Lake near Medimont Idaho Stunning beauty in northern Idaho

Stunning Beauty in Northern Idaho

The beauty of northern Idaho is stunning. We have spent the last three weeks surrounded by these splendid mountains. We will be back soon. The lakes and mountains are fabulous. The lakes are huge and the water is so clear.

What I didn’t know before arriving is that that northern Idaho is more related to northwest Washington than it is related to southern Idaho. This includes the time zone which is in Pacific time rather than mountain time. The residents of Spokane treat this area as their secret playground. I have to say that they are very lucky.

I describe the mountains in this area as gentle. First, they are not as high as the Rockies, so you can breathe easier. Second, they are all older and were covered by glaciers. Movement of glaciers rounds out a lot of the sharp edges.

The lakes up here were also carved by the glaciers and they are huge. The smallest was twenty miles long and had more than 80 miles of shoreline. The smallest lake is bigger than Lake Tahoe (although not as deep) and to my eye, just as beautiful.

The beauty of northern Idaho is stunning.

Priest Lake

Our first stop was at the Outlet Campground at Priest Lake. You can read our campsite review here; Outlet Campground.

Priest Lake is the furthest north of the three major lakes that we visited. Most of the forest surrounding the lake was owned or still is owned by the Diamond Match Company. If you have used “kitchen” matches they were probably made by the Diamond Match Company.

Priest Lake Idaho Stunning beauty in Northern Idaho
Priest Lake Idaho

The Diamond Match Company thought that the white pine trees, that are abundant in the area, were the very best trees for making their matches. It is hard to believe that these huge trees were cut down and processed into matches about two inches long.

Diamond Match Company Saw Mill
Diamond Match Company Saw Mill near Priest Lake

Beehive Burners

Beehive burner is the name here and in Canada. In Colorado, we just called them sawdust burners. When I was growing up, there were sawdust burners like this rusty relic scattered all over Colorado. The burners were old then but were still being used in the sixties. These burners had a constant fire burning the sawdust and small wood chips that were not considered valuable when making lumber. They were very smokey.

One of the places that I remember seeing the burners was in the Fraiser, Colorado. In the winter, the valley was choked full of smoke from the burners. It was so bad that you could look across the valley from nearby mountains (Winter Park Ski Area) and all you could see was a grey cloud of smoke. Gradually over the years, the lumber companies started seeing the sawdust as having value and started making it into products, namely particleboard. Now, most of the burners are just relics.

Tami Kayaking Priest Lake Idaho
Tami Kayaking, Priest Lake Idaho

I guess that one of the reasons that northern Idaho is so stunning is how clear the water is.

Kayak Shadow Priest Lake Idaho
My Kayak Shadow, Priest Lake Idaho

Priest Lake had the clearest water of the three that we visited and was very pretty when we kayaked. The shoreline at Priest Lake is lined with private vacation homes. The lake is so large that the motorboats racing back and forth really are not a problem. Priest lake is the smallest of the three large lakes we visited. The shallow areas of the lake are our kayaking playground.

Lake Pend Oreille

Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced Lake Pond-ah-ray) is a little further south and east of Priest Lake. The city nearest to Lake Pend Oreille is Sandpoint. Sandpoint is much bigger than the town of Priest River, just downstream from Priest Lake. I would describe both as small towns but Priest River is much smaller than Sandpoint. Still compared to any “city” all of these are all tiny towns. Of course, my definition may not be of much help. Sandpoint has more than one grocery store, Priest River has one and when you are in a true tiny town, you drive somewhere else for groceries.

Sunset at Lake Pend Oreille Stunning beauty in Northern Idaho
Sunset at Lake Pend Oreille

Sam Owen Campground is our favorite of the four places we stayed in northern Idaho. This campground is to the east of Sandpoint and is right on the shoreline of Lake Pend Orielle. Here is our review of the Sam Owen Campground.

Hope and Beyond Hope

Sam Owen Campground is closest to the tiny town of Hope Idaho. Just south of our campground there is a small resort and bar named Beyond Hope. Hope is almost in Montana — in fact, we drove a little east of Hope and then decided it was far enough (around ten miles) so we turned around and found a welcome to Idaho sign.

Sam Owen Campground Site 76
Sam Owen Campground

We also took a day trip north of Sandpoint to Bonners Ferry which is just south of the Canadian border. The only tiny town north of Bonners Ferry is named Porthill.

