5 Nights of Kayak Camping on Lake Pend Oreille

Exploring this lake has been on my list for a few years now. We weren’t sure how many miles we could comfortably kayak in a day, so we were winging it. Of the camping spots on the map that we could see, we knew we could find a place to camp about every 5-15 miles or so. The entire lake has 111 miles of shoreline, and it would’ve been nice to do the whole thing at once, but seeing as how we only had 5 days, we figured we would most likely need to break it up into 2 trips. Some facts about the lake: It’s Idaho’s largest lake at 43 miles long and its deepest lake at 1,158 feet deep. There are only four deeper lakes in the U.S.

Day 1…9 MILES FROM GARFIELD BAY TO EVANS LANDING

We drove to Garfield Bay Campground Sunday night. We put in at 10:30 on Monday morning. What took so long was packing up the travel trailer, loading our kayaks and finding a place to park the travel trailer and truck for 5 days. Garfield Bay wasn’t the best setup for the situation, but it was manageable. Unfortunately, there’s no overnight parking at the boat launch. We could’ve left it at the campground for $10/night which would’ve been an ok option, but the campground hosts told us we could park at the top of the hill at the closed up gas station. They know the landowners of the place and said that they were given permission to allow people to park up there.

Loading up the kayaks

As we were putting our kayaks into the water and departing quite excitedly for our adventure, it began raining. The weather forecast had said it would be rainy that first day then the weather would improve each day, so we weren’t too concerned. I was very glad David convinced me to bring rain gear for the trip. At our lunch stop, I actually put on my rain pants not so much for the protection from the rain, since it was only lightly sprinkling, but I was chilly. We’d had 90+ degree weather for the 3 weeks leading up to this trip, so it was a bit of a temperature change. Not sure it even reached 70 degrees that day actually.

The weather was not improving

We passed a really cool spit that we could’ve camped on that had panoramic views of the lake that was just past Talache Landing, but we weren’t ready to stop just yet. We continued kayaking south and eventually found Evans Landing. AMAZING!!!! I must mention however that it was a bit disappointing to find toilet paper scattered about. Not sure if they had been buried too shallowly or if they’d just been set there on top of the dirt. Pretty disgusting. And unfortunately I would guess that the bee problem was due to the fact that people weren’t properly dealing with the things all boaters and backpackers should know how to deal with. We spent 10 minutes or so cleaning up everyone’s mess, making a note to bring plastic gloves and extra trash bags on our next kayak camping trip. We set up our tent, made some dinner, hung the food that didn’t fit into the bear canister, and drank some beers.

Evans Landing

I was glad our first day had been under 10 miles. We felt like we’d had a good work out but were still feeling fine.

Day 2…15 MILES FROM EVANS LANDING TO LAKEVIEW TO WHISKEY ROCK

Leisurely enjoying our own private beach in the morning, we eventually got on our way at around 10. We knew today would be one of the longest days mileage wise, so we didn’t delay as much as we wanted. We only had 1 night of camping meals under our belt, but we were hoping to get a burger in Lakeview, where we’d both seen a small restaurant 20 years ago. As we were kayaking south, we saw some top secret stuff, which you’ll just need to go yourself to find out about. Sorry. Top secret! And we kayaked past the Cape Horn fire just north of Bayview. The fire appeared to be somewhat contained, but it was definitely still burning. Catching sight of it from the south, it was shocking how much of the mountain had burnt. At Cape Horn, we bee-lined it to Lakeview for some burgers. It takes a long time to kayak a few miles across a lake let me tell you. The open water crossings can be a bit boring too, because there’s not much to look at. An added interest to this crossing was the thunder all around us. Luckily there was no lightening, and I’m still not sure how we lucked out, because the clouds and thunder were pretty intense. The thunder didn’t start happening until we were halfway across, and believe you me that we were paddling as fast as we could. I’m also not sure what happened to that improving forecast I’d seen before we left on Sunday.

Approaching Cape Horn – you can see smoke on the mountainside

Much to our dismay, the restaurant in Lakeview was no longer in operation, so we didn’t get our burgers. We changed our direction here and pointed north. I was glad to get some distance between us and Bayview. It was a little crazy in that area with houses and motorboats. I missed the sereneness of our previous day. After Lakeview, we kayaked past some beautiful scenery, found a fast-moving mountain stream to filter some water into our water containers, and eventually got to Whiskey Rock, which we came to find out is also accessible by car. It’s a free campground and quite beautiful, plus we got the best and only boat-in camp spot. Sadly though, once again we had to spend a little time and effort cleaning up dirty diapers and other trash. It’s a pack it in/pack it out campground with no trash dumpster or receptacles, so rather than haul the dirty disposable diapers with us in the kayaks, I just left the bag sealed up and by the pit toilet, hoping some good samaritan would bring it home with them in their vehicle.

Whiskey Rock

We enjoyed our dinner sitting on Whiskey Rock and watching the occasional canoer or kayaker that passed by. One thing about Lake Pend Oreille that I really like is that it attracts the non-motorized boaters. You see a lot more sailboats, kayaks, and canoes and a lot less motor boats than you do on Lake Coeur d’Alene or Priest. And when a motor boat does pass you, they sometimes slow down to avoid creating big waves. I really do appreciate when they do that and wish they all did.

Day 3…13 MILES FROM WHISKEY ROCK TO BEACH IN FRONT OF JOHNSON POINT VISTA (in front of 2nd/eastern buoy just past the Green Monarchs)

This may have been my favorite paddling day, probably due to a combination of feeling strong, becoming somewhat addicted to kayaking each day, having calm water, and the scenery seemed exceptional until we got to Kilroy Bay anyway. I loved Granite Bay. There’s a little creek, Granite Creek, that we were able to paddle into just a very short way.

