Top Ice Skating Spots on Idaho Lakes, Ponds and Bays
Winter’s frozen waters in and around Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene offer a day on the ice or a weekend trip for skaters of all ages and abilities.
Cold air fills your lungs as your feet glide above the frozen surface of an iced-over lake surrounded by snowy pines that wrap around the shoreline and mark the boundary of your day’s adventure. Reaching this spot a few months earlier would require a boat, but all you need now is a pair of skates, warm clothes and a safe layer of ice.
North Idaho is blessed with frozen lakes in the coldest months, one of the many amenities that make the region an outdoor enthusiast’s playground in winter. As temperatures plunge below freezing, many residents and visitors seek warmth indoors. Others can’t wait to experience the ice and snow of North Idaho winters and to find picture-perfect, frozen destinations in this rugged landscape.
Frozen lakes, bays and ponds around the Idaho Panhandle offer new destinations for skaters of all ages and abilities. Up and down U.S. Route 95 from the Canadian border all the way south of Coeur d’Alene, here’s help finding your idyllic spot to skate.
Please don’t ice skate if you are inexperienced or unsure of ice safety. Always exercise caution and stay off the ice if you have your doubts. Beginners should stick to ice that is monitored and maintained, or consider an outdoor rink. More adventurous lake skaters wear safety gear like retractable ice picks, rