With a surface area of more than 40 miles, Priest Lake is hardly a hidden gem.
And yet, every time I drive there it feels a bit hush-hush. The only highway accessing the North Idaho lake is a two-lane, tree-lined, windy affair with plenty of skid marks testifying to the resident wildlife population. It’s hard to imagine the trees ceding any room to water. Much less a lake of Priest’s magnitude.
And yet, it does. I’ve spent plenty of time in the hills above Priest Lake, often admiring its 20-mile long expanse from the top of the Selkirk Crest. On Saturday, I realized that distanced view doesn’t do it justice.
I rented a boat with five friends and spent the day driving the length and width of the lake. It was a trip I likely wouldn’t have dreamed up on my own, preferring instead human-powered back country excursions.
Instead, this was a relaxed excursion, with little or no physical effort. Skeptical as I initially was, Priest’s alpine-like setting (and some stormy weather) gave the entire day an edge of adventure. With the granite faces of the Selkirk Crest paralleling much of the lake, it felt mountainous.
We called a number of boat rental places, ultimately settling on Crown Jewel Water Sports (they also rent snowmobiles) in Coolin, Idaho. For nine hours, the six of us paid a total of $424, though gas added another $100 to the overall price. They rented us a Crownline 21.
From there we headed up the lake, eventually boating to the northern end. Although we considered heading up the the thoroughfare to reach Upper Priest Lake, we opted not to because a) the channel is narrow and shallow at points and we didn’t want to risk damaging the rental boat; and b) the weather forecast called for rain and thunder later.
Instead we docked briefly at the Lionhead Campground before being chased off by an officious campground host because we’d overstayed the 15-minute loading and unloading limit.
We tubed, water-skied and lounged our way back toward Coolin, trying to stay in the sun, just ahead of advancing clouds.
An important note: Priest Lake is big and weather systems can roll in quickly. Keep an eye on the forecast (and sky).
We made it back to Coolin as the wind picked up, thunder rumbled and rain fell, which was an exciting way to end a relaxed day.
All in all, a fun way to spend a weekend if you’re looking for an easy outdoor adventure in a world-class setting.
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