state parks in Idaho.

What To Do

  • Sleep in a yurt. Winchester Lake State Park has excellent yurt accommodations.
  • Go fishing. This lake was made for a relaxing fishing experience. And in the winter you can go ice fishing.
  • Canoe around the lake. Small boats are allowed. However, gasoline engines are not.
  • Hike around and explore.
  • Cross country ski and snowshoe.
Winchester Lake State Park yurt
If you can rent a yurt at Winchester Lake State Park, do it!

Amenities

They have restrooms (flush toilets at the visitor center, vault toilets elsewhere) and the usual picnic tables and such. The visitor center looked nice, but it was closed when we were there. For all of the specifics, check out the parks and rec’s website for Winchester Lake State Park.

Crowd situation

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a small park so the crowds will be minimal. Our neighbors in the yurt next door were friendly, but they were the only people we talked to.

Unique to Winchester Lake State Park

Ready for some local folklore? Legend has it that at a public meeting to determine the town’s name, the citizens used rifle ownership to help them make their important decision. It was a race between Remington and Winchester. Since the town is called Winchester, I think we can safely assume that there were more Winchester rifle owners than Remington rifle owners.

Lake Winchester in Idaho
Views abound all around the lake.

A little history about Winchester Lake State Park

Winchester Lake is a man-made lake. The Craig Mountain Lumber Company built a dam on Lapwai Creek in 1910. This created a mill pond that employed 270 workers, provided electric power to Winchester and was the largest of its kind in northern Idaho.

In 1966, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game purchased the lake and turned it over in 1969 to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation for a state park. Lucky for us.

Explore nearby

  • Cute little Winchester, Idaho, is right next door. This tiny town is worth a quick drive through. It is also home to the Wolf Education and Research Center.
  • Hells Gate State Park is about 45 minutes away, near Lewiston, Idaho.
  • Lewiston, Idaho, is about 45 minutes away. It is a good place to stop for supplies.
  • About 30 minutes to the north is the Nez Perce National Historical Park visitor center.
  • 35 minutes to the south is the Monastery of St. Gertrude.
Monastery of St. Gertrude
The Monastery of St. Gertrude is worth a visit if you are in the area.

Our experience at Winchester Lake State Park

Sleeping in a yurt

Winchester Lake State Park is one of the few state parks we have stayed in overnight (we don’t love camping). We stayed here because a yurt was available, not because we had any master plan to stay here. But boy, am I glad it was available! The whole experience was delightful.  I particularly enjoyed looking up at the star-filled night sky.

yurt camping night stars Idaho
Night stars over the yurt.

The yurt is good sized and the toilet is close (although it is just a vault toilet, so using it is not a particularly delightful experience). With easy access to drinking water, the yurt had everything we needed for a night. Our yurt neighbors were taking better advantage of their setup by building a campfire and using the grill. Perhaps we will do more of that the next time we visit.

Canoeing around Winchester Lake State Park

Staying in a yurt means you have access to a canoe. It could not have been easier to get on the water. We grabbed oars and life jackets from the yurt, walked down to the water, unlocked a canoe, wobbled a bit getting in and then we were off. R and I are not very good at canoeing. In fact, we were facing each other for a time. But even we were able to take an enjoyable turn about the lake in our canoe.

While on the water, I could not stop taking pictures. It was dusk and so scenic. There were a lot of geese on this lake, or at least there were when we visited. I’m not going to lie, it was rather fun canoeing towards them and watching them take off.

two friends canoeing in Idaho
B and R canoeing…semi-successfully.

The highlight of the trip had to be our disembarkment. We were not sure how best to get out of the canoe. So we opted for a speedy trip right up the bank by paddling as hard as we could. To be honest, I didn’t think it would work. But it did! We were both floored when we managed to get the canoe far enough up on the bank that I was able to step out without getting wet and haul R and the rest of the canoe out of the water. If anyone has tips for the correct way to exit a canoe, we would love to hear them.

Fishing…kind of

Fishing is definitely the main thing to do at Winchester Lake State Park and that appeared to be what most people were doing. I used the time to practice my cast since I did not do a minute of research on fly fishing at this lake. But I can tell you that it did not matter. It was a beautiful morning to stand on the dock and practice. I actually have no idea what I would have done had I actually caught something.

Walk about Winchester Lake State Park

There are plenty of trails around the lake. R took a walkabout while I was practicing my cast. She found an information trail with placquards and let me tell you, she learned a lot! In fact, she shared things she had learned for many days after her walkabout. 

Winchester Lake State Park yurt interior
The inside of our yurt.

Conclusion

Before visiting this park, we had never heard of Winchester Lake or Winchester Lake State Park. Now it is one of our favorite parks! It can be enjoyed year-round and is a must-visit if you like to fish, canoe, or stay in a yurt.

Note: we visited Winchester 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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