Idaho is home to more than 2,000 lakes (and those are just the ones with names!)
But while there’s stunning waters all across this land-locked state, the most accessible, adventure-packed lakes and reservoirs are here in Southwest Idaho. Our guide will give you the details on our favorite Southwest Idaho lakes and reservoirs in the region, from safety tips to docking details and more.
Before You Go
- Bring lifejackets
In Idaho, kids under 14 years old are legally required to wear lifejackets on any boat under 19’ — but it’s always a smart idea for the whole family to wear them. (Forgot to bring yours? Plenty of the lakes in Southwest Idaho have free lifejacket loaner stations!)
- Be registered
Make sure you’ve got valid registration for your boat, either from the state of Idaho or your own home state. If you’re from out-of-state, your state’s registration will be valid in Idaho for 60 days. Click here to learn more.
- Remember to check your speed
Double check if the county you’re visiting has special speed limits enforced on their waters. (Click here for more information.) Always remember to slow down near any docks, structures or people in the water. (Idaho has a no-wake zone in these areas.)
- Get an Invasive Species Fund Sticker
To protect Idaho’s vibrant and diverse wildlife, the state requires all out-of-state boats to purchase an Idaho Invasive Species Fund sticker before launching in Idaho waters. If you’re driving in from out-of-state, you’ll need to have your boat inspected at one of the inspection stations. (They’re located along all major highways near the state borders.)
- Read up on local laws
While the state doesn’t have any age or exam requirements to operate a boat, some counties do. Check on them before you go.
- Keep sunscreen and water on board
Southwest Idaho has over 250+ days of sunshine a year. The light reflecting off the water makes it easy to get sunburned and dehydrated.
CJ Strike Reservoir
Fishing in the late summer sunshine at CJ Strike Reservoir. Photo courtesy of Visit Idaho.
This 6,760-acre reservoir is on the edge of Idaho’s secluded Owyhee desert. Raptors soar through the skies above. Trout and bass swim in the depths. All along the shoreline, steep cliffs tower over the water.
Located in the heart of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, you’ll likely spot a variety of raptors at CJ Strike Reservoir, including ospreys, hawks and eagles!
While CJ Strike Reservoir is known as a prime fishing spot for trout and bass, its massive size creates the perfect conditions for boating, waterskiing, tubing and other watersports. The boat launching facilities here are open all year round, thanks to the warmer waters.
We recommend driving to the Cove Recreation Site at the south side of the reservoir to launch your boat. There, you’ll find a small boat ramp, picnic tables, fire pits, fishing docks and a few campsites. (You can stay the night here for a small fee — The Owyhee Desert is a great place for stargazing.)
On the Water: Boating, fishing, watersports, swimming, kayaking
On the Shore: Horseback riding, hiking, wildlife viewing, camping
Located on one of the oldest national wildlife refuges in the US, Lake Lowell is known for the vibrant, diverse wildlife that nest along its shores. More than 250 different species of birds have been spotted here, including herons, hawks and even a few bald eagles.
The lake itself is over 9,000 acres, and its waters are teeming with bass and trophy trout. (It’s a go-to fishing spot for locals.) Boating season here runs from mid-April to the end of September, and there’s a handful of boat ramps and docks to use around the lake.
While you’re on the water, keep your eyes open. You’ll likely spot a few raptors, songbirds and rare waterfowl here. You might also come across signs and buoys marking the natural habitats of the animals who call this place home. (Make sure to heed any directions on the signs and respect the wildlife.)
After heading back to shore, explore the refuge’s extensive trail network. A flat dirt road loops around the entire lake, and miles of singletrack trails criss-cross the surrounding sagebrush desert. (Walk quietly enough, and you might meet some wildlife you can only find in Southwest Idaho!)
On the Water: Boating, fishing, birdwatching, watersports, kayaking, SUP, swimming
On the Shore: Hiking, hunting, disc golf, birdwatching
A vibrant sunset over Lucky Peak Dam. Photo courtesy of Visit Idaho.
Just 10 miles from Downtown Boise, Lucky Peak covers nearly 3,000 acres and is surrounded by 4,288 acres of public land. Rolling foothills line the shores above, and giant sturgeon lurk in the depths below.
Spring Shores Marina sits on the north side of the reservoir, a haven for jet skiing, windsurfing and tubing. The waters here are deep and clear. Even in the height of Idaho’s endlessly sunny summers, they’re still refreshingly cool.
The full-service marina has long-term moorage, fuel and supplies. In the summer, a small cafe and general store serves up sandwiches and drinks on an outdoor patio overlooking the reservoir. Rent a paddleboard, a small boat or a personal watercraft here to add to the adventure.
