Priest Lake is a reservoir on the Middle Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River in Latah and Benewah Counties, Washington. The lake impounds water from that river and two others, including Little Priest Lake which feeds into it. It has an area of 2,300 acres (9km2), a maximum depth of up to 165 feet (50m) and more than 100 miles (160km) of shoreline. In addition to recreational facilities at both lakes, the park also preserves part of the historic Palouse Farm homestead where poet Vardis Fisher spent his final years.
Other amenities include hiking trails, camping sites, cabins, picnic areas, swimming beach, playground, bathhouse, gift shop, gas station/marina store, and restaurant. Fishing licenses are required and are issued by the state. The lakeside campground features 31 drive-up sites, 6 walk-in sites, 3 camper cabins, modern restrooms, showers, and a holding tank dump station. Boat dock accommodates up to 20 mooring buoys and includes a ramp allowing access to the main land. Two marinas accommodate smaller boats, with space for 40-50 mooring buoys each. Campers can utilize the 30 electric hookups and 15 non-electric hookups at the campsite.
Picnic tables and fire rings are provided in abundance. Modern comfort stations provide showers and restroom facilities. Half of the campsites are reserved but open on a first come first served basis. Campgrounds close in late October due to the winter season. Reservations can be made through Reserve America. Group tenting is not permitted in the campground. Tent sites are available on a first come first serve basis. Backcountry camping is allowed in certain parts of the park. 18 outhouses and 7 vault toilets are scattered throughout the backcountry.
No garbage or recycling receptacles are located there. Instead, haul outs are available every 5-6 days, with additional outposts near the middle section of the lake. These posts allow residents to remote camp sites to take home their trash and recyclables. Boats may be launched only from the designated launching site. Access to this site is possible only when the gate is closed. Rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboats are available to rent all summer long. Only those 16 years and older are allowed on the waters of Priest Lake without adult supervision. Those under age 13 must have written permission from their parents.
No pets are allowed on the grounds. They must either be kept inside the vehicle or secured by a tie down. Amenities include beaches, boat ramps, cabins, picnic areas, swimming beach, playground, bathhouse, interpretive center, nature trail, equestrian trails, hiking trails, ski resort, zip line, fishing pier, public phones, sewage disposal, primitive camping area, group shelter, playground, basketball courts, volleyball court, horseshoe pit, tether base, and over 200 miles of roadway.
Visitors needing transport to the airport may utilize the park’s courtesy van service. This service is free of charge; however, reservations are recommended. The park closes at dusk, so the driver will not be able to take you to your destination if you miss your reservation. Snowmobiling is very popular on Priest Lake. An extensive network of groomed snowmobile routes makes it easy to get around the lake. About 600 acres (0.24km2) are dedicated to wildlife observation. Wildlife viewing areas include a nesting platform, several islands, old fields, restored prairie, wetland boardwalks, and overlooks along the shores of the lake.
The park provides excellent habitat for birds, butterflies, and other insects. Over 300 bird species nest within 30 miles (48km) of Priest Lake. Butterfly species number nearly 50 different types, many of which are rare visitors to North America. Dragonflies, deer flies, ticks, and mosquitoes are common visitor pests. . Facilities include beaches, boat docks, parking lots, picnic areas, rest rooms, shelters, and overnight mooring facilities. Non-powered watercrafts may be rented all day long. Powered watercrafts require a special permit, which can be acquired at the park office.
Mountain biking is prohibited on the paved roads of the park. However, about 400 acres (1.6km2) of forested back country are accessible by bike. Hiking is another activity available in the back country. The 1 mile (1.6km) roundtrip Hickman Creek Loop Trail follows a stream with a waterfall, marshes, hemlock gorges, and old agricultural fields. Another 4.5 miles (7.2km) of single file trails crisscross the north end of the lake, providing opportunities for hikers to explore new terrain.
The park offers a variety of cross-country skiing trails. Skiers should be prepared for snowy conditions, even in mid-summer. Ice fishing takes place below the ice surface, in approximately 10 foot (3 meter) deep water. The thickness of the ice is monitored daily, and if necessary, thinners are applied. Approximately 150,000 people visit Priest Lake annually to engage in various water related activities. Waterfowl hunting is conducted in season, primarily during the fall migration. The primary target animals are Canada geese and white pelicans. Deer and turkey hunting are offered during specific times of the year. Because of the large quantity of waterfowl, deer and turkey hunters need to bring their own food.
The park hosts races throughout the year, including a dragonboat race held on Labor Day weekend. Canoes, rowboats, kayaks, and paddleboats are available to rent all year long. Mooring buoys are spread throughout the lake, mainly clustered toward the south end. Most fishermen set their lines off the shore, although some fish from the banks. Common catches include Chinook, rainbow, smallmouth bass, crappie, walleye, yellow perch, bullheads, sucker, catfish, carp, and sturgeon.
Fish cribs and live bait shops are found along the waterfront. Gasoline powered motors are prohibited on Priest Lake. Motorized boats must be powered by electric motors only. Sailboats, rowboats, canoes, and kayaks may be equipped with unlimited horsepower. All boats must be properly registered with any state.
The farm was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Vardis S. Fisher Farmstead in 1988. Priest Lake is one of three major reservoirs built along the lower reaches of the Coeur d’Alene River during the 1960s. Its construction began in May 1967 with completion of the dam across the Izaak Walton League Trail. Water was available for use in July 1969. At least five fish species are present year-round including Chinook salmon, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, crappie, and kokanee salmon. A boat launch allows access to the lake for boaters arriving via Interstate 90. There is no road access.
Priests Lake is used as a venue for aquatic sports such as: