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Boating Destinations

Realistic options for East Idaho boaters

Published in the June 2022 Issue Published online: Jul 09, 2022 Discover Idaho Falls: Parks and Recreation, East Idaho Outdoors, Outdoors Brady Kay
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Sure, Lake Pend Oreille or Lake Coeur d’Alene are both beautiful mountain destinations, but when most boaters in our region think of local boating lakes they’re probably not expecting the opposite end of the state to show up as a realistic option. Depending on your search engine, you might even see Lake Powell as a suggestion, and that massive body of water is not even in Idaho.

To help provide boaters in our region with some real local options, we’ve come up with five popular lakes to consider. There are of course others, but these are five of our favorites. Our list is not necessarily ranked by popularity or by size, but rather listed by distance from Idaho Falls with Gem Lake being just minutes away as the closest, to the farthest being Henry’s Lake that is less than a 2-hour drive away.

We see plenty of powerboats in this section of the Snake River, but Gem Lake is best known for kayaks, canoes and smaller types of crafts. If you have a personal watercraft (PWC) or a jet boat, you can get a little closer to the iconic waterfalls if you want to travel up the river. For the most part, however, if you have a propeller, Gem Lake is quite limited in size.

There are two launch ramps and for a quick, after-work boating getaway, it’s hard to beat the distance as it is just south of downtown Idaho Falls off Yellowstone Highway. If that’s not close enough from downtown for you, above the scenic falls on the Snake River there is a boat ramp and a little section to explore that will take you towards Freeman Park.

Two parks provide the only public access to Ririe Reservoir: Blacktail Park and the Juniper Campground. Blacktail is about 20 minutes east of Idaho Falls yet feels very exclusive while also being a popular option for water sports and boating in our region. There are bathrooms, fire pits, pavilions, docks and two launch ramps on the Blacktail side, as well as ample parking.

A lot of boaters prefer Blacktail because it’s an easy place to launch boats of all sizes and there are plenty of areas to explore the reservoir. The waterway is narrow in some sections as you make your way toward the dam, but opens up on the section of the reservoir closest to Ririe.

The drive time to the Juniper Campground is more than double from downtown Idaho Falls versus heading to the Blacktail side, but the drive on US-26 is less of a winding road and not nearly as steep an incline when you head for home after leaving Blacktail Park.


Palisades Reservoir is a breathtaking body of water surrounded by tall, majestic mountains and a thick forest of trees. The reservoir has about 70 miles of shoreline and six access roads have been constructed. Public use facilities include five campgrounds, five picnic areas, and six boat ramps. Two boat clubs have facilities on the reservoir and private cabins have been constructed under permit from the Forest Service.

Fishing, motorized and non-motorized boating are all popular activities on the reservoir and it’s about an hour drive to the closest boat ramp from Idaho Falls, which is at the Blowout campground. While it’s a little farther than the first two, Palisades is well worth the extra miles on your odometer as it’s considered the best option for larger powerboats looking for mountain views with room to really open up and put the throttle down.

With multiple boat ramps, Island Park Reservoir is a popular option for boaters in our region and it’s less than an hour and half from Idaho Falls. It is a large scenic reservoir on the Henrys Fork that is stocked with rainbow trout and kokanee. Fishing is best from a boat, but there are plenty of other great ways to use your vessel on this body of water including tubing, waterskiing or just sightseeing.

Island Park Reservoir’s body of water covers 8,400 acres and the boat ramps/docks are located at Buttermilk Campground, Island Park, Lakeside Lodge, McCrea Bridge Campground, Mill Creek and the west end. For those with cabins in the area it’s an easy decision to boat here, but it’s just as popular for those coming from Idaho Falls or camping while in the area.

For this boating excursion you have just over a 1 1/2 hour drive from Idaho Falls, which isn’t too far for a lake known for its sport fishing. The most common species in the lake is Yellowstone cutthroat, which make up around 55 percent of the trout population.

On the south shore of the lake, Henrys Lake State Park is a 585-acre state park off of U.S. Highway 20 near Goose Bay and the Henrys Lake Outlet with hiking trails, camping facilities and a boat ramp. The lake is approximately 8 square miles in area, at 4 miles in length and 2 miles in width.

Henrys Lake is considered an angler’s paradise as the fishing draws people in, but there are multiple different ways to enjoy this body of water and it’s another great option for boaters in our area.


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