If you're heading up to Lake Pend Orielle in the Idaho Panhandle for some RV camping, be prepared to be totally awestruck by the scenery you find there. The lake, a seemingly endless stretch of tranquil water, is sheltered on all sides by four different mountain ranges. Its shores are bordered by several forests and state parks including the Coeur d'Alene National Forest and the Farragut State Park. It is a truly incredible place and one of the best spots in north Idaho for an RV vacation.
Lake Pend Orielle is not a man-made reservoir, but a natural lake formed by glacial action in the Ice Age. Its overall surface area was expanded by the construction of the Albeni Falls Dam near Oldtown by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s. The lake is so immense and so deep - the fifth deepest in the US - it has been used for naval training exercises and testing submarines. In current times, though, the main activities occurring on and around the lake are recreational.
There are four COE campgrounds at Lake Pend Orielle which are open for a short five month season from May through to the end of September. If you enjoy canoeing, kayaking or jet skiing, you'll find Springy Point perfect for your needs. The Priest River campground is great for boating too as well as being a popular spot for fishing. Riley Creek has easily accessed hiking and biking trails, but if all you want is a quiet break in really rustic surroundings, and don't mind tackling a rough road to get there, then check out the Albeni Cove campground.
Lake Pend Orielle is an easy place to get to if you live in the neighbouring state of Washington. Once you hit Spokane, you'll have a comfortable and exceptionally scenic fifty-mile drive along the US2 which runs right around the northern section of the lake. If you're arriving at the lake from the southerly or western regions of Idaho state itself, the US2 is the highway you'll need to take to get you to the Priest River Campground and the Riley Creek Campground. It's an enjoyable drive passing through some beautifully mountainous and forested landscapes.
The Priest River Campground sits on the western tip of the lake one mile outside of the town of Priest River. Riley Creek is just one mile outside of the town of Laclede along the Riley Creek Road. The entrances to the campgrounds are signposted and you'll have no trouble finding them. The Albeni Cove Campground is a short drive through Priest River to Oldtown where you'll find directional signs to the site about three miles down Fourth Street.
If you're camping your RV at Springy Point you'll turn off for the campground at the town of Sandpoint. This is where the drive will get really interesting as you'll be motoring over the two-mile long Sandpoint Long Bridge. The views from the bridge belie belief. Once you're off the bridge, there's only three more miles to travel before you're at the campground on Lakeshore Drive.
Albeni Cove is the smallest and most primitive COE campground at Lake Pend Orielle. If you're looking to take a back-to-nature, forget about the world for a while vacation, this could be the place for you. Though RVers should be aware that the road into the campground is rough gravel and difficult to negotiate in an RV.
The campground has fourteen campsites none of which have water, sewage or electricity hook-ups but do have grills and picnic tables. The campground facilities are of a decent standard and there are spigots for water and drinking water on site as well as showers and restrooms. There is a boat dock and ramp plus access to the water for swimming.
The Priest River Campground offers RVers who want to camp at Lake Pend Orielle the choice of twenty, standard non-electric campsites under the fir trees alongside the Priest River. The campsites don't have water or sewage hook-ups either but there is a spigot on the campground for visitor use plus showers and flush toilets. Campground facilities include picnic tales, softball court and an amphitheater. Campers should be aware that road noise from the nearby US2 can sometimes be heard.
Even though the Riley Creek Campground is the biggest of the COE campground for RVs at Lake Pend Orielle, you'll still find the peace and tranquillity you're searching for there. The campground has almost seventy campsites hidden among shady pine trees all of which have water and electricity hook-ups, picnic tables and fire pits.
The campground has two volleyball courts, a horseshoe pit and a fishing pier as well as a boat ramp and swimming beach. Hikers and bikers have direct access from the park to a trail which curves along the Pend Orielle River and through the forest.
RV camping at the COE Springy Point Recreation Area is an absolute delight. This campground is bordered by the Pend Orielle River and has forty campsites all secluded by towering firs and pine trees. The maximum RV and trailer length at the campground is thirty-five feet, but not all of the campsites can cater for this size of vehicle. Some are only suitable for RVs of twenty-five feet so double check the campsite you're planning on reserving is big enough to take the RV or trailer you have.
The campsites at Springy Point are all non-electric. There are also no hook-ups for water or sewage. The campsites are fitted with fire rings, grills and picnic tables. The site itself offers campers the use of a water spigot as well drinking water, public restrooms, coin-operated communal showers and a dump station. There is also a boat ramp and a small beach for swimming.
The Bonner County History Museum in Sandpoint is a great place to spend a morning or afternoon. There you can explore two floors of varied exhibits and artefacts which cover everything from the Idaho mining and logging industries to the area's indigenous inhabitants the Kalispell Indians. The museum offers a fascinating insight into Idaho's shadier past too with diverse exhibitions on the old-time brothels and saloons.
When parts of Lake Pend Orielle and the Pend Orielle River freeze over in winter they draw ice fishermen like a magnet. Popular catches can be anything from kokanee salmon to trout or yellow perch. With the world record holding trout being caught from Lake Pend Orielle, a whopping thirty-two pounder, if you're going ice fishing at the lake, you might want to think about taking some heavy duty tackle with you.
Surrounded by mountains as it is, it's no surprise that the areas around Lake Pend Orielle are a big draw for wintertime visitors who like to participate in snow-related sports. There are groomed trails for cross country skiing in the Farragut State Park and near the town of Ponderay there's the Pend Orielle Bay Trail which is ideal for snowshoeing.
To the north of the lake is the Schweitzer Ski Center, a three thousand acre winter wonderland with slopes for all skill levels. Even if you don't ski, it's worth going just to take the chair lift up to Sky House to see the Lake Pend Orielle from the top of the mountain.
Sit back, relax and let someone else do the navigating when you join a two-and a half hour cruise on Lake Pend Orielle at the Sandpoint Marina. On the cruise, while you enjoy the magnificent scenery, you'll listen to an informative narration from a professional guide on the area's history. For a truly unforgettable experience take a summertime cruise at sunset. The blaze of glorious colors looks even better when reflected on the lake water.
Whether you like to paddle a kayak or canoe or prefer to speed over the water on a jet ski, you'll find Lake Pend Orielle and the Pend Orielle River ideal places to do it. It's a superb spot for stand-up paddle boarding too and you'll find the scenery even more majestic when its viewed while floating on the water. All four of the COE campgrounds at Lake Pend Orielle have boat ramps, but Springy Creek and Priest River have proven to be the most popular for boating and water sports activities.
One definite must-do when you're RV camping at Lake Pend Orielle is to drive the Lake Pend Orielle Scenic Byway. It's a thirty-three and a half mile long route along the Idaho 200 which starts at Sandpoint and ends at the state boundary with Montana. The scenery on the drive defies description but guaranteed your senses will be overloaded with the incredible beauty of it all. There are pull-in spots along the route, with interpretive signage, where you can take your eyes off the road for a while, get out of your RV to wonder at the immensity of it all and take some memorable photographs.