Granite Creek

The water was so calm all morning and even into lunch that we opted to eat lunch right from our kayaks offshore in Pine Cove. Pine Cove, Granite, and Cedar Creek are all areas I would love to own a cabin or even live at. The wind started picking up a bit and the clouds started rolling in at around Kilroy Bay. We asked some people hanging out on the beach there if we could fill our water containers at their house, and we had a nice chat with them. Soon after Kilroy Bay, we rounded Indian Point, and the water turned instantly choppy. From Indian Point we kayaked alongside the Green Monarchs, a very impressive display of steep cliffs cutting right into the lake. Not too many camping options here, so it was a little stressful not even knowing if we were going to find anything. We saw a stretch of what we thought was beach from very far away, hoping that we could camp on it, which we could thankfully. I’m not sure why none of the maps we used (and we used 4 of them) didn’t indicate camping on the beach here. Not only did the beach/campground have firepits, but it even had a pit toilet. We had a great spot to pitch our tent right on the beach. Our sleeping bag pads kept us nice and comfortable on the rocks.

In front of Johnson Point Vista

It was a 3rd amazing night of sleeping by the lake.

Day 4…6 MILES FROM JOHNSON POINT VISTA TO SAM OWEN

We should’ve gotten our day’s start as soon as the sun rose today, but we had no idea how rough it was going to get. Good thing we only had 6 miles of it. Our original plan had been to kayak around the delta then head up to Sam Owen campground, but since we were really craving that burger by now, we decided to kayak straight to Sam Owen, claim our camp spot, then kayak up to Hope where we knew there were lots of restaurants to choose from. Bee-lining it to the closest point was a fairly long (4 mi?) open water crossing that shouldn’t have been much of an issue except like I mentioned before, those open water crossings can be sort of boring. Today however, boring is not the word I’d use for this crossing. When we were almost halfway across, the waves had white caps. We were bouncing around everywhere and getting pretty wet. I considered turning back, but I figured it wouldn’t last long and would calm down for us probably before we even got across. The lake really does seem to change by the hour. But not today. I just kept thinking how happy I’d be when I got to the point on land we were aiming for. Ironically, when we finally got to the point, the situation became even more treacherous, because there were some pretty gnarly rocks we could smash into. We also then experienced what they call the bathtub effect, where the water bounces around as water does when it sloshes around the bathtub. It was hard to figure out how to avoid from capsizing because the waves were coming from every direction. I was holding on to my rope attached to the kayak very tightly in case I got separated from it. I have no photos because I was too busy hanging on to everything.

We finally made it to Sam Owen knowing that Hope was out of the question. As we entered the protected water sheltered by the island that Matthew McConaughey apparently bought to restore to its pristine condition, we remembered that there’s a restaurant right next to Sam Owen. What luck! We beached our kayaks right at the restaurant and walked up to the bar and ordered a beer. Just like that. Didn’t even have to go inside the restaurant! As it turns out, the restaurant is now named and owned by the same Ivano’s Ristorante in downtown Sandpoint and is a very cool place. We hung out there for hours since we were basically trapped. What a great place to be trapped.

Ivano’s adjacent to Sam Owen Campground

We did leave at one point to get a camping spot, set up our tent and unload the kayaks, and then we came right back. We were offered a place to pitch our tent on a guy’s lawn just 2 houses from the restaurant, and we did entertain that idea, but it made more sense to camp at the park. Dave, the guy who offered us his lawn, was a very nice and interesting man who had lots of stories to share. It was a really great time. Completely different from what we’d been experiencing this trip so far, but it was a welcome change after our harrowing kayak adventure that morning.

Day 5…10 MILES FROM SAM OWN TO GARFIELD BAY (and around Pearl Island)

From beach at Sam Owen Campground – waves were much calmer the next day

If Ivano’s opened up for breakfast and/or coffee, we probably would’ve gone there again in the morning. But I’m glad they didn’t open until lunch, because it was great to enjoy our coffee alone on a log overlooking the lake. After all, this was how we’ve been starting each day this week, and it was a nice way to end it. After our coffee, we were anxious to get back in the kayaks while it was calm in case the water got rough again. We set out toward Pearl Island, which is a bird sanctuary. Great little island that has a lot of birds. Go figure.

Much easier paddle today

We continued kayaking west and soon reached the west side of the lake again at Picard Point. Kayaking southward, we passed a variety of bays and houses and more impressive rocks. We passed Green Bay which has camping and which I’d previously thought seemed primitive. Didn’t feel so primitive this day. There were campers everywhere. However, I suspect that where we were this week may get full on the weekends and especially in better weather. We were there mid-week, and we had most places to ourselves, especially by dusk when the boaters who were just out for the day went home.

This has been my favorite paddling trip so far, and possibly even my favorite trip of all time. There are a few things I’d do differently next time, and there most definitely will be a next time.

  1. I’d start at Farragut, assuming we could keep our vehicle in the boat launch area overnight, then go up to Whiskey Rock, continuing north on the east side just as we did before.
  2. I’d explore the Delta and the Slough between the Green Monarchs and Sam Owen, which would be doable, since that was only a 6 mile paddle that day.
  3. I’d allow an extra day to the trip in case the weather turned sour and prevented us from kayaking that day.

Things I learned about myself…

  • kayaking 10-15 miles is a long but perfect day for me
  • in our Hobie kayaks with the mirage drives (aka pedals), we can expect to cover 2 miles per hour
  • kayak camping is my favorite thing to do

By the way, I have no idea if Matthew McConaughey bought an island on the lake, so don’t quote me on that.

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