Warm Lake is ringed with ponderosa pines, filled with sparking blue water, and the North Shore lodge has a postcard view of the whole thing.
The lodge was built in 1937, and while modernized (there’s WiFi, if you insist), it’s a throwback in a good way.
Ten rustic log cabins are spread throughout the forest, and families lounge on porches while kids splash in the shallow water off the beach. People cruise by on stand-up paddle boards, a jet skier leaves a white V-wake in the middle of the lake, and an angler in a pontoon boat fishes for trout.
The pace is slow and casual. Multiple generations of families meet there for family reunions, but there are also new visitors. A family from Arizona rolled in on bicycles. They’re riding the recently mapped “Idaho Hotsprings Trail,” a 500-mile route through Idaho’s backcountry that has attracted cyclists from as far away as Italy and Holland.
North Shore Lodge owner Tawni Robinson said Warm Lake’s relaxing atmosphere keeps people coming back.
The lodge has a restaurant and full bar where you can grab a pop, beer, burger or cocktail. If you’re inclined, there are horseshoe pits out back, and a karaoke machine waits in the bar.
Cabins at the lodge rent for $85 to $160 a night, depending on size, and sleep two to 10 people. All have bathrooms and showers, and most have kitchens with all utensils, so all you have to bring is food. For details and reservations, call 632-2000, or go to northshorelodgeidaho.com.
And that’s just one corner of the lake. There’s a lot more at Warm Lake and the surrounding areas, and with its 5,300-foot elevation, it’s a cool place to escape summer heat.
The Forest Service operates three campgrounds: Shoreline, Picnic Point and Warm Lake.
Shoreline, which is the largest campground, is within a short walk of the lodge and the lake. It’s best for large RVs and motorhomes because it has paved loops and parking pads. There are community water spigots and outhouses. There’s also a large group area with a picnic shelter.
Despite its name, it’s not on the shoreline, but it’s a short walk to the water. There’s a boat launch, dock and parking lot across from the campground.
Picnic Point is a walk-in site that has water, an outhouse and some of the best views of any campsite in the area. It’s tent-only camping, and there are large, level pads on platforms that will accommodate family-sized tents. Each campsite also has a picnic table and fire ring, and campsites are reservable. The campsites are concentrated in a fairly small area, so don’t expect seclusion.
Warm Lake Campground is on the opposite side of the lake and close to Warm Lake Road, so expect some road noise. It has a gravel loop with graveled campsites and raised, level platforms for tents. It also has picnic tables, fire rings and an outhouse.
All campgrounds at Warm Lake have reservable campsites at recreation.gov.
Warm Lake is about 640 acres. The main boat launch is located across from Shoreline Campground, which despite its name is actually in the trees a short walk from the lake.
The lake is no-wake from 6 p.m. until 11 a.m.
It’s big enough for skiing and wake boarding, but still manageable for small craft and human-powered boats like kayaks and canoes. North Shore Lodge rents kayaks, paddleboats and stand-up paddle boards with prices starting at $10 an hour. Boat rentals are available to the public.
The lake has rainbow trout, brook trout and lake trout (aka mackinaw) up to 20 pounds. Idaho Fish and Game stocks the lake several times a year, and it will have an additional 15,000 rainbows stocked by the Fourth of July, which should provide some good summer fishing.
The lake is big enough for motorboats and trolling, but also small enough that it doesn’t feel overwhelming in a small, human-powered craft.
Fish can also be caught from shore, so you don’t need a boat at all to do some fishing. A simple bait rig with worm and marshmallow or PowerBait will likely attract a trout, or you can use a bobber-and-worm rig to lure trout cruising near the surface.
Juniper Mountain Outfitters at nearby Stolle Meadows (about 7 miles away) offers horseback riding trips starting at $30 for a two-hour ride and up to $80 for a full-day ride with lunch included. For details or reservations, call 454-1322 or go to junipermountainoutfitters.com.
There are many backcountry Forest Service roads in the area for exploring. Get a Boise National Forest map to which roads are open. The road is also paved all they way to North Shore Lodge, so it’s a popular day trip for motorcycle touring.
Most of the roads in the area are fairly well-maintained Forest Service roads (they do get dusty and washboarded during summer), but they’re usable by most passenger cars. There are scenic drives along the South Fork of the Salmon River and Johnson Creek. You can link the two for a nice scenic loop and also check out the historic backcountry town of Yellow Pine, which makes a good lunch spot.
Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association and the Forest Service recently completely a mountain bike trail. Warm Lake is also on the route of the Idaho Hotsprings Route, a cycle tour that was mapped by the Adventure Cycling 517-mile loop from Ketchum that features backcountry roads, great scenery and lots of hot springs along the way. The route has become a destination trip that is attracting cyclists from throughout the U.S. and riders from as far away as Europe.
Warm Lake is also near the turnaround point for the annual 4 Summits Challenge, which will be July 25 starting at Cascade. The organized rides give cyclists the option of 8.5 miles (family ride) and out-and-back routes of 30 to 60 miles that include up to four summits. For details, go to 4summitschallenge.com.
Warm Lake is in the middle of prime wildlife habitat, and large wildfires in 2007 are now an explosion of regrowth of brush and young trees. The area is home to many deer, elk, bears and more, and the lake attracts many birds, including ospreys and bald eagles.
Take a cruise early in the morning or in the evening on back roads, and you’re likely to see deer and elk. As summer progresses, animals will be congregated around water.
Take Idaho 55 to Cascade. After crossing the North Fork of the Payette River on the north end of Cascade, Warm Lake Road is on right (east) side of the Idaho 55. Warm Lake is 26 miles up the road.