Best Paddling & Swimming Lakes in Eastern Washington and North Idaho

Amy McCaffree

Flatwater beckons you to break its glassy surface with swimming strokes or kayak bows and paddles. Check out these 13 lake destinations for their great paddling and swimming waters.

[Note: Discover Pass required for all Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife boat launch sites. Idaho requires an annual State Parks Passport, which covers entry and boat launch fees, or you can pay a $5 daily motor vehicle entry fee.]

EASTERN WASHINGTON

Bear Lake: At Bear Lake Regional Park near Chattaroy, there’s a nice swimming beach. Although there’s no official boat access area, you can launch your canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard from the beach. www.spokanecounty.org

Bonnie Lake: “This is a great paddle when the thoroughfare to the lake is open, and you paddle through the tall grasses into the beautiful lake with its rocky cliffs and tons of bird life—hawks, turkey vultures, and mud swallows,”  says Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club (SCKC) member Debbie Pierce. The lake is located south of Turnbull National Wildlife, and you can use the small, rustic boat launch next to the bridge over Rock Creek, then head upstream. Local landowners allow access to the put-in. Be sure to stay off the creek and lake shorelines since it’s all private land; however, the lake’s island is designated public land. wdfw.wa.gov

Fish Lake: A sandy swimming beach and non-paved boat launch are at Spokane County’s Fish Lake Regional Park. Only watercraft without internal combustion motors are allowed, making this a quiet paddling lake.

Horseshoe Lake: Considered one of the best local paddling destinations by members of the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club, this no-wake lake in Pend Oreille County has a WDFW boat launch.

Lake Spokane (Long Lake): Paddling launch points and swimming beaches are located at Riverside State Park’s Nine Mile Recreation Area and Lake Spokane Campground. There’s also a boat launch at Sontag Park. Visit spokaneriver.net/watertrail for more information.

Liberty Lake: A WDFW boat launch on the lake’s north end, near the city’s business district, makes a convenient access point. On the south end is Liberty Lake Regional Park, managed by Spokane County. While there is no boat launch at the park, there is a swimming beach (entrance fee required).

Medical Lake: This spring-fed lake, with an average summer temperature of 74 degrees, is ideal for both swimming and paddling. Waterfront Park provides a no-fee boat launch, swimming beach with restrooms, and outdoor showers. Combustion-engine boats are prohibited. wdfw.wa.gov

Medical Lake’s Watefront Park (left, top right) // Photos: Shallan Knowles; Fish Lake (lower right) // Photo: Amy McCaffree

IDAHO

Chatcolet Lake: Accessible from Heyburn State Park near Plummer, there are two public boat launches. One is at the Rocky Point Beach and Marina, off Highway 5 (about 10 minutes from the park’s visitor center), which also has docks and large swimming beach. From here, you can paddle up the St. Joe River or to nearby Lake Benewah (east), which has no physical barrier with Chatcolet. You can also paddle to the lake’s southwest corner and the Plummer Creek marsh area. While there is no boat launch here, you can carry your canoe or kayak to the dock, and park at the visitor center if not staying at Hawley’s Landing Campground. The Chatcolet’s day-use area has a large, paved launch, dock, and unprotected swimming beach. There’s also a dog-friendly swimming beach at Heyburn’s Plummer Point day-use area.

Killarney & Swan Lakes: These are two of the chain lakes east of Lake Coeur d’Alene, connected by narrow channels to the Coeur d’Alene River. Use the BLM boat launch at Killarney, located off I-90’s Rose Lake exit. There’s also a dock and primitive campground. “Paddle around the beautiful little lake, including a stop at Popcorn Island, before continuing into the slow-moving…Coeur d‘Alene River,” says SCKC member Debbie Pierce. Killarney’s south end is where you’ll find the channel connecting to the river. Paddle downriver and look to the right to find the pole markers indicating the Swan Lake access channel.

Lake Pend Oreille: For this big lake, find calmer water at south end at Farragut State Park. Beaver Bay Beach is great for swimming. Further into the park, use Eagle Boat Launch. Pierce recommends “crossing the lake to look for mountain goats.” You can also paddle south to explore Beaver and Bottleneck Bays. On the lake’s upper eastside, East Hope’s Pringle Park has a public boat launch. Further south is Sam Owen Campground and its boat launch, dock, and dog-friendly shoreline for swimming and paddling. Paddle south around the peninsula to explore the Denton Slough, an Idaho State wildlife management area for waterfowl and other animals.

Round Lake: This is an all-around family-friendly lake for swimming, fishing, and paddling. Round Lake State Park has a swimming beach, docks, boat launch, and paddle watercraft rentals. Only electric motorboats are allowed. Explore the inlet (east) and outlet (west) areas of Cocolalla Creek. Look for evidence of beavers in the marsh and creek on the east side. You might even see moose.

Thoroughfare to Upper Priest Lake: A classic, must-do paddle route, this 2.5-mile channel begins at the north end of Priest Lake. Launch from Beaver Creek Campground’s day-use area or drive to the trailhead for the Navigation Trail to carry your canoe or kayak to a primitive shoreline access area.

Originally published in the July 2018 issue, Inland NW Lake Guide. [Updated June 2021]

Lake Chatcolet (upper/lower left); Priest Lake at Beaver Creek Campground (middle); Beaver Bay Beach at Lake Pend Oreille (upper right); Lake Pend Oreille at Sam Owen Campground. // Photos: Amy McCaffree

[Feature photo: “Paddling on the blue” by Daryl Baird.]

For more swimming and paddling stories, visit the OTO archives.

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