Upper Priest Lake Trail 302 Trail Head

Fun in North Idaho: 3 Outdoor Activities to try at Priest Lake

Priest Lake is considered the crown jewel of North Idaho. One of the greatest things to do at Priest Lake is hang up your kayak on the beach, watch the waves, and hang out with your friends or family.

Don’t worry though if you’ve had your fill of the beach. There is plenty more to do int he surrounding area.

Below are three fun things to do at Priest Lake in North Idaho.

If you’re like me, navigation isn’t your strength. I left a Google Map pin on each of the locations below to help make sure you get where you want to go!

Upper Priest Lake Trail No. 302

Upper Priest Lake Trail 302 is a beautiful trail in North Idaho that offers a pleasant, easy hike to Upper Priest Lake.

The trail takes you through a beautiful forest and past a patch of old growth cedars. There are many signs of deer and elk. If you’re quiet you will almost surely see wildlife even if it is just a rabbit or a squirrel.

If you’re like me and prefer nature in it’s quiet and peaceful form, then I’m sure you’ll like this hike. It’s worth taking the extra time it takes to drive here, and hike in. The beauty of Upper Priest Lake while standing on the northern shore is hard to describe. It’s quiet and beautiful.

Many people who visit Upper Priest Lake come through the Thorofare on the south end, from Priest Lake. It’s quite a distance to the north end of the lake if you’re in a kayak or canoe. Most people don’t make it all the way to the northern end, so it increases the chances of it being quiet when you hike in.

How to get to the Upper Priest Lake Trail 302

Upper Priest Lake Trail No. 302 starts from Forest Road 655. The trailhead is just after you turn off of Forest Road 1013.

In total, it is 21 miles past Nordman, Idaho. The map provided by the USDA Forest Service shows trail 302 on the north east side of Upper Priest Lake.

USFS map of hiking trails near Priest Lake Idaho
Map image credit: USDA Forest Service: link

The hike descends very gradually to the lake. Don’t worry, the hike out is not difficult even though there is a slight incline. Overall it’s very mild elevation difference. The hike in and out is approximately 7 miles.

On your route to Upper Priest Lake, you cross a small creek underneath old growth cedars. The biggest of the cedar trees are about six feet in diameter. It’s impressive to imagine how it must have been when the first fir trappers were coming to this area.

There is plenty of elk and deer sign along the trail, so keep your eyes and ears peeled to spot some.

Canoe to Kalispell Island

Kalispell Island is the biggest island on Priest Lake. In my opinion a visit to Priest Lake isn’t totally complete without a night spent on the Island.

However, it’s important to note that Kalispell Island is not for everyone.

The island is only accessible by boat, and there are no amenities or facilities available. Visitors must bring all necessary supplies, including food, water, and camping gear.

Kalispell Island can be an incredible experience for those seeking a truly remote and wilderness adventure. However, in the summer be prepared for tons of people, lots of boats, and noise from nearby campers. If you want a quieter experience I recommend visiting in May or October.

Where to launch from to Canoe to Kalispell Island

The best place to launch a boat to visit Kalispell Island is the Kalispell Bay Boat Launch.

  1. Kalispell Bay Boat Launch: This boat launch is located on the east side of Priest Lake, about 15 miles north of the town of Coolin, on the south side of the lake. It is just north of the Luby Bay Campground. If you’re not camping on the island it might be worth camping at Luby Bay, and still be within easy distance for a day trip by kayak or canoe to Kalispell Island.

Explore beyond Kalispell Island

If you’re looking for a more remote and adventurous trip, you should consider a canoe or kayak trip to Upper Priest Lake.

There are several backcountry campsites along the shore of the lake, and visitors can launch a canoe from Beaver Creek Campground and paddle approximately 5 miles through the Thoroughfare to reach the south end of Upper Priest Lake.

Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars

You’ll have to venture just across the border into Washington in order to visit the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedar trees.

While you’re here anyway make sure to see Granite Falls, a spectacular and high powered waterfall that will perhaps be the most unique you’ve ever seen.

Fourteen miles north of Nordman, Idaho, there’s a unique area of old-growth cedar named for President Theodore Roosevelt. Since the early 1900s, this area was noted for its beauty. On April 15, 1943, the grove was officially designated as a Scenic Area.

A fire in 1926, destroyed nearly 75 percent of the original grove and left two small remnants. The Lower Grove, approximately 2 acres, has 4 picnic sites available under the towering trees. The Upper Grove, approximately 20 acres accessible via a trail system following an old logging road, has been left undeveloped. Feel free to explore this grove on foot.

Estimating the age of these giants, which range from 4 to 12 feet in diameter and reach heights of 150 feet, is difficult due to heart rot which hollows out the center of the tree; therefore, an accurate count of the rings cannot be made. Through cutting windfalls and increment borings of healthy trees, the average age has been estimated at 800 years, with a few hearty survivors achieving the 2000-3000 year old status.

USDA Forest Service Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars PDF

Priest Lake changes with the seasons

The beauty of Priest Lake is that you get a brand new experience every season. Spring, summer, fall and winter all offer something unique to this landscape.

You might enjoy the warm weather of summer, but don’t discount the quiet moments of spring.

Are the mosquitoes just too much for you in June? Think about visiting in October as the Larch trees are turning yellow.

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