Make a Splash at One of Idaho’s Lakes and Rivers

Idaho beaches are a little different than their coastal cousins. They’re not next to the ocean, and the surf is typically river waves. They tend to be considerably smaller than those at the ocean, but when you have a drink in your hand and your toes in the sand, does that matter? 

A day at the beach is still a day at the beach, and it’s a great place to cool off and relax on a hot summer day. Grab your beach chair, your cooler, a towel and some food, and relax at one of these spots. 

Payette Lake

A long-time favorite for Idahoans, Payette Lake has more than 1,000 acres of wilderness, campsites, hiking trails and more. You can visit public beaches within walking distance of downtown McCall, or you can head up either side of the lake to find others. The lake is 5,330 acres of clean glacier water just begging you to jump in! Come to relax, or rent a kayak, stand-up paddleboard or other craft and get on the water. You can camp near the lake at Ponderosa State Park or stay at many motels, condos and vacation rentals in McCall.

Lucky Peak/Arrowrock Reservoirs

A little closer to the valley, these reservoirs offer miles of shoreline and depending on lake levels, some nice beaches. Sandy Point at the base of Lucky Peak Dam is almost always accessible and is a nice, safe place for kids to splash around. Head upstream and you can find many other beaches and access spots along the shoreline of Lucky Peak and beyond that at Arrowrock Reservoir. The farther you go, the less development you will find, but there are still lots of places to pull off and find a cozy spot by the water.

Salmon River at Riggins

Head upstream from Riggins to Shorts Bar and there’s a big, broad sandy beach that’s perfect for lounging and picnicking. It’s one of many beaches between Riggins and Vinegar Creek, which is where the Salmon River Road ends and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness begins. Most of these beaches are roadside pull-offs with no services, so bring what you need and pick up everything when you leave. There’s a designated campground at Spring Bar about 10 miles upstream from Riggins.

Redfish Lake

Its sandy beaches with the Sawtooth Mountain Range looming in the background make this lake near Stanley one of Idaho’s most iconic spots. It’s tough to beat that scenery, and when temperatures get cooking in the Treasure Valley, warm, sunny days and cool nights in Stanley can feel as refreshing as a tropical vacation during winter. Redfish Lake also has lots of campsites, too, but due to its popularity, reservations are highly recommended. 

Warm Lake

Located east of Cascade on Warm Lake Highway, Warm Lake is a little off the beaten path but still easily accessible. There are campgrounds, cabin rentals and sandy beaches. Bring your fishing rod; this lake has a lot of trout available for anglers. Swing by North Shore Lodge for drinks, snacks and food. Warm Lake might not be as famous as other locations listed here, but with its cozy beaches and great scenery, it’s worth checking out if you haven’t visited.

Payette River: Horseshoe Bend to Banks

This is a quick trip for folks in West Boise, Eagle, Meridian and Star. Head up Idaho State Highway 55 and stake your claim to a sandy spot along the Payette River. Bikini Beach just south of Banks is probably the best-known beach, but there are several others where you can relax by the river and watch the rafters and kayakers float by.

Lake Cascade

Can’t leave this one off the list. You can find some nice sandy beaches just west of the city of Cascade and also near Sugarloaf Campground north of Cascade. Considering Lake Cascade covers nearly 50 square miles, there are plenty other beaches to find if you’re willing to drive around the lake and do a little exploring.