Exploring the Inland Northwest, one lake at a time

Ali Blackwood paddles across Medical Lake, a nearby favorite ideal for beginners. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
Ali Blackwood paddles across Medical Lake, a nearby favorite ideal for beginners.

Ask any Inlander what their weekend plans are between the months of May and September and you're likely to get one answer: Going to "the lake."

Those of us without lakefront property or a boat of any kind have to find other ways to get out on the water, and my vehicle of choice is my inflatable stand-up paddleboard (aka iSUP.) It's as stable as a hard board, inflates in about 15 minutes, and when deflated it rolls up compactly to easily fit in the trunk of my tiny Hyundai.

But then comes the question — which lake is "the lake" for you? Luckily, the Inland Northwest is a paddler's paradise, with lakes upon lakes (and a few rivers) within an hour's drive in any direction. But you might feel overwhelmed when deciding where to go. With that in mind, I set out to find the best paddle spots in the INW.

[Disclaimer: This is not an exhaustive list, and I haven't paddled every lake in the INW... yet. So if your "the lake" isn't listed here, that's OK. Email me at alissiaB@inlander.com so I can check it out!]

Young Kwak photo


I've perfected the "after work" paddle trip. I always keep a swimsuit, towel and my iSUP at the ready in my car. When 5:30 pm rolls around, I leave Inlander headquarters, hop in the car and head west, toward the FOUR LAKES area. It's so close, I can get from our office door to on the water in under 45 minutes, including time spent inflating my board!

MEDICAL LAKE is great for beginners. It's one of the many no-wake lakes in the area, meaning that boats aren't allowed to go fast enough to create waves on the water. When you're just learning to SUP, those wakes can take you by surprise and knock you off the board and into the water. Medical Lake is a calm, quiet little lake and perfect for a quick paddle.

Just a bit east of Medical Lake you'll find SILVER LAKE. Bigger than Medical Lake, you can get a real workout by paddling the five miles from the boat launch to the southern end of the lake and back again!

CLEAR LAKE is another of the 'Four Lakes' in the area. There are some fun little bays to explore, and I always see interesting wildlife on the water there. You'll notice lots of people — and herons — fishing in the marshes of Clear Lake.

Since we're talking "close to home," we can't forget the river running right through our city! The SPOKANE RIVER can be a great, easy-to-access paddle, provided you pick the right spot. One of the best is right downtown, and you don't even have to bring your own board. Rent a locally made iSUP from Fun Unlimited (cdasports.com) and spend an hour on the river in the heart of Spokane. If owning your own board seems like a bit too much of a commitment, Fun Unlimited also offers season passes ($119) for unlimited rentals at their Spokane and Post Falls locations.


If you're looking for a little more room to explore, pack the car and head to southern LAKE PEND OREILLE via Farragut State Park. I like to put my board in the water at the Beaver Beach swimming area of Idlewild Bay and paddle along the shoreline toward Blackwell Point, stopping to explore small beaches along the way.

My first paddleboard experience is one I like to revisit often: LAKE COEUR D'ALENE near Tubbs Hill. It's got it all: easy to access, plentiful bends in the shoreline to explore and beautiful views, making it a great spot for beginner and experienced paddlers alike. And, when you're done, you're already in the heart of downtown Coeur d'Alene and have your pick of restaurants to enjoy your victory beer.

Children play at the base of the waterfall at Horseshoe lake. - HILLARY BERRY PHOTO
Hillary Berry photo
Children play at the base of the waterfall at Horseshoe lake.

One of my all-time favorite paddle spots is HORSESHOE LAKE, just outside of Deer Park. I love a lake with a unique shape (surprise, surprise, this one's a horseshoe) because it feels like an adventure when you're paddling around a bend to see what's on the other side. Horseshoe Lake has especially interesting sights that make for a fun exploratory day of paddling. Across the lake you'll find pools to relax in at the bottom of a waterfall, right next to cliffs that some people enjoy jumping off of into the water. A bit further around the bend, there's a hiking trail that leads to a natural "well" (basically a giant hole) in a large boulder that some people call the "Devils Well." Continue paddling all the way around the bend of the "horseshoe" to hang out at the other side of the tree-lined lake.


I hope this list of places to hit the water helps you get started on your own paddle adventures! Maybe when you've checked them all out, you'll have your own "the lake" to escape to on hot summer days. Or you can keep on exploring the way I do, by visiting a new lake every weekend. How do I choose? It's as simple as searching "public boat launch" on Google Maps and just picking a direction to drive. They're not always winners — there have been a few duds, for certain — but it's always an adventure.

click to enlarge YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo


It wouldn't be a paddle trip without snacks, if you ask me. I always carry jerky, dried fruit and some KIND bars in my dry bag. For longer trips, we'll pack a small soft-sided cooler with more treats like string cheese, fresh fruits and veggies, and many, many cans of sparkling water. Remember: pack it in, pack it out. Be careful not to let any of your garbage fall off of your board into the water.


Most, if not all, of the public boat launches in Washington state require a Discover Pass to park your car. You can purchase yours at discoverpass.wa.gov. Don't forget to display it prominently each time! To visit parks in Idaho, you'll need the Idaho State Parks Passport — parksandrecreation.idaho.gov.


Before you hit the water, you need to have a life jacket. Some local laws only require the presence of the life preserver on your watercraft, while others make it mandatory to wear it at all times. But regardless of the law, it's important to remember that a life jacket can't do its job unless you're wearing it.


A bit of pre-planning can take a day of paddling from good to great. You have your board, paddle and your life jacket, but what else should you bring? Always bring a large WATER BOTTLE with plenty of water. Hydration is important! You'll find CARABINERS handy for attaching your flip flops and your DRY BAG (a must-have) to your board — you don't want them to fall off and float away or sink! Your dry bag also keeps your first aid kit, whistle, snacks, keys, hat, jacket, sunscreen and other items dry. If you want to bring your phone, you'll need a WATERPROOF PHONE POUCH, most of which have clear sides so you can take photos without taking it out. If you want to listen to some tunes, bring along a WATERPROOF BLUETOOTH SPEAKER, but be polite and only play the music loud enough for you and your group to hear. Not everyone on the lake has the same taste in music.


Before your first trip, plunk your paddle in shallow water and time how long it takes to sink. Some paddles float, but others don't, and you don't want to find that out in the middle of the water. If your paddle sinks quickly, consider cutting a length of pool noodle to wrap around it. It looks a bit silly, but not as silly as you'll look using your hands to paddle back to shore.

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