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St. Joe-Three Lakes Paddle Tour


Distance: 5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Paddling time: 2 hours

Season: March through November

Maps: St. Joe National Forest or USGS Benewah Lake, Black Lake, Chatcolet, Harrison

Info: Heyburn State Park, (208) 686-1308


Access:To reach west trailhead, drive east on State Highway 5 from Plummer, Idaho, 6-1/2 miles and turn north at well-signed road toward Chatcolet. Follow paved road north 2-1/2 miles, passing Hawley’s Landing campground and Heyburn State Park headquarters, to large boat launch parking area.

To reach east trailhead, drive back to Highway 5. Continue east 5-1/3 miles and turn north at sign toward Benewah Lake campground. (If coming from St. Maries, turnoff is between mileposts 11 and 12.) Follow paved road 1-1/8 miles to resort, then bear left toward campground. Launch boats between resort and campground.

Attractions: Paddlers get intimate look at unique “river-within-a-lake” as St. Joe River slices through Round and Chatcolet lakes. Paddle past vast acres of wild rice at Benewah Lake. Entire route within Heyburn State Park, first state park in Idaho. Camping, cabins, picnic areas available.

Hazards: Wind on open water, power boats, waterfowl hunting in October and November.

Comments: Beginning from Benewah Lake, route passes wild rice stands, then heads under railroad trestle. Bear left along cottonwood-studded banks of St. Joe River. Look for opening in bank that allows access to river channel.

Follow channel northwest. Boathouses at Rocky Point are good landmark. Destination, however, is next cluster of boathouses north at Chatcolet.

St. Joe, elev. 2,125 feet at mouth, is said to be world’s highest navigable river.

Benewah Lake plus portions of Chatcolet and Round lakes typically freeze by mid-December. Wild rice grows throughout marshy areas. Harvest, done by air-boats, begins in early September.

In 1908, Heyburn park area was set aside for yet undetermined park status at the request of U.S. Sen. Weldon Heyburn, who wanted to prevent private ownership from gobbling up every inch of splendid shoreline. Idaho purchased the land from the federal government in 1911 for $12,000, creating Idaho’s first state park. Heyburn, second-largest of Idaho’s state parks, totals 7,825 acres, although 2,333 acres are water.

Before park status, area was a favored spot of Coeur d’Alene Indians. Steamboats had set regular routes to Chatcolet by 1904.

Civilian Conservation Corps built many park features, including shelters at Chatcolet and Plummer Point.

Building of Post Falls Dam on Spokane River in 1906 backed water up through Lake Coeur d’Alene and raised Chatcolet Lake level to merge it with Round and Benewah Lakes. However, banks of St. Joe are high enough to form a natural levee that creates a river within a lake to its mouth at Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Lakes, marshes, rice and river attract variety of songbirds, plus larger profile birds including herons, waterfowl, ospreys and wild turkeys. Fish include bass, bluegills, crappies, perch. Wildflowers plentiful in spring.

Park open year-round. Campgrounds, however, close late in November and reopen in April. Cabins available at Benewah Lake Resort, (208) 245-3288.

Note to hikers: Indian Cliffs hiking trails head northwest from Chatcolet access road near park headquarters.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map: St. Joe-Three Lakes Paddle Tour

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN - Routes: Classic trips in the Inland Northwest

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