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Farragut State Park, 20 miles north of Coeur d’ Alene and 50 miles east of Spokane, has a fascinating background that other state parks within the United States can‘t claim. It was once the second-largest Navy training center in the world during World War II, and even housed German prisoners of war. Nearly 300,000 sailors trained here before shipping off to the war, and it was the largest city in Idaho between 1942 and 1946. Construction of the facility was rapid and started right after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The 4,000-acre state park is on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho, where you will find several RV rentals in Kootenai County.
The training center, named after Civil War admiral David Farragut, became obscure after the war was over. The land was transferred to the state of Idaho in 1949 and quickly became a hot spot for hiking, horseback riding, camping, and boating. Local wildlife includes birds of prey, deer, and mountain goats. Idaho officially created Farragut State Park in 1965. Don’t think that the Navy no longer has a presence here, however. The lake, which is 43 miles long and over 1,100 feet deep, makes a perfect setting for a submarine research station.
Farragut State Park has many easy hikes for the whole family, like the Squirrel Cache Trail loop that meanders for just over a mile through meadows and forests, and the out-and-back Shoreline Trail along Lake Pend Oreille. More difficult hikes include the six-mile round-trip Highpoint Trail, which takes you to Bernard Peak and outstanding views of the lake. In all, there are over 40 miles of hiking trails at Farragut State Park.
Farragut State Park camping is also open during the winter, when it’s a favorite for cross-country skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing. There are over six miles of groomed trails, including easy trails for beginners and more difficult trails for experienced skiers. The shortest trail is about a mile long, and snowshoers are invited to use the trails as well.
It should go without saying that the massive Lake Pend Oreille has great fishing, too. Anglers test their skills fishing for bass and trout and can launch a boat at one of the park’s two launches. If you want to be near the water without fishing, you can swim at Beaver Bay Beach, where the shallow water retains heat in an otherwise cold lake.
Farragut State Park is also home to adventures above the ground. RV campers will find an aerial adventure course with dozens of ziplines, rope swings, ladders, and swinging bridges. Test your balance on these obstacles with the comfort of knowing that you’re harnessed in to safety lines. The longest zipline is nearly the length of a football field.
Farragut State Park has a large capacity for rental RVs with 223 sites spread out among five campgrounds. Between all of these campgrounds, there are 61 standard sites without hookups, 156 sites with electric and water hookups, and 48 RV sites with full-service hookups. Seven sites within the park are wheelchair-accessible. Pets are allowed in the campgrounds and on the trails if kept on a leash.
All of the campgrounds at Farragut State Park offer guests showers and restrooms. Each site is also equipped with a fire ring and picnic table, with plenty of shade and privacy offered by the surrounding conifers. The state park campgrounds with water and electric hookups include Snowberry, Gilmore West, and Waldron. You’ll find full hookups at Gilmore East, though the restrooms there are only vault toilets. There are no hookups at Whitetail Campground, though this campground does have showers. Two dump stations are also spread out between the five campgrounds.
Everyone camping at Farragut State Park owes it to themselves to check out the Museum at the Brig. This old building, on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the few remaining buildings from the days of Naval training. It features old vehicles, films, and memorabilia from the sailors and training base. See how almost 1,000 German prisoners were brought here in the final days of the war and assisted with basic chores like cooking and maintenance. Within the park, you’ll also find a store with basic essentials and campground souvenirs.
Northern Idaho is beautiful, and the area around Lake Pend Oreille offers many other activities. There’s a breathtaking scenic byway around the northern end of the lake where you’ll also find additional hiking. Take an ATV tour, or spend a day at Silverwood Theme Park near Coeur d’ Alene where you’ll find roller coasters, water slides, restaurants, and shopping. If you still haven’t had your fill of state park camping yet, check out Round Lake State Park on your way to Sandpoint.
Athol is the closest town to Farragut State Park, but if you’re looking for gas and provisioning options, you may be better off in Coeur d’ Alene. The downtown area is home to many cute art shops and restaurants featuring homemade candies and barbecue. It’s also on Interstate 90 and is your gateway to more RV camping, with Spokane to the west and Missoula to the east.