Carefree Camping at Idaho's Pristine Upper Priest Lake
A low key weekend getaway, artfully captured on B&W medium format film
Upper Priest Lake has long been a favorite day hike for Theresa and I, being just a quick 45 minute drive from our home in Priest River, Idaho. And while we typically opt for more remote locations when backpacking, the 3-mile hike into the campground at the southern end of the lake has a total elevation change of maybe 10 feet, making it an easy, low-key weekend option without the logistical commitment of a longer hike.
On a recent Friday we left work early with our pup Olive, and a couple days worth of food, and gear, and hustled up to the lake in an effort to snag a decent spot before the tourist “crowds” arrived. Fortunately our fears proved unfounded, and after a brisk 45 minute hike we found ourselves in possession of one of the prettiest campsites on the lake.
The beauty of Upper Priest is that it is only accessible by foot or boat, which means it tends to be a little less crowded than it’s much larger parent (Priest Lake) to the south. It still gets a lot of daytime traffic, but we were delighted to find that around 5pm, the crowds disappeared, leaving the place pretty much to ourselves, save for a couple other campers.
"It’s hard for me to resist a legitimate skinny dipping opportunity..."
Saturday found us hiking an 3 easy miles to the north end of the lake. Along the way we found a prime huckleberry patch, and—bear spray in hand—stopped to pick enough for huckleberry pancakes the next morning. In the evening we watched as hundreds of mayflies hatched offshore, accompanied by the slurps and splashes of hungry cutthroat trout. I even found time to string up my fly rod and haul a few in before settling back in by our campfire to watch the daylight fade.
Sunday morning the other overnighters headed out early, leaving us completely alone. In such a setting, it’s hard for me to resist a legitimate skinny dipping opportunity, so after a quick check around the empty campground I enjoyed a pipe in the buff, and one last dip beneath the rippling water before hitting the trail home.
Elias Carlson is a photographer and graphic designer based in Priest River, Idaho. When not concocting excuses to road trip, hike, or flyfish all over the west coast, Elias and his wife Theresa can usually be found at home making pourover coffee or cocktails (depending on the time of day). Follow Elias and Theresa on Instagram for more dreamy outdoors photography