Idaho's lake country

Make a summer escape to the West's most beautiful lakes

To see the lake the next morning, my kids and my husband board the Shawnodese riverboat at City Beach.

I choose a quieter alternative: a kayak tour with Jason Wiley of Full Spectrum Tours. As we paddle, the Selkirk and Cabinet Mountains shimmering in the distance, it's hard to imagine the violence of the Ice Age floods that scoured out this 1,150-foot-deep lake.

I dip my paddle in and out, and I'm reminded of the lake that Sandpoint native Marilynne Robinson describes in her novel Housekeeping ― of water that seems "spread over half the world." This is a vast lake indeed, a fact recognized by the Navy in World War II, when it tested submarines in the deep water near today's 4,000-acre Farragut State Park. That evening, as sunset stains the lake red and boaters pull up to the marina, we dine on crab-stuffed buffalo carbonade at the Floating Restaurant in Hope.

Hiking and stargazing at Priest Lake
We continue on to Priest Lake, the most northerly and least developed of the three. The 25-mile-long waterway is actually two lakes connected by a 2½-mile river known as the Thoroughfare. On the lower lake's Luby Bay, we pull into Hill's Resort, with its forest cabins, 18-hole golf course, and views of the Selkirk Mountains. Owned by the Hill family since 1946, the resort has hosted generations of families. "Each year," says owner Teri Hill, "people arrive in the lobby, look out at the lake, sigh, and say, 'I'm home.'  "

Once accessible only by boat, the area exudes a woodsy tranquility: The 26,000-acre lake stretches before us, surrounded by forests of cedar and hemlock through which deer glide ghostlike, the silence interrupted only by the sound of the occasional motorboat.

We check into our cabin, hang up our bathing suits, and settle in for a week of inner-tubing, beachcombing, and hiking in the nearby Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars. That night, we sit down to mesquite-seared tenderloin with wild mushroom-Cabernet sauce at the resort's dining room, then walk back to our cabin. Water laps placidly against the lake's shore, the air is pine-scented, the night sky bright with stars, and we, too, feel that we have come home.

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