Many Waters

The Kootenay River flows through Bonners Ferry on its way to Canada. Actually, the Kootenay River starts in Canada, about halfway to Calgary, through Lake Koocanusa. (Lake Koocanusa is about 70 miles long and formed by a dam in Montana but the lake stretches way north of the border.) Then the river flows through Montana and Idaho on its way back to Canada where it forms an even bigger lake. The Kootenay River combines with the Columbia River at Castlegar, Canada. The Columbia then combines with the Pend Oreille River just north of the Canadian border, then flows back to the United States where it flows into the ocean, between Oregon and Washington.

Moyle Falls near Bonners Ferry. Stunning beauty in Northern Idaho
Moyle Falls near Bonners Ferry.

Lake Coeur d’Alene

After a week in Hope, we moved further south to the Kootenai County Fairgrounds in Coeur d’Alene, right on the north end of the city. After two weeks in the mountains, we needed a resupply stop. The fairgrounds just opened an RV park, a half-mile north of Costco, and this really met that need. Here is our campsite review of the Kootenai County Fairgrounds.

Coeur d’Alene keeps opening new doors to us and just yesterday we discovered that we haven’t seen much of the city or any of the old town. But today, we depart for Montana so we will have to come back. Darn.

Docks at Bell Bay Campground on Lake Coeur d'Alene Stunning beauty in Northern Idaho
Docks at Bell Bay Campground on Lake Coeur d’Alene

After resupply, we drove about 30 rough miles south to a new campground right on Lake Coeur d’Alene named Bell Bay Campground. Here is our review of Bell Bay Campground. If you haven’t read any of my campsite reviews, Bell Bay should be the one. Nearly everything on the government website about Bell Bay Campground is wrong.

At Bell Bay Campground we had a wonderful picture window view of Lake Coeur d’Alene. These lakes are so big that from our picture window we could see boats in the water but often we could not hear them because they were far enough away. It seems that grand fun in this area is to roar up and down the lake in your motorboat (for no apparent reason).

Picture window view of Lake Coeur d'Alene
Picture window view of Lake Coeur d’Alene

While at Bell Bay Campground we spent lots of time kayaking at smaller lakes in the area. Thompson Lake was our favorite and maybe the best place we have kayaked this year or perhaps since we started our journey.

Barn next to Lake Thompson Stunning beauty in Northern Idaho
Barn next to Lake Thompson

That makes up our report for our last three weeks. Hopefully, you are as impressed by the stunning beauty in Northern Idaho as we are.


People seem to enjoy the snippets and especially the Campsite Reviews — and I got the interactive map to work thanks to Laura (Chapter 3 Travels) and Nina (Wheelingit). Thanks, I am very happy. These two are amazing travel-bloggers and are very supportive of my efforts. Here is a link to our new interactive map on Campsite Reviews.

Now all I have to do for campsite reviews is go back and fill in more than two years’ worth of blanks and also keep up with all the new places we visit. That hopefully will take less than two years.

9 thoughts on “Stunning Beauty in Northern Idaho”

  1. Thanks for the time this interesting post. I’m really wishing I could visit northern Idaho. But if I never get to go there, at least I have this description to enjoy.
    It was lovely seeing you and dining with you at Montana Club last night. We’ll do it again some day. Who knows, maybe we can take you to Mi Tierra’s in San Antonio!


    Beautiful photos Scott. Jan and I have traveled in some of the areas you show. We have friends (former work colleagues) who retired to Hayden Lake and Sandpoint. Be safe.

  3. Hey!

    Thanks for the shout out. I’m glad you were able to get the campground reviews up and running! The map looks great and I just clicked around and it works perfectly! Your reviews are super detailed and will be very helpful for these places. It’s great that you’re using a standard format so people know what kind of information they’ll be able to find on your site. My only suggestion is if you can find a way to add pictures (for new places in the future), those are always helpful. Not necessary, but they definitely add something to any review. Now I just picture you spending hours and hours and hours trying to fill in all these reviews for the last several years. You are way more patient than I would ever be!! Good luck and have fun!!

    1. I can’t believe we missed you while you were camped in Post Falls and we were driving through the area between Spokane and Coeur d’ Alene. That would have been a fun stop to finally get together for the first time.

  4. I loved the article. But should have mentioned Priest River. Go through there for Priest Lake and going to Sandpoint. Perfect otherwise

    1. You are so correct. We wanted to paddle our kayaks north out of Priest Lake up the Priest River, past upper Priest Lake, and even considered a float south from Priest Lake to the town of Priest River. There are so many pretty places it is hard to choose what to do and what to mention in the blog.

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