Although Lake Pend Oreille (“Pond Oray”) is Idaho’s largest and deepest lake, with 200 miles of shoreline and a maximum depth of 1,200 feet, it doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves.
Lake Coeur d’Alene and Priest Lake are both more accessible, while Lake Pend Oreille is surrounded mostly by national forest land, with Sandpoint’s City Beach as its major public access point. But only 26 miles south of Sandpoint and 20 miles north of Coeur d’Alene, you’ll find remote and tranquil ways to enjoy this ocean-like lake at Farragut State Park and the town of Bayview, both a short distance off U.S. 95 via Highway 54.
Farragut State Park
If you’ve never been to Farragut, there are two essential things to know.
First, it’s huge: 4,000 acres with six campgrounds and over 200 campsites (both serviced and standard), 10 rental cabins, and over 40 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Why so big? It was the site for the second largest U.S. Naval Recruit Training Facility during World War II.
Second, Farragut has devoted campers who return annually, which means advanced reservations (six months or more sometimes) can be necessary. Weekday openings, however, can be found more easily, especially for Monday through Wednesday two-night stays during July and August.
Located only seven miles and about a 10-minute drive from Silverwood Theme Park and Boulder Beach Water Park, Farragut attracts families from all over the Northwest and southern Canada.
For tent-camping families, Whitetail Campground has 60 standard sites and is kid-friendly throughout. The restrooms provide warm showers and access to a private family restroom, and there is also a playground. On weekends, Whitetail hosts interpretative programs. Farragut campgrounds’ paved, looped roads are great for biking, dog-walking and mingling with your fellow campers.
You may even find, if you have like-minded campsite neighbors, that all the parents sort of look out for one another’s children.
For accessing Lake Pend Oreille, an easy hiking trail from Whitetail leads to the lake shoreline, or you can drive or bike to Beaver Bay beach. The beach is located down a steep hill past the restrooms and showers. Beaver Bay’s roped-off swimming area is a mecca for people on stand up paddleboards and those floating on tubes or family-sized party rafts. Bringing along floatables is the best way to enjoy the chilly water with your children. Sand toys are also a good idea (pets aren’t allowed). There are no lifeguards, so be sure children are well-supervised and wearing PFDs.
First-time visitors should visit the Museum at the Brig, which provides an interesting look into Farragut’s naval history and the soldiers who lived and trained there. Check out the huge head statue nicknamed “Mack,” before heading inside. Other kid-friendly activities at Farragut include playing the nine-hole disc golf course (called “Little Black Bear”); picnicking at the Willow Day Use Area and hiking the nearby Lakeview Trail loop; and driving to the viewpoint at the end of the South Road to see more great views. For more info, visit the Idaho State Parks website.
Only a short drive from Farragut, Highway 54 leads you to the town of Bayview, where you’ll find B&Bs; RV parks, cottages and cabins for rent; and locally-owned places to eat, get ice cream or espresso drinks. There are a few marina resorts to choose from if you’d like to stay overnight close to the lake, and some offer watercraft, canoe and aluminum fishing boat rentals. Scenic Bay lives up to its name with a beautiful, stunning view of Lake Pend Oreille and the marinas of boats and floating homes, with the Panhandle National Forest on the lake’s distant eastern edge. You’ll also see the secured area for the U.S. Navy Acoustic Research Detachment, which conducts research and development for Navy submarines and sonar in the lake’s depths. Bayview Daze, the town’s annual old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration, includes a street market, street parade, lighted boat parade at dusk and a fireworks display at 10 p.m. More info: Bayviewidaho.org. (Amy Silbernagel McCaffree)//