Lake Pend Oreille

The Lake Proper

In winter, some of the water intended for later release into the lake is stored and refrigerated at the nearby Schweitzer ski area. Here in North Idaho, we try to use the water more than once.

Photo: A distant view of the top (north) arm of the lake, running east-west

There are various possible launch sites and many possible trips for each of those. I tend to use the launch sites along the top arm of the lake, stretching from roughly Sandpoint to the Clark Fork area. These would include:
  • Memorial Field Boat Ramp
  • 3rd Avenue Pier - limited parking, touchy neighbors
  • Sandpoint City Beach - between boat ramps
  • Pack it in, Pack it out site along Sunnyside Road
  • Hawkins Point
  • Trestle Creek Boat Ramp
  • Pringle Park (East Hope)
  • Johnson Creek (near Clark Fork)
Springy Point Campground, on the south side of the river, also has a boat ramp. It's location makes it less convenient for those driving from Sandpoint.

There is a full on nautical map of the lake - compass Rose, latitude and longitude markings, etc. I got mine at:
Ward Tollbaum studio
323 N. 1st Avenue
Sandpoint, ID  83864

One of my favorite trips is to launch at 3rd Avenue Pier - close enough to my home that I can use kayak wheels for transport, rather than using the auto. My route then is as follows:
  • 3rd Avenue Pier
  • under the Long Bridge
  • head for Contest Point, passing under the railroad bridge along the way
  • from Contest Point, cross the Bottle Bay opening, heading for Anderson Point
  • from Anderson Point, head to the north side of Warren Island
  • from Warren Island, head to the rather hidden Pringle Park boat ramp (immediately east of the old Litehouse Restaurant but short of the wee marina)
At 12 nautical miles one way, this is enough paddling for my typical day trip. So I must persuade my wife to pick me up at Pringle Park with the car. Before going home, it is usuallly necessary to have pizza at Old Ice House Pizzeria & Bakery in East Hope..

The background scenery (looking east) toward the end of this trip, from Anderson Point to Warren Island, is dramatic as the Green Monarch mountains plunge into the lake - especially before the winter snows have totally disappeared.

Photo: Green Monarchs as seen from a kayak

Tributaries at their interface with the lake

The lake level is drawn down for winter, sometimes by as much as 10 feet. The four tributaries discussed here are best traveled when the lake is at or near full pool level - either for safety reasons or to make certain sections passable.

◊ Pack River Delta

This excursion is best undertaken when the lake is near full pool level and when the Pack River has calmed down from its spring frenzy. These times generally coincide. Of course, heavy rains will temporarily return the Pack to frenzy. One can launch either at Hawkins Point or the Trestle Creek Boat Ramp. In either case, you head north to pass under the railroad trestle separating the delta from the lake.

Photo: Railroad trestle at Pack River Delta

There have been recent attempts (spring 2009) to restore the habitat that once flourished in the delta, also known as the Pack River Flats. If successful, songbirds, waterfowl, deer, moose, mastodons etc. should return in larger numbers.

Photo: In the Pack River Flats

We generally work our way along the western edge of the delta and eventually cross under the U.S. Highway 2 bridge. As one continues beyond this point, the currents become more interesting. There are some good landing spots and swimming holes. There are also some evil, muddy landing spots luring the unwary and devouring their footwear..

◊ Johnson Creek at the Clark Fork Delta

The Johnson Creek boat ramp can be accessed by turning south as directed by the sign along US Hwy 2 in Clark Fork. There is plenty of parking and you launch into the delta, but weekends during the summer high season are better avoided. The delta passages are somewhat narrow and much less pleasant when crowded.  Note: On this part of the lake, "crowded" implies that you might see other people.

Photo: In the Clark Fork Delta

Once you enetr the big lake, hang a left, and work your way along the unpopulated shore. There are several nice places to stop for a snack/stretch break, but on a crowded summer weekend these can be occupied.

Photo: Sacred Woman Beach

I've seen beaver, eagles, osprey, various songbirds, waterfowl etc. in this area where a typical trip launches in the delta and makes its way into the big lake before returning.

◊ Fry Creek a.k.a. Sagle Slough

This empties into the lake just east of the south end of Sandpoint's longbridge (better get a map or draw a picture). It is much more easily navigated when the lake is at or near full pool. Possible launch sites would include Sandpoint City Beach, 3rd Avenue Pier, and Springy Point Campground. The last might be the launch of choice, if the prevailing winds were strong and southerly.

The most interesting feature of this trip is the change in surroundings along the way. As one starts into the creek, both sides are lined with houses and docks - North Idaho's failed attempt at emulating Venice. Once you paddle under the bridge for Bottle Bay Road, you enter a small lake complete with a tiny island. Here the shore seems rural, with houses spaced far apart and even some farms. The shoreline has remnants of wetlands. At the south end of the wee lake the creek resumes its gentle climb, now with shores that are relatively wild.

We do this ~ 2.537 hour round trip (from 3rd Avenue Pier) at most once per season. Although of interest, the urban portion is not to our taste - further, the opportunities to stop for a break are very limited. However, it is interesting and worth at least one visit.

Sandcreek and the BySore

Sandpoint, an old mill town in a beautiful natural setting, has diversified since the lumber industry declined. Despite diversification it is primarily a tourist destination with tourist dollars being the main economic engine. It not only has the large lake (Pend Oreille), but also significant mountains for summer and winter activities. The semi-major Schweitzer ski area is a mere 30 minute drive from downtown.

For decades, there has been a strong push to route traffic from US Highway 95 around the town core. The battle for an appropriate solution has been bitter and long. The route was finally chosen, legal delays circumvented, and construction is now underway. It will lie along Sandcreek, a waterway that separates downtown from a narrow peninsula, jutting into the lake. That peninsula is home to such things as
  • the city beach
  • a motel
  • a condo development
  • an Amtrak station

This choice puts a major freeway between the city center and Lake Pend Oreille. For a small city, attempting to be a tourist attraction, this unesthetic solution seems almost suicidal. Nevertheless, the bitter battle is over. However, its traces remain with supporters of this route referring to it as

  • The Sandpoint Byway

and opponents using terminology such as

  • City Beach Freeway


  • The Bysore (constructed from Byway and Eyesore)
I was (and remain) an opponent to the current route, but the Fat Lady has sung. This sort of destruction happened once before, when the town was founded. Early photos show a squalid mill town on a heavily forested lake shore. The native Americans in this locality must have been depressed and shocked by this modern progress.

A typical, ~3 hour, kayak trip described in this account, was along the devastated area.

From Launch to Sandcreek

I strapped my kayak on the two-wheeled cart and took the 7 minute walk to the Third Avenue Pier for launch into Lake Pend Oreille. People along the way have tired of me saying, "It's like walking your dog, but you don't need a plastic bag." - so nowadays I just say "Hello". After launch, I paddled toward and finally under the Long Bridge (US Highway 95) at the south end of town, next under the Burlington Northern - Santa Fe railroad bridge and finally under a second railroad bridge to enter Sandcreek. This basically traces out a U-shaped path and takes an unhurried half hour or so. There I immediately encountered the first Bysore bridge, still embryonic.

Photo: Bysore Bridge South

Passing by Downtown

By this date, the lake was at full pool level and going upstream was in nearly slack water. As I passed the east edge of downtown, making my way north, I could see that vegetation has been scraped from the peninsula bank and that quite a bit of earthen fill has been pushed into the creek and stabilized.  The rope swing and its tree, once providing a Norman Rockwell style charm, have been removed. "Sandpoint has lost its lucky charm", some say. All this will be attractively vegetated/landscaped as the project moves forward.

From Cedar Street Bridge to North-of-Town

Once I passed under the Cedar Street Bridge (the local version of Ponte del Vecchio), I was out of the downtown area - but the left side of my course remained somewhat urban/residential while the right side was beginning to show signs of the Bysore construction. However, looking straight toward Schweitzer, the view was relatively pristine, but with bridges here and there.

Photo: Looking North toward Schweitzer

Under US Highway 95 Once More

After I passed beneath another US Highway 95 bridge, this one at the north end of town, Sandcreek began making the familiar S-curves common in wetlands and eventually became impassable even for kayaks due to its shallow flow. This northern stretch remains relatively wild with waterfowl, ospreys, and an occasional eagle. Nevertheless, there are occasional glimpses of houses and a shopping mall with its attendant micro-malls. I don't believe the Bysore will directly impact this area. By now I was ready to head home (1 1/2 hours away) after a stop for a stretch break.
Photo: One of Sandcreek's many bridges

The Upshot

When the Bysore is completed, this trip will be different in several ways. Despite the revegetation of the peninsula side of the creek, anything remotely wild and disheveled in the segment downstream from the Cedar Street Bridge will be sanitized and maintained. This wasn't the prettiest part of the paddle anyway. But the major change will be the sight and sound of the City Beach Freeway traffic. I suspect that, like the native Americans, my kayak will not return here - except, perhaps, early on a Sunday morning when traffic would hopefully be light.

Pend Oreille River - Sandpoint Vicinity

There are some really splendid paddling opportunities on this river that are not in the Sandpoint vicinity. For example, one I haven't tried yet is from Metaline Falls to the Boundary Dam. Here we'll stick to the Sandpoint vicinity, going downstream as far as Laclede. The salient launch sites are
  • Sandpoint City Beach
  • 3rd Avenue Pier
  • Memorial Field boat ramp
  • Laclede boat ramp
  • Morton Slough access ramp
When I have limited time, I wheel my kayak to 3rd Avenue Pier and pick round trip destinations such as
  • Dover Bay Resort
  • Springy Point
Kayaking from the 3rd Avenue Pier launch to Dover Bay's swimming beach probably takes about an hour. The route lies along the river's north shore, past a mix of dwellings, ranging from ostentatious mega houses with their splendid docks to more modest cottages. At Dover Bay, the bathroom facilities there seem to be open during the week, but not on weekends. There are wetlands accessible via sloughs when the lake is at full pool level. Presumably these should be avoided in the nesting season.

Paddling from the 3rd Avenue Pier launch to Springy Point takes less than an hour, maybe 45 minutes. Springy Point is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's campground with 38 (no hookup) campsites offering such amenities as hot showers and a boat ramp. It is tucked in behind a small sand spit on the south side of the river. I'm not sure whether the spit is part of the campground or not - I'm guessing not. The inner shore of the sand spit is a nice protected spot to land, if needed. This is a great space for a swim. The sand spit also has a scary outhouse - where can the waste leach, other than into the lake?

If one launches at Laclede, on the river's northwest shore, it is an easy paddle to cross the river when the winds are low. This gets you to Morton Slough and other vestigial wetland features with a good possibility of spotting waterfowl, osprey, and eagles.

Photo: Eli off Morton Slough