After taking the boat out for a spin, head toward the southern part of the reservoir, below the dam, to Sandy Point. You’ll find sandy beaches (just like the name) circling a pond with near-perfect swimming temperatures and a giant fountain at the center.
Spend the rest of the day playing sand volleyball, grilling up some burgers or tanning on the beach — It’s a perfect spot to bring the kids. (Remember to take a few bucks with you to pay your entrance fees.)
On the Water: Swimming, boating, SUP, watersports, kayaking, fishing
On the Shore: Hiking, beach volleyball, picnicking, horseshoes, disc golf, biking and inline skating (The Boise River Greenbelt extends all the way to Sandy Point.)
Sailing under blue skies at Lake Cascade.
At 30,000 acres, Lake Cascade is one of the largest bodies of water in Idaho — and one of the most stunning. The blue waters are surrounded on all sides by sandy beaches, ponderosa pine trees and rugged mountains.
A number of docks and ramps provide nearly unlimited access for boats, and some even offer paddleboard, kayak and boat rentals. The cool breezes that blow across the lake create ideal conditions for sailing or windsurfing.
Local’s Tip: Make a quick detour to Tamarack Resort on the west side of the lake. Hike (or bike) along miles of trails and find epic views of Lake Cascade.
With 86 miles of shoreline and several beachfront campsites, it’s definitely worth making this a weekend (or even week-long) trip. Nearby, you’ll find small mountain towns like Cascade and Donnelly, along with several hiking trails, mountain biking trails, alpine meadows and hot springs hidden in the forest.
On the Water: Swimming, SUP, boating, watersports, kayaking, fishing, sailing, windsurfing
On the Shore: Hiking, biking, camping, picnicking, horseshoes
Launching the boat at Warm Lake for an afternoon of laid-back fun in the sun.
Tucked deep into the Central Mountains at 5,298 feet above sea level, Warm Lake is a pristine alpine oasis, home to some of Idaho’s most iconic wildlife. Moose, black bear, mule deer and elk roam through the nearby forests. Bald eagles and osprey soar through the skies, while kokanee salmon and trophy trout swim through the blue waters.
An afternoon out on Warm Lake is typically calm and easygoing. The water stays cool all summer, and there’s plenty of mountain views. It’s no surprise that most of Warm Lake’s visitors are families who have been vacationing here for generations.
You’ll find boat launching facilities on the northern side of the lake at North Shore Lodge and Resort. First built in 1936, this lakeside resort has 10 log cabins, a full bar and a restaurant serving up a well-rounded menu. Launch your boat from the docks here, or rent a paddleboard, paddle boat or canoe for the day. (It’s the perfect rustic getaway.)
On the Water: Boating, kayaking, SUP, fishing, water sports, swimming
On the Shore: Camping, hiking, mountain biking, ATVing
Sunshine, SUP and summer vibes on Payette Lake.
Over 10,000 years ago, a massive glacier carved through Idaho’s Central Mountains, leaving a stunning 5,330 glacial lake in its wake. Today, Payette Lake is one of the most iconic sights in Southwest Idaho. It’s an alpine paradise for boating, kayaking, jet skiing, swimming, SUP and all things water.
Several sandy beaches, docks, marinas and boat launching facilities surround the entire lake. For most visitors, we suggest launching from Mile High Marina. If you’ve got a larger boat, try the deep boat draft at Ponderosa State Park. For smaller boats, like kayaks or canoes, try the launch off Warren Wagon Road near North Beach.
Local’s Tip: Check out Mile High Marina for water ski and paddleboard rentals, dockside fueling, cold beers and fresh fish tacos.
Payette Lake is just the beginning of your adventure here. Along the east side of the lake is a 1,000 acre peninsula of protected wilderness, Ponderosa State Park. It’s one of the best places to hike (or bike) with epic views of the lake.
At the lake’s southern side is Idaho’s iconic ski-and-lake town of McCall. With plenty of restaurants, galleries and cafes lining the streets, it’s exactly where you’ll want to relax after a long day on the water.
On the Water: Boating, swimming, SUP, kayaking, watersports, fishing
On the Shore: Hiking, biking, camping, huckleberry picking, exploring McCall
Download Our Travel Guide
SUP in SW Idaho
In Southwest Idaho, a lake is more than a place to beat the heat.
It’s a place of adventure, adrenaline rushes and trying new things. It’s a place to make new memories while spending time in good company. It’s a place to leave the everyday behind and surround yourself with natural beauty.
Spend a day on the water and you’ll see what we mean.