Idaho by the Season

Idaho State Parks Offer Spectacular Camping Nearly Year-round.

In Idaho, camping season almost never ends for RVers. The state boasts such an extreme range of elevations that RV camping can run from February through November, depending on your location. And Idaho’s state parks are known for catering to off-season crowds.

If variety is what you seek, Idaho delivers it with drama. From low river canyons to high Rocky Mountains, from wind sculpted sand dunes to glacial alpine lakes – Idaho state parks are a showcase of scenic diversity.

Consider this: Hells Gate State Park, along the Snake River bordering Washington State, rests at an elevation of 713 feet. The terrain rises to 6,500 feet at the City of Rocks, near the Utah border. That makes for some amazing — and varied — camping.

Idaho RV seasonsOf course, even some of the low-elevation desert state parks shut down their campsite water supplies in the winter because of freezing temperatures, but that’s hardly a barrier to die-hard campers.

Hey, you’re in an RV and there’s electricity at the parks.

It’s not hard to camp by the season in Idaho. You can start by setting up camp at Bruneau Dunes State Park in southwest Idaho — with all its desert features — in late February or early March.

As the weather warms, most campers flock to mountain locations, like Ponderosa State Park, in the summer. Located at the mountain town of McCall, it’s a popular destination for RV campers who like sailing or motor boating on Payette Lake.

“It’s right near Payette Lake where we can go (sea) kayaking and it’s near for hiking,” said Jeff DeWitt of Idaho, who camps with his family in their travel trailer.

This year, the DeWitt family was camping by early June at Ponderosa and their travel trailer proved a cozy shelter against cool evening temperatures.

Fall is a good time of the year to visit mountain locations before the snows hit, and you can revisit Bruneau Dunes State Park in late

Idaho lake seasonsOctober or early November when temperatures are still fairly mild for a northern climate. And no matter where you are, Idaho’s state parks are usually located within minutes of major towns where you can dine out, restock supplies and regroup.

The state parks also lie along major interstates and north-south highways for convenient stopovers on long-distance trips across country or visit to the West Coast.

With lush scenery and varied geography, you don’t have to go far in Idaho to find a park that’s right for you, whatever the season.

Here are a few to whet your appetite:

Priest Lake State Park

Want to camp in some of the most incredible mountain and lake country in Idaho? Head to Priest Lake State Park in the northern part of the state this summer. The park lies on the shores of Priest Lake, a 19-mile-long lake at the base of the Selkirk Mountains near the Canadian border.

Amenities: RV campgrounds with dump station, electrical hook-ups, boat ramps, docks, and hiking and biking trails. Sites are 50-foot maximum.

Activities: Hiking or mountain biking on the northernmost tip of Idaho’s Centennial Trail by Upper Priest Lake which winds through lush forests. Priest Lake and Upper Priest Lake offer incredible boating for motor boaters, sail boaters and canoeists and touring kayakers. White-tailed deer, black bear, moose, waterfowl and bald eagles can be seen near or around the park. Grizzlies and caribou live deep in the nearby Selkirk Mountains.

Supplies: Area resorts offer services for campers and boaters. The park store at Indian Creek carries supplies, too.

Getting there: From Boise take Idaho 55 to New Meadows and continue on U.S. 95 to Sandpoint. Turn west on U.S. 2 to Priest River. The state park is 33 miles north on Idaho 57. It’s a full day’s drive from Boise to Priest Lake (about 480 miles). It’s also accessible from Spokane, Wash.

Information: (208) 443-2200 or

Farragut State Park

This park sits on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho — easily one of the state’s most beautiful spots for late spring through early-fall camping. Lake Pend Oreille is Idaho’s largest lake, sprawling across 94,600 acres and reaching 1,150 feet in its deepest spots. Besides the incredible backdrop of the Coeur d ́Alene Mountains, the lake offers trophy fishing for 30-pound trout, nationally rated sailing and wide-open water skiing.

Amenities: Full service hook-ups for water and electricity, a dump station and maximum 60-foot camp spaces. It sports nature trails, boat ramps and lots of places to go bike riding.

Activities: Hiking, mountain biking, motor boating or sailing are popular. The park also hosts lots of wildlife. Mountain goats can be seen on the mountains across the lake.

Supplies: Marinas can be found at the towns of Bayview, Sandpoint and Hope. Sandpoint is the place to dine out and go shopping.

Getting there: It’s an all-day drive from Boise. Head north on Idaho 55 to New Meadows, then U.S. 95 to Sandpoint. You can’t miss the lake. It’s also accessible by freeway from Washington and Montana to Coeur d ́Alene and then north.

