There are two kinds of water slides: the commercial ones with admission fees that can be found at swimming pools, amusement parks and theme parks; and natural rock water slides that only require a drive and a short hike. A natural water slide near Priest Lake offers family fun.
We are lucky in the Inland Northwest to have abundant water, snowcapped mountains and clear, rushing streams. Occasionally stream water, the Rocky Mountains, geology and erosion make a perfect water slide. At Priest Lake, an ideal slide can be found in smooth rock at the perfect incline. The price of admission is a 1 ½-mile hike. There are no long lines to wait your turn. Some may fear sliding on hard rock and splashing in cold water, but watching the action is half the fun of this trip.
The slide has been used for years. It is believed that a logger found the slides and told a few local residents. Since then, through word of mouth, they have become quite popular. But the slides are hard to find without directions.
It is on Idaho Department of Lands property. There are no signs, and the road is fairly rough. There are speed bumps for erosion control, and a few spots where the road has gullies across it because of washouts. However, most cars, going slow, can drive over or around the obstacles.
To get to the slides drive to Priest River and turn north at the only traffic light, onto Highway 57. Don’t miss the turn to Coolin (about 22 miles) and don’t drive toward the towns of Priest Lake and Nordman. Take the right-hand turn toward Coolin for five miles. At Coolin, turn right again and follow the east shore drive for 20 miles to Priest Lake State Park’s Lion Head Campground.
Instead of turning left into the campground, turn right onto a gravel road (no sign). Drive five miles, staying left at forks in the road. There will be a sharp left-turn road but stay straight up the main road. The trail head has large rocks across the road. The trail is a continuation of the road up a fairly gentle incline for about 1 ½ miles. There, a pool has logs across its outlet that can be used as a bridge to reach the other side. Follow the trail to the slide area. The trail is passable and gets many visitors. The Department of Lands needs to improve the trail as well as the gravel road.
The Department of Lands is responsible for most of the terrain on the east side of Priest Lake, from the shoreline to the top of the eastern mountains, including the road and trail to the water slides.
The department isn’t prepared to deal with a recreational site; administratively and financially, their priorities are the state’s timber, fire control, erosion control and other land use functions.
Consequently, if they want to maintain a road and trail, put signs up, or clean up trash that careless visitors leave behind, the money must come from one of their other main concerns. In spite of these obstacles and a tough state budget, there is a plan to grade the road to the water slides in the next two years. Also, the boulders at the trail head will be removed.
Right now the department would prefer that no one went up to the slides. In reality, on a warm day, 30 or more people will be watching or sliding at the site. The area along the gravel road has several primitive campsites that are regularly trashed. People who go to the slides are asked to pack their trash out.
The slides, which run about 100 feet, can be approached along the sides so that newcomers don’t have to start sliding at the top. A plastic garbage bag is recommended to protect the rear end and makes for a smoother, faster ride. Footwear is suggested but not required.
Also, follow the trail for a short distance along the creek above the slides to a long waterfall. It is worth the effort and the falls is a shady place to eat your packed lunch.
Finally, a note of caution: every year one or two people break a bone while sliding. The worst time to slide is during the spring runoff. Most of the injuries occur in the spring because the water is flowing so fast that the natural basin that usually stops the sliders is overflowing and flushes them over the top and into some rocks below. Using common sense, keeping control and staying in the middle of the slide will make this a safe, fun day outing.