Photo of scenic Priest Lake with Selkirk Mountains in the background Priest Lake was originally called Roothaan Lake by Father Desmet in 1846 in honor of his Jesuit Superior in Rome. One of the prominent peaks in the Selkirk Range still bears the name Roothaan. In 1865, Captain John Mullan designated this same lake as Kaniksu Lake on one of his maps. It is believed that "Kaniksu" was the Indian name of Black Robe, although this has never been authenticated. The name was gradually changed in the early 1900's from Kaniksu Lake to its present name of Priest Lake, which refers to the early-day Jesuit missionary priests who had established a base camp at Kalispell Bay in the 1840's. The lake is one of three largest and most beautiful lakes in the Idaho Panhandle, and a very popular recreation attraction. The world's largest Makinaw trout was caught here in 1963. Dolly Varden, Cutthroat, and Kokanee are also caught in the lake. It is now illegal to fish for Dolly Varden and they are to be returned to the lake when caught.
Upper Priest Lake is part of the Upper Priest Lake Scenic Area. There were five small parcels of private land totaling about 420 acres on Upper Priest Lake. The Forest Service purchased these tracts in 1967 with the assistance of Nature Conservancy. The entire shoreline of Upper Priest Lake is now in either the State of Idaho or Federal ownership, and is administered as a scenic area.
Upper Priest River, which flows into Upper Priest Lake, is one of the rivers to be studied for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers system along with the lower Priest River which was famous in the early days as a log-drive stream. The first recorded drive was in 1901 and the last in 1949. The greatest drive took place in 1931 when 50,000 cedar poles and 125,000,000 board feet or logs were herded down the river by the "river pigs".
I’ve been to Priest countless times. Camp in the woods or on the beach. Upper or lower Priest Lake.
Lionhead is by far my favorite campground of hundreds I’ve been to. it’s designed more for tent camping of very small rv’s such as truck campers or tent trailers. There are numerous trails to explore and the beach is beautiful white sand with crystal clear water. Indian Creek is also nice and has a store with everything you could need and ice cream by the scoop. Indian Creek also has full and partial hookup sites - free hot showers- and boat slips to rent.
I worked at Priest Lake State Park as a residential biologist for the summer of 2016. It was an amazing experience! I had access to parts of the park not allowed to campers. The staff are all very friendly and nice to work with. The hand- scooped homemade ice cream is worth it alone! Kayaking up the thoroughfare to the upper lake is a great workout with some amazing and beautiful scenery and animals along the way. You will see lots of moose, and sometimes black bears. If you take the short hike to Moose lake, there is excellent rainbow trout fishing, and gorgeous scenery as well. Hunt lake trail is a beautiful trail to hike, but not for beginners. Priest Lake itself is a little chilly when first getting in to swim, but is very refreshing in the mountain heat. There are many good places to pick huckleberries all over the area! The campgrounds at the Indian Creek unit, which is where the headquarters and store are located, are very clean. There are plenty of RV and tent camping sites and 5 cabins available to rent. All cabins sleep different numbers of people, ranging from 5 to 9, the moose cabin being the largest and nicest. The cabins have no bathrooms or kitchens but boast fire rings and are right across from communal park bathrooms and showers. The lion head unit on the upper lake is about 12 miles up the road from Indian Creek turning into gravel about 8 miles up right before moose lake. It has a few smaller camper sites and many tent sites available. There is a maintenance shed along with a small ranger booth which also serves as a small store with ice and other foods and small supplies. There are first aid kits and radios available at all campground ranger booths. Priest lake has amazing fishing for rainbow trout, Mackinaw (lake trout), smallmouth bass, and Pike minnow (as the main species). The nearest town, Coolin, UD, is about 12 miles down the road. It is a small town with a store, a diner and a bar/ restaurant. The diner and restaurant have decent staple foods for what they have to offer. The store is fairly small but generally has most of the foods and supplies needed for restocking your camping food or obtaining the odds and ends you may have forgotten or overlooked at home. All around it is a beautiful place to visit with friendly staff and locals and I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking an unforgettable family camping experience.
There are 3 campgrounds. One is a group camp that sells out quick. Reservations are 9 months in advance and it is a phone call of luck that will get you this prime area. The group camp has its own private dock and beach. The cabin has multiple bunk beds and a kitchen with fridge and range/oven. Also a microwave. 2 showers and 2 restrooms. There are RV slots available here. We love the privacy and ability to not worry about any unlocked vehicles or items left in the beach The other two sites are Lionhead and Indian Creek. Indian Creek as a store and laundry facilities. They also have a few cabins to rent. Showers and rv slots available. Lionhead is further up the road (just north of the group camp) and is a little smaller.
SO! you get to this campground via boat only. There is a thoroughfare between upper and lower Priest Lake. Once when I camped there, we were in an overloaded canoe in a thunderstorm. I would not advise that route of access :) That trip included an amazing experience though. After the storm blew through, camp had been established and dinner was over, we set out in the canoe. It was Wednesday, in early summer. No other campsites were occupied on Upper Priest, we were the only ones there. As dusk deepened, the stars came out and the lake was so calm is was a perfect mirror. The stars were visible in the lake. Down became up and up was down and all was well in the world for a time that evening on Upper Priest!