Information: (208) 683-2425 or

Heyburn State Park

This park is located on Chatcolet and Benewah lakes and Hidden Bay, which are at the south end of Lake Coeur d ́Alene. It is said to be the oldest state park in the Northwest, dating back to 1908. Try it anytime from March through October.

Amenities: The 7,838-acre park includes three campgrounds and two boat marinas. Campgrounds offer full hookups for RVers, a dump station and maximum 55-foot sites.

Activities: Fish for trout, northern pike, bass and pan-fish. Marshes here are ideal for bird watching, especially waterfowl. To see the swans in early spring is a treat. Thick cedar and pine forests are home to deer and other wildlife. Check out the Chatq ́ele Interpretive Center in the former Rocky Point Lodge, which features information about the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Coeur d ́Alene Tribe, local history and wildlife. The lakes are also great for motor boating, sailing, canoeing, and sea kayaking.

Supplies: The towns of Moscow or Coeur d ́Alene are a little over an hour away, but are worth the drive for an evening out or shopping. The marina store at the park provides food, gas and camping gear. The town of Plummer is the closest place for stores and restaurants.

Getting there: From Boise, take Idaho 55 north to U.S. 95 and continue north to Plummer. Take Idaho 5 east to the park. Expect about a seven-hour drive. It is also easily accessible from Spokane and Coeur d’ Alene.

Information: Call the park at (208) 686-1308 or

Winchester Lake State Park

Winchester Lake State Park, north of Grangeville, has it all: a lake, woods, trails, and wildlife. It’s a family-friendly camping area, the perfect place to just pitch camp and hang out from late May through October.

Amenities: RV hookups, a dump station and 60-foot maximum sites. There are lots of summer programs for the kids. Be sure to visit the nearby Wolf Education and Research Center.

Activities: This is a mellow place with trails for short hikes or bike rides. Winchester Lake is stocked with trout and great to explore by canoe. Wildlife watching for deer, osprey, waterfowl and eagles lures many people here.

Supplies: Stock up in the towns of Grangeville or Lewiston before heading to the state park.

Getting there: Drive about five hours north of Boise on Idaho 55 and U.S. 95 to Winchester. Go through town and follow the signs to the park. It is also accessible from Spokane.

Information: (208) 924-7563 or

Bruneau Dunes State Park

This park is ideal for early spring and late fall when other campsites are snowbound. Shade trees and shelters also make it palatable for early summer campers. The main attraction is the sand dunes that rise 470 feet above two small lakes.

Amenities: Full-service hook-ups for RVs, a dump station and 80-foot maximum campsites. The park is a popular resting area for RVers traveling I-84 across Idaho to points West and Northwest. You’ll find hiking trails, and small docks for non-motorized boats.

Activities: Try skiing or boarding on the dunes, fly a kite or fish for bluegill and bass. Visitors also enjoy hiking and wonderful photography opportunities of the dunes and surrounding desert at sunrise and sunset. A visitor center features displays on local wildlife and information about how the unique sand dunes were formed.

Supplies: The town of Mountain Home to the north offers full services with cafes, burger joints and grocery stores.

Getting there: Drive east from Boise on Interstate 84 and turn onto Idaho 51 at Mountain Home. The park is just past the Snake River. Access is also available on the interstate coming in from Salt Lake City and points east.

Information: (208) 366-7919 or

Ponderosa State Park

The park occupies a peninsula jutting into the azure waters of Idaho’s Payette Lake near McCall in the west-central part of the state. In June, visitors will find wildflowers around Meadow Marsh, ranging from blue camas to wild orchids. Camping is good from late May through October.

Amenities: Electric and water hookups, a dump station and 80-foot maximum sites. It’s a busy park in the summer and reservations are hard to get but worth it. Fall is a good time to visit as crowds decrease.

Activities: Picnicking, nature trails, bird watching and viewing wildlife, including deer, red fox, beaver, muskrat, and bear. Canoeing or sea kayaking close to shore is popular. Try beaching in one of the coves for a picnic. The lake is known for water-skiing or wake boarding, but bring a wet suit. This is a former glacial lake, so the water is chilly, even in the summer. Nearby, the Brundage Mountain Ski Resort keeps chairlifts running in the summer for mountain bikers and hikers.

Don't ForgetSupplies: The town of McCall offers a variety of restaurants, from ethnic cuisine to burger shacks. You’ll find high-end grocery stores and hometown drug stores, espresso shops, and drive-through food. Camp and enjoy a night on the town only a few minutes away.

Getting there: McCall is 102 miles north of Boise. Take Idaho 55 to McCall and look for the signs to Ponderosa State Park.

Information: (208) 634-2164 or



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