Payette Lake, Idaho, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Idaho - Southwestern -

Also known as:  Big Payette Lake

One hundred miles north of Boise, nearly surrounded by Payette National Forest, lies breathtaking Payette Lake. Nestled beneath the peaks of the West Mountains in the Southwestern Region of Idaho, the area around Payette Lake has the well-deserved reputation of being Idaho’s Four-Season Playground. In Idaho’s Long Valley, Payette Lake fills a basin along the Payette River to a depth of over 300 feet spread over more than 5000 acres. Sometimes called Big Payette Lake to distinguish it from Upper Payette Lake upstream and Little Payette to the east, the spectacular lake has been entertaining visitors since the late 1800s. Known to Native American tribes and frontiersmen, the French Canadian fur trapper, Francois Payette roamed these mountain trails and gave the river and hence the lake its name. In the 1860s, gold miners temporarily settled here to pan for gold but were unsuccessful and soon moved on. Although a small settlement called Lardo was located nearby at the outlet of the Payette River, Thomas and Louisa McCall purchased property at the site of the current McCall between 1889 and 1891. Thomas McCall established a school, hotel, saloon, and post office and developed businesses. The town was a success and eventually grew to encompass little Lardo. Farming was developed in the area primarily by Finnish settlers.

Timber and lumbering provided the mainstay of McCall’s economy. McCall supported at least one sawmill until 1977. Before the turn of the 20th century, a character called Anneas “Jews Harp Jack” Wyatte advertised the services of a 30-foot sailing yacht to visitors. Steamships moved freight and personnel up and down the length of Payette Lake far faster and more comfortably than the rough wagon roads in existence. And by the 1920s and 30s, visitors came to ski the slopes of the mountains west of the lake. At some time in the past a small dam used to control water for irrigation was built across the outlet at Lardo which maintains the lake at high pool except during crop irrigation. In 1936, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked at McCall constructing buildings and look-out towers. Idaho’s governor used one of the buildings as a summer residence. Because fire was always a danger in logging country, the Southern Idaho Timber Protective Association eventually formed here to enhance logging practices and fire prevention. The eight-building restored site is now home to the Central Idaho Historical Museum.

Payette Lake early developed a reputation as an excellent fishing lake, particularly for ‘mackinaws’. This lake trout variety was transplanted into the lake, as were rainbow and brown trout – naturals for the cold deep waters of Payette Lake. Whitefish and kokanee salmon were also caught. Many exceeded 25 pounds, attracting anglers from all over the world. Unfortunately, the lake provides little in the way of food sources for a large numbers of fish, so stringent limits have been placed on the sizes and numbers of fish that can be taken. Idaho Fish and Game has planted feeder shrimp varieties and fingerlings regularly to restore the fishery to healthy populations. They also maintain a hatchery southwest of McCall near the old Lardo Dam. The many small inlets and brooks hold trout; fly fishermen often make Payette Lake the centerpiece of their summer vacation. The Payette River inlet at the north end of the lake, called ‘the Meander’ or ‘Meander Lake’, is a favored fishing hole. This area is limited to electric motors, but the rest is an all-sports lake except for a 300-foot no-wake buffer along the shore.

Payette Lake is a favorite among sailors. Local marinas host a sizable summer population of sailboats of all types. Water skiing, wake boarding, jet skis and power boating are all popular, as are pontooning, canoeing and kayaking. The southern portions of the west and east arms of the lake are heavily developed and contain high-end housing. Areas along the northern portion of the shore are too steep for building and remain beautifully wooded. Between the two arms, a 1000-acre peninsula holds the south branch of Ponderosa State Park. The north branch surrounds ‘the Meander’. The park offers fishing, swimming, volleyball area, horseshoe pits, guided walks, camping, picnic areas, hiking and biking trails. A wide variety of wildlife inhabit the park, including Canada geese, mallards, osprey, wood ducks, bald eagles, songbirds, moose, deer, muskrats, beaver and bear. The Payette Lake area is a photographer’s dream, both in scenery and wildlife. Several tour guides and outfitters are located nearby in McCall to assure visitors the perfect fishing or hunting trip. White-water rafting is also available. The movie, “Northwest Passage” with Spencer Tracy and Robert Young, was filmed on the shores of Payette Lake.

Payette Lake freezes completely over, so ice fishing and ice skating keep the winter ‘lake lubber’ entertained. The area around Payette Lake is a nationally-known ski area, with two ski resorts and miles of cross-country trails for skiing and snowshoeing. The Payette National Forest provides all types of hunting and trail exploration. McCall takes winter visitors seriously, with carefully-groomed snowmobile trails, a year-round ice arena and myriad festivals and activities geared toward tourists. One of the largest is the famed McCall Winter Carnival – ten days of outdoor fun and snow activities. Highlights of the festival include incredible ice sculptures, racing and competitions. The local ‘snow sculpting’ team is so talented they compete internationally. And, of course, there are sledding hills, snowboarding and sleigh rides. McCall sponsors winter ski races and summer running competitions. The 4th of July Festival provides yet another reason to celebrate at Payette Lake, with fireworks, carnival and plenty of good food and drink. Nearly any type of outdoor equipment can be rented near McCall, from all types of watercraft, mountain bikes, ATVs and horses for horseback riding.

McCall offers a 27-hole municipal golf course, summer outdoor concerts, craft fairs and art programs. The area around Payette Lake offers several unique locations that visitors may wish to explore. About 30 miles from McCall, privately-owned Burgdorf Hot Springs is located in a ghost town and offers rustic accommodations in cabins ranging from 70 to 132 years old. The location is accessible by snowmobile or skis only in winter. Farther up the trail are unimproved hot springs open to the public. South of McCall, the Roseberry General Store is 1.5 miles east of Donnelly. Built in 1905, the old Finnish store still sells long underwear and Finnish knives. Across the road, the Valley County Museum incorporates an old schoolhouse and church, with nearly 20 other historic buildings scattered around the old town site.

Vacation rentals are plentiful around Payette Lake. Many of the condos, private homes and ski cottages are available for weekly or monthly rental. Many are lakefront. A few bed-and-breakfast facilities are located near the lake. Camping facilities are located along the shore, so every visitor can find just the right location at Payette Lake. Real estate is available both along the lakefront and up the mountain with lake views. One visit, winter or summer, and you’ll be hooked. Pack up the gear and come to Payette Lake for your next vacation.

Things to do at Payette Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Ice Skating
  • Biking
  • Snowboarding
  • Snowmobiling
  • Snowshoeing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • National Forest
  • Museum
  • Playground

Fish species found at Payette Lake

  • Brown Trout
  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Lake Trout
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Whitefish

Payette Lake Photo Gallery

Payette Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Lake Reservoir Company

Surface Area: 5,330 acres

Shoreline Length: 21 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,990 feet

Maximum Depth: 304 feet

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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