Payette Lake just a mile due East of McCall is a water lover’s paradise located in West Central Idaho. The lake was formed due to glacial run-off millions of years ago and is situated in the upper drainage basin of the Payette River that leads to the Snake River. At an elevation of 5,118 feet, the lake is world-renowned for its beauty, heralded around the world as one of the most beautiful lakes many have ever seen.
When the lake water is low in the summer, visitors can see hundreds of tree trunks emerging from the water. In the winter, the lake is near tons of cold-weather sports like cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. Replete with wildlife like crocodiles, fish, and birds like the Western Grebes and Sandhill Cranes, all to observe in their natural habitat.
Payette Lake is also a hub of water-related activities and recreational sports, from swimming, sailing, kayaking, jet-skiing, canoeing, motor-boating, upright paddle-boarding, to leisurely picnics along its glorious banks. With so much to do at this lake, visitors and their families are enamored with its romantic sunsets equally as much as with its opportunities to enjoy the water at faster speeds. When you’re ready to take in the majesty of Payette Lake on your vacation to McCall, Idaho, be sure to plan ahead and choose your top few favorite activities because you can easily become overwhelmed with the plethora of choices on the lake’s crystal blue water.
When in McCall, you can visit the Payette National Forest located at 800 West Lakeside Ave, McCall, ID 83638-3602 in order to find out the best access points on the lake for different activities. For more information, call the Forest Reserve at (208) 634-0700.
Everyone loves boating on Payette Lake because it is such a show-stopping feat of Mother Nature. You’ll find the lake filled with motorboats, jet skis, paddle boarders, and all types of boats, including sailing boats and motorboats.
One of the most famous boat makers on Payette Lake is McCall Boat Works. They’ve been rescuing old boats and building their own out of old barn wood for ages. Their wood series boats are circa 1922 to 1967, com[pletely refurbished by taking them apart and replacing all the factory wood with new wood, a new bottom, new chrome, and all the fixings of a brand new boat, ready to sail or motor on Payette Lake. McCall Boats even stamps the original hull numbers on the new wood so that it remains the same boat that once shined on the water.
To canoe or boat on Payette Lake, there are multiple entry points, but a popular one is from the boat launch off of Lick Creek Road.
Fishermen and women adore Payette Lake for the variety of fish you can catch. Anglers find the water perfect for fly fishing and there are small tributaries of the lake for shallow water fishing from the banks. You can also take a boat out to fish for trout, smallmouth bass, crappie, walleye, and tiger muskie. Trophy-sized fish are caught here often.
You can swim right off the privately-owned peer at Payette Lake with a water depth of about 5 feet. The peer is privately owned but open to public access. Shoreline access is limited, so if you book a vacation home here, you’re more likely to have access to swimming, fishing, and boating even during the busy tourist months.
The best paddle boarding on the lake is actually along the North Fork of the Payette River so that you aren’t competing with jet skiers, motorboats, and faster-moving water recreation boats. Some tourist guides offer canoe, kayak, and standup-up paddleboard rentals too during the summer season, so you don’t have to haul your own to the lake.
Pricing is very affordable for rentals. Expect to pay approximately, $35 for a canoe or tandem kayak per 2 hours, or $75 for a full day. Stand-up paddleboard rentals are $30 for a 2-hour stretch or $70 for a full day. Most rental places ask that you bring cash, since credit card processing is challenging in this remote area.
To access the North Beach Boat Ramp for Payette Lake travel on Hwy 55 North through McCall (at Lardo’s) then right on Warren Wagon Rd. Go about 6.5 miles and you’ll see the North Beach Boat Ramp.
There are many additional novelties and things to do at Payette Lake. Some are on the strange side, and others are as quaint as an afternoon picnic. If you run out of things to do with swimming, boating, paddle-boarding, fishing, and jet-skiing on Payette Lake, then there’s still more to do!
A statue of a mermaid can be visited that was created by a world-class sculptor, Peter Johnson, who was also an engineer in charge of the Bonneville Dam system. The mermaid statue is actually of Johnson’s granddaughter at the age of eight, and he dedicated the statue to all the women in his life.
There is a petrified crocodile that somehow managed to defy winter temperatures in McCall, Idaho. No one is sure of the crocodile’s age, but it is suggested that it could be as old as the lake’s glacial beginnings.
Off the tip of Paradise Point near Shellworth Island and Tamarack Bay there’s a small island rock shaped like a sperm whale where people sunbathe and dive off into the water to swim.
Payette Lake has a fairy tale Lochness-like monster with tales of its presence going back to the early 1900s. It supposedly has a scaly, circular body and a cow-like head. There have been multiple reports of this strange creature. Sharlie is a “she” and is now a legend in McCall. Look for it yourself when you visit the lake.
There are always lakeside volleyball games that welcome people to join. Expect some serious, but friendly competition. The tradition dates back to 1912, where a photographer caught a girl’s volleyball game in progress on the lake’s shores.
McCall’s downtown is near the lake, so if you need a break from nature to get some retail therapy, you can visit one of the many downtown shops and restaurants.
Great spots to grab a coffee, a cold beer, or some quick food if you haven’t packed your own picnic for the lake include The Cutwater on Payette Lake, Mountain Java, McCall Brewing Company, and Rupert’s restaurant with views of the lake is always a winner. Just be sure to call ahead for reservations at Rupert’s because the views of the lake make it busy in peek season.
For shopping, visit Backcountry Boutique, Rustic Outlet, McCall, Mountain Monkey Business, Razzle Dazzle, and other downtown retail stores.
Just a few miles from the lake is the gorgeous garden of a deceased landscape designer, Charlie Davidson. His heirs now care for the garden, and it’s a wonderland that’s easily accessed via a bike ride from Payette Lake’s shores.
From downtown McCall, head west on Lake Street, also known as Highway 55. Pass Shore Lodge, and turn right on Warren Road. After traveling for 3.7 miles, look for a wooden post with 2538 on the right side of the road. It’s easy to miss this hidden paradise, so look closely if you’re driving instead of biking.
There are ample opportunities to picnic and camp on the lake, with the Upper Payette Lake Campground available via reservations that you can make up to 12 months in advance. For a simple picnic on the lake, any dry spot ashore will do as long as you bring a picnic blanket and some delicious treats.
With so many fun things to do at Payette Lake, you may want to schedule a whole week to soak in the glorious views, have ample time to boat or fish, and even sunbathe on a rock in the middle of a glacial-lake paradise.