Coolin, Idaho

Canoe to Upper Priest Lake

Originally added by Jenna Mulligan

Escape lake crowds by accessing the quiet water and isolated campgrounds of Upper Priest Lake through a multi-day canoe trip

The Priest Lakes of Northern Idaho are perfect for a summer retreat into the Selkirk mountains, less than thirty miles from the border with Canada.

Priest lake is separated from Upper Priest Lake by a short, two-mile waterway. Launch your canoe from the Lionhead Beach in Priest Lake State Park and paddle to the north end of this 23,000 hectare lake. If you aren't towing along your own canoe, you can rent one from one of several resorts on the shores of this lake. To get a glassy start, launch early to beat the motor boats.

If you launch instead from the West Side of the lake, look for Beaver Creek campground. As you paddle north, you'll recognize that there is a large, forested breakwater. There is a short portage to divert this break without having to double back once you make it around the side.

Entering the thoroughfare, you'll be surrounded by forest and mossy banks and the water will narrow to the width of a standard river. There is a very mild current, and the two miles of travel up this waterway are not challenging.

When the thoroughfare once again widens, you are entering the Upper Priest Lake Scenic area, a zone with some designated protection. Wildlife includes trout, osprey, deer, moose, and black bears, among others. Keep your eyes out!

Three campgrounds on the western side of the upper lake are Navigation Campground, Plowshares Campground, and Geisingers Campground. I stayed at Navigation, the most northern of those options. Paddling across the upper lake took our group just less than 2 hours.

There are several other beaches to explore with options for hiking. Huckleberries and mushrooms can be harvested from this forest.

The return trip follows the same path, south on the thoroughfare and back to either Beaver Creek or Lionhead launch zones!

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Stand Up Paddle
Dog Friendly
Family Friendly


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We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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