Making it to Mud Lake

A wild and scenic day trip just north of Idaho Falls

Published online: Oct 21, 2021 Articles, Lifestyle, Road Trips Steve Smede
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Photos by Steve Smede

Looking for the perfect destination to spice up a summer or autumn weekend? You can find worthy targets in any direction, but sometimes it’s the short, overlooked jaunts that can provide the best recreational bang for the buck.

For a great example, consider a quick drive to Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area up in Jefferson County.

The creative force behind this 81-year-old haven is Camas Creek, which originally spread out across the area and disappeared into the aquifer of the eastern Snake River plain. Thanks to the construction of dikes over the years, what used to be a fluvial fan of “mud” has consolidated into a smaller but deeper water body that is teeming with all kinds of interesting flora and fauna. 

Depending on the season, Mud Lake is a great place for nature and wildlife enthusiasts to view resident critters and their broods. Just for sheer entertainment, it’s hard to beat the sight of eared grebes in early summer as they ferry their hatchlings up and down the surrounding canals. 

Into late summer and fall, fishing and big-game hunting opportunities also abound here, ranging from largemouth bass and perch (despite the lake’s shallow 5-foot average depth) to controlled hunts for deer, pronghorn and elk. (The latter kicks in around late August.)

Access to most of the property is possible via adjacent farm roads and a loop road that surrounds the lake. For water travel, there are two boat launch access sites, which are also the only two locations for overnight camping. Both offer restrooms, campfire rings and pavilions.

More than anything, Mud Lake is all about the birds. Seasonal quarry for hunters includes pheasant, sage grouse and waterfowl. For photographers, the area is also home to various songbirds, shore birds and birds of prey.

Flanking the shallow lake itself are two marshes and a congregation of wetlands  that provide stopover and nesting habitat. In fact, one nesting area on the west side of the WMA is considered to be so crucial that it is closed to all watercraft from April 1 – July 15. Land usage here is restricted to non-motorized travel, and hunting is prohibited. Furthermore, dogs must be on a leash in this area at all times.

If spotting and/or photographing insects is your thing, be on the lookout for dragonflies. They can be found in abundance along the canal banks.

Just a 45-minute drive north of Idaho Falls, Mud Lake is also just a stone’s throw from some other wildlife havens, including the Market Lake Wildlife Management Area and—just up the road— the Camas National Wildlife Refuge.

Got some pix to share from these locations or any other wild and wonderful places around the region? If so, head on over to idahofallsmagazine.com and submit your images for the annual East Idaho Community Photo Contest. 

Snake River Plain Aquifer

The Snake River and its aquifer in many ways control the economy of Idaho. Three million acres of farmland on the Snake River Plain are irrigated, with about 1/3 of this from wells and the rest from canals. Idaho has the highest per capita water consumption in the U.S.

—Idaho State University

Mud Lake Quick Facts

Established: 1940

Size of the area: 11,468 acres

Size of the lake: 4,500 acres

Average depth: 5 feet

County: Jefferson


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