All Summer Long

Boating in southeast Idaho

Published in the April 2014 Issue Published online: Apr 24, 2014 East Idaho Outdoors Brady Kay
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There’s a reason why Kidd Rock didn’t choose to shoot his boating video “All Summer Long” in southeast Idaho. No offense, but when it comes to regions in the U.S. that are strictly known for boating, we’re not exactly one of them. However, what we are known for in our corner of year-around recreational paradise are some great boating waters that give locals plenty of summertime options. For those living in this region, there are at least five great lakes that are ideal for summer boating.

Gem Lake

Gem Lake is a dammed section of the Snake River that is located just south of Idaho Falls. A lot of boaters prefer to use the launch ramp on the east side because it includes a beach/picnic area. To access, just take W 49th S off of South Yellowstone Highway, which is the road just south of the Fielding Cemetery. The other boat launch is near the dam on the west side. Off 1-15, take exit 113 and just head east on Highway 26. Just before you get to the bridge that crosses Gem Lake, take the road that intersects and follow it around until you reach the launch ramp.

Because Gem Lake is part of the Snake River and a relatively short drive for those of us living in Idaho Falls, a lot of water enthusiasts consider this a great short-notice body of water for those quick trips to the lake after work. The drawbacks include debris in the water during spring runoff and shallow water is certain areas, but for the most part there is plenty of room to let loose and enjoy this small body of water.


Palisades Dam is an earth-fill dam that was completed in 1957 and is also part of the Snake River. Located southeast of Swan Valley, Palisades is a high-altitude reservoir and part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Surrounded by steep forested mountains, the 16,000-acre reservoir is an excellent spot for boating and camping.

When it comes to distance from Idaho Falls, size of lake and water depth, the Palisades Dam is just the opposite when compared to Gem Lake. It’s about 55 miles southeast of Idaho Falls so you can easily get here in less than an hour on US-26 E while towing a boat. Most choose to make a day of it because of the distance from Idaho Falls. For larger boats, this body of water is especially attractive since the lake is wide open and ideal for water sports. 

Ririe Reservoir

For my family, in this Goldilocks tale of favorite boating lakes, the third option is just right. Ririe Reservoir, located on Willow Creek, is just south of Ririe on Highway 26. We’ve been launching on the Blacktail side of the reservoir for over a dozen years and it’s still our favorite local place to boat. It’s plenty big for our needs, plus a shorter drive. The 1,500-acre reservoir with 32 miles of shoreline is great for boaters, plus the deep canyons help make it one of the most scenic bodies of water around.

Besides waterskiing, wakeboarding and tubing, by having a boat on this reservoir you can reach places that are only accessible to boaters including two, day-use picnic areas towards the center of the reservoir that include bathroom facilities. There are also a couple of different cliff jumping spots that only the locals seem to know about. Throughout the lake there are several floating docks that you can tie up to on a first-come, first-served basis and despite a few narrow areas; there is plenty of room to safely pull skiers and tubers—even on a busy summer afternoon.

Henry’s Lake

A fourth boating option is Henry’s Lake in Island Park. Many tourists enjoy Island Park year around and for good reason, it seems this area is always in season for something fun and recreational.

Henry's Lake is a mountain lake at an altitude of 6,470 feet and is about 15 miles west of Yellowstone National Park. Like a lot of the boating in our area, the summer boating season in Island Park is short because here, snowstorms can occur at any time of year. However, if you’ve spent any time in southeast Idaho you understand the weather risks and it’s not enough to keep you from enjoying the 585-acre Henry's Lake State Park that includes a boat ramp with a fish-cleaning station nearby. The state park offers 44 camping sites and three rental camping cabins that put campers on the shoreline, which makes this a perfect family reunion destination. Nearby lodges and outfitters in Island Park rent canoes, paddleboats, rowboats, rubber rafts, pontoon boats PWCs and motorboats.

Redfish Lake

Last but certainly not least is Redfish Lake, an alpine lake in central Idaho that is located in the Sawtooth National Recreation area at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains in Custer County. It’s about a 4 hour drive from Idaho Falls so it’s not exactly a local lake, but it’s hard to leave off the list for options in our area.

Redfish Lake sits at an elevation of 6,550 feet, where the water is crystal clear and the beaches are sandy. Redfish Lake is a pristine glacier carved lake, with watercraft rentals, lake shuttles, and boat tours readily available. Because of the drive, it makes for a great weekend retreat or summer vacation hot spot.


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