The marina and city beach area of downtown Sandpoint, Idaho, with boats filling the docks on Lake Pend Oreille on a summer day in the Idaho panhandle.

Idaho's Most Charming Beach Towns

Few travelers come to the landlocked state of Idaho with beaches in mind. However, it is a state with over 2,000 lakes, from the massive Lake Pend Oreille to the stunning Priests Lakes. Many of these lakes have excellent public beaches, providing a plethora of outdoor recreation opportunities for visitors and residents alike. While one of the more popular beach cities in Idaho is Coeur d’Alene, home to the lovely City Park Beach along Lake Coeur d’Alene, there are many charming beach towns tucked throughout the state that offer a calmer vibe.


Drone aerial view of Cascade Lake in Cascade, Idaho
Cascade Lake in Cascade, Idaho.

Located about 70 miles north of Boise, Cascade has about 1,000 full-time residents and is the seat of Valley County. With the completion of Cascade Dam across the Payette River in 1948, Cascade became a lakeshore town. Cascade Lake, the fourth-largest lake in the state, is renowned for fishing, sightseeing, and watersports, as well as Cascade Lake Beach. Once done kayaking or sailing on the lake, biking or hiking the surrounding trails is great for adventure seekers, or just enjoying the white sand and blue water. Then head into town for a range of shopping, dining, and entertainment options. Many visitors stay at the large Tamarack Resort, located along the lakeshore just outside of town.


Summer fun at Cavanaugh Bay on Priest Lake as local Idahoans and tourists enjoy the lakefront boat docks and beaches in the mountains of the North Idaho panhandle.
Cavanaugh Bay on Priest Lake. Image credit Kirk Fisher via Shutterstock

The unincorporated community of Coolin is not what you would call a buzzing beach town, but rather a sleepy hamlet in Idaho’s northern panhandle. Coolin rests at the southern tip of Priest Lake, a 19-mile-long, narrow glacial lake that stretches nearly to the border with Canada. Priest Lake State Park has fantastic amenities for camping, hiking, biking, boating, and more, as well as an excellent beach along the lake. The lake region has nearly perfect summertime beach weather, with average highs around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. For visitors who prefer a cooler beach trip, though, the Coolin area receives regular snow but generally avoids bone-chilling temperatures.


Moose statue by a log structure on a corner in Ketchum, Idaho, United States, close to Sun Valley, with mountains in the background.
Ketchum, Idaho, close to Sun Valley.

Located in the Wood River Valley in the south-central region of Idaho, Ketchum is adjacent to Sun Valley, a town that bills itself as home to the first ski resort in the United States. Both Sun Valley and Ketchum have transformed over recent decades into mountain escapes for the well-to-do, including celebrities, although Ketchum retains a bit more of its character as a former mining town. Ketchum also offers its 3,500 or so permanent residents (as well as many visitors) easy access to excellent beaches, including, Sun Valley Lake, Magic Reservoir, Alturas Lake, and Petit Lake. There are many campsites around the lakes for those interested in staying the night, as well as picnic, recreation, and watersports amenities.


Aerial view of Payette Lake in McCall Idaho surrounded by evergreen trees and mountains.
Payette Lake in McCall Idaho.

The west-central Idaho community of McCall, located at the western edge of Valley County, is a resort town that is best known as a winter wonderland. However, situated on the southern shores of Payette Lake, and amidst the Payette National Forest, McCall is a four-season destination. Travelers flock to the town as well as Davis Beach along the lakeshore. McCall’s year-round population of around 3,000 can triple during summertime as visitors hit the beach and enjoy the many options for outdoor recreation, sightseeing, entertainment, shopping, and dining. McCall hosts numerous festivals and music and art events that take advantage of the warm days and cool nights of summer.


Boats on the dock at Mirror Lake, Sagle, Idaho.
Mirror Lake, Sagle, Idaho.

Sagle is an unincorporated community with a small and spread-out year-round population, but it serves as the central hub for access to the southern and western shores of Lake Pend Oreille in the far north of the Idaho panhandle. While travelers can pass through Sagle and cross the lake to access the larger lake-and-mountain resorts in and around the town of Sandpoint, a gem of a beach lies just east of town. Whether visitors choose to utilize the campground or just drive in for the day, Green Bay Campground Beach—operated by the US Forest Service—offers an uncluttered beach experience with stunning mountain views and cool, clear water.


View of Lake Pend Oreille and the town of Sandpoint, Idaho, from the top of the mountain
Lake Pend Oreille and the town of Sandpoint, Idaho.

If the village of Sagle is the hub for access to the quieter south side of Lake Pend Oreille, the town of Sandpoint is the focal point for the somewhat busier north side of the lake. With a year-round population of a little under 9,000, Sandpoint is the largest and most bustling town in the area. In addition to the lovely town—named one of the nation’s most beautiful in 2011—and the resorts located there, visitors to Sandpoint can access the extremely family-friendly City Beach. With calm, shallow water, soft sand, stunning mountain backdrops, and lots of fun activities close by, City Beach in Sandpoint is a great choice for kids.

St. Charles

Bear Lake from North Beach Road, Saint Charles, Idaho
Bear Lake, Saint Charles, Idaho.

Situated in far southeastern Idaho in Bear Lake County, St. Charles is a quiet little town with only about 150 full-time residents. Dotted with vacation homes for those seeking a rural getaway, St. Charles is right next to one of the state’s best beaches—North Beach at Bear Lake State Park. Situated on a thin strip of land separating Mud Lake (which is part of a nature preserve) and Bear Lake, North Beach offers two miles of pristine beachfront leading into the turquoise blue water (due to high limestone levels) of Bear Lake. The lake bottom slopes gently away from the shore, making for ideal swimming and family-fun beach.

Beach towns in Idaho are not like the big, busy beach towns found all along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States—they are by and large calmer, quieter, and smaller. However, for travelers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of ocean beach towns, Idaho can be a welcome relief. From the stunning mountain vistas to the refreshing lake waters to the friendly people all around, Idaho’s charming beach towns are well worth a visit.

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