Priest Lake, Idaho, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Idaho - Northern -

Located in the most northern portion of Idaho’s Panhandle, Priest Lake is within 30 miles of the Canadian Border. Priest Lake was naturally created at the end of the last ice age, some 10,000 years ago. Priest Lake environs were used by the Kalispel and Kootenai Indian tribes as one of their food gathering areas with fish, game and plant life plentiful early in its history. The name of the lake evolved from ‘Kaniiksu’, believed to mean Black Robe, a reference to Jesuit priests who established camp in the mid-1800s at Kalispell Bay. It was heavily used for transporting lumber in the late 1800s with many small flumes and splash dams built. The Gold Rush brought miners and families to the area and a Hollywood movie production facility was begun by Nell Shipman on Mosquito Bay, lasting only a short time due to the tough winters. While lumber production is still an industry today, Priest Lake is primarily used for vacation homes and recreational tourism. It is sometimes called “Idaho’s Crown Jewel” because of its very diverse outdoor recreational offerings for both summer and winter including water sports, hiking, biking, snowmobiling, fishing, wildlife viewing, swimming, cross country skiing and game hunting. Coolin is the largest town, located at the southern end of Priest Lake.

In 1950, the first Priest Lake Outlet Dam was built. Later it was replaced by a concrete gravity dam with construction completed in 1978. The dam is used for hydroelectric power generation and recreation control of Priest Lake. Priest Lake Dam is owned and operated by the Idaho Department of Water Resources. Priest Lake is fed by the Priest River, through a smaller Upper Priest Lake. Its outlet joins the Pend Oreille River, the path for logging transportation and mill locations.

Priest Lake provides a wealth of wonderful outdoor recreation opportunities. A proliferation of camp grounds and resorts surround the lake including Priest Lake State Park. Over 400 developed sites are located on the lake, over 60 of which are on islands providing gorgeous locations for the boater/camper. Most of the sites are managed by the State Park or the USFS Priest Lake Ranger District which also manages numerous less developed dispersed campsites to the west and north of Priest Lake. Large private resorts on the lake include Blue Diamond Marina, Elkins Resort and Priest Lake Marina. Some have boat-launching ramps and provide fuel, food and supplies.

The major sport fishing in Priest Lake is Mackinaw (lake trout) with trophy size fish catches not uncommon. Winter ice fishing is a favorite pastime, when some of the trophy fish rise closer to the surface. Water sports abound with wakeboarding, water skiing, sailing, power boating, and kayaking heading the list. Marina waits are short and Priest Lake’s size makes for very pleasant, unencumbered activity.

Wildlife viewing is enhanced by the significant variety of bird and other animal species. These include black and grizzly bear, caribou, raccoon, bobcat, mountain lion, and many smaller ‘critters’. Some bird species to watch for include Bald Eagles, osprey, herons, and the many hummingbirds making the area their summer home. There are no poisonous snakes in the Priest Lake area. For the geocachers among us, there are many caches located in the area – some are on islands and there is even one underwater. Haul out that GPS receiver!

Priest Lake is truly an outdoor enthusiasts Eden, in a beautiful scenic setting. If you are in the Idaho Panhandle, you must try some of its offerings.

Things to do at Priest Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park

Fish species found at Priest Lake

  • Lake Trout
  • Trout

Priest Lake Photo Gallery

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Priest Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Idaho Dept of Water Resources

Surface Area: 26,000 acres

Shoreline Length: 70 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 2,439 feet

Maximum Depth: 369 feet

Water Volume: 143,000 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1978

Lake Area-Population: 600

Drainage Area: 572 sq. miles

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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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