Redfish Lake in Idaho is a hidden gem. It seems that no one outside of Idaho has heard of it, yet it is one of the most beautiful areas we have been to in the United States. We loved spending several days around Redfish Lake exploring all that it has to offer. Read further to see all the things that you should do at Redfish Lake during your visit!
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*****Everything in this article is my personal opinion and experiences. Check your own resources and choose to do anything I discuss at your own risk. Some of the things in this post may be dangerous and not recommended for every body.
About Redfish Lake
Redfish Lake is located in the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho, United States. It is the largest lake in the Sawtooth NRA (National Recreation Area). It is called Redfish Lake because it is native to the bright red sockeye salmon. Unfortunately today there are not as many salmon as there used to be in the past. The lake is really big and is over 4 miles long.
Things to Do at Redfish Lake
Redfish Lake Lodge
The Redfish Lake Lodge is located on the eastern side of the lake. While there are rooms that you can stay at in the lodge, you can also enjoy the lodge even if you’re not staying there. There are sitting areas around the lodge, beach, marina, an outdoor grill restaurant, and an indoor restaurant. In the summer, there are several nights every week that they have live music on the lawn.
We would often go to the Redfish Lake Lodge in the evenings to get ice cream at the grill and watch the sun go down behind the mountains. It is so magical here.
Redfish Lake Visitor Center
The Redfish Lake Visitor Center is located south of the Redfish Lake Trailhead. It is not heavily visited, but has some really nice information about the area. The visitor center has exhibits on the landscape and animals that live in the Sawtooth National Forest. There are also junior ranger activities for kids here. There are some picnic tables behind the visitor center with views of the mountains.
North Shore Picnic Area
The North Shore Picnic Area is a day use area that has a nice sandy beach, picnic tables, and bathrooms. If you’re just visiting for the day and looking for someplace less crowded than the Redfish Lake Lodge area, this may be a better place for you. We launched our kayak from the beach here and had no issues. This picnic area is at the very eastern side of the lake, so there is less boat traffic in the area too.
Outlet Recreation Day Use Area
The Outlet Recreation Day Use Area is very close to the North Shore Picnic Area, but you take a completely different road to get to it. It has a sandy beach and multiple picnic tables. One benefit of this area is that it has a boat ramp and more parking. The views are different here, but personally I think that this Day Use Area has the “worst” views out of the day use areas (and by worst views I mean that the mountains are a little more obscured but you still have the blue water, gorgeous pine trees, and mountain tops in view lol).
Point Day Use Area
The Point Day Use Area is definitely my favorite Day Use Area around the lake. It is one of the western-most areas on the lake that you don’t have to hike to. It is beside the campground that we stayed at for the majority of our time around Redfish Lake. The Point Day Use Area has a beach area and 2 docks that face the mountains. We put in our kayak here, sat on the end of the dock with our feet in the water, and watched the sunset from here. It is a beautiful place.
Rent or bring a kayak or SUP
Redfish Lake is popular for kayaking and boating. From the Redfish Lake Lodge, you can rent kayaks and various types of boats. We saw many different people kayaking, paddleboarding, and boating.
One thing that totally changed the game for us this year was getting an inflatable kayak. I was skeptical at first, but it has been fantastic. For the same price as a 4 hour kayak rental, you can buy your own kayak that inflates anywhere you go and can easily pack into a suitcase.
We got an Inflatable Intex Kayak and absolutely love it. Just in the few months we have had it, we have kayaked in multiple lakes across 5 states. You can find the exact same kayak we have here.
Redfish Corrals Horse Ride
If you’re not a big hiker, but would like to get views in the area around Redfish Lake, you can try a horse ride into the national forest. The Redfish Corrals have various different riding routes that you can go on to see great views of the mountains around Redfish Lake. One of the rides even takes you all the way to Bench Lakes in the Sawtooth Wilderness. You can view their options on the Redfish Corrals website.
Go Hiking from Redfish Lake
There are a ton of great trails that leave from Redfish Lake. My favorite two are the Fishhook Trail and Bench Lakes Trail.
Fishhook Creek Trail
The Fishhook Creek Trail goes to a beautiful reflective part of Fishhook Creek. The trail is overall pretty flat and easy for most.
Bench Lakes Trail
Bench Lakes Trail goes to the Bench Lakes in the Sawtooth Wilderness. The trail skirts Redfish Lake before heading into the wilderness to the Bench Lakes. There are gorgeous reflective views of the mountains behind the lakes.
To read more specifics about doing the Fishhook Creek Trail or the Bench Lakes Trail, check out my blog post Best Hikes in the Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho.
Tips for Visiting Redfish Lake Area
have cash on hand for forest service fees
Some of the day use areas require payment via self-service stations that require you to put cash in an envelope and deposit it in the provided box to pay. Most fees range somewhere between 5 and 10 dollars, so it is a good idea to have small bills of cash on hand.
**If you have the national parks annual pass, that you will not need to pay to use the day use areas as long as the annual pass is on your dashboard.
be prepared for lack of phone service
Part of the beauty of the area is that there is not good cell phone service, so you can enjoy nature without the distractions of emails and social media. That being said, make sure you have any maps you need downloaded and let your family or friends know you may not be reachable before heading out there.
know that the water may be too cold for swimming
We visited at the end of July and although it was warm during the day with bright sun, the water was way too cold for us to swim. I had dreams of casually swimming in warm lake water in front of the mountains, but that was not the case for us lol. There were some kids swimming, but most people enjoying the water were in boats or something, not actually swimming. Later in the summer, the water will be warm, but the maximum temperature it usually reaches is in the 60’s.
Gear We Recommend for Your Time at Redfish Lake
Intex Inflatable Kayak
As stated above, this kayak has been a complete game-changer for us. It is so easy to bring with you wherever you go. We find that it takes us around 15 minutes to get fully inflated and all together, which is definitely worth the portability. We love it so much that we brought it as one of our checked bags on our flight so we could have it in Idaho with us. Check it out on Amazon.
I have had a Nomadix Towel for over 2.5 years now and I don’t go anywhere without it. It is perfect for drying off, using as a makeshift picnic blanket, or keeping me warm when I forget a sweatshirt after the sun goes down. After using it for a few years, it still looks like brand new. I consider it an essential for our lake day adventures. Find it on Amazon here.
Idaho summers are known for being pretty buggy, so of course bug spray is an essential for a visit to Redfish Lake. This summer I have been obsessed with using Natrapel Bug Spray with Picardin. It feels better on my skin than other bug sprays I have used, and it does a great job at keeping the bugs away. I even will spray it on articles of clothing so that it keeps the bugs away without necessarily going all over my skin. The exact bottle I use is this one on Amazon.
There are not a lot of things better than a dinner on lake beach that doesn’t cost a lot of money and has astounding lake views. Once we realized we could bring our camp stove to pretty places to cook food, we haven’t stopped. Plus, they’re usually safer than having a campfire. Since I bought ours a few years ago, I was unable to find it still for sale. However, here is an affordable one with great reviews that is pretty similar to the one we use.
Overall, I hope this guide can help you in planning a trip to Redfish Lake in Idaho! Please let me know if you have any questions or if I missed anything!
Thanks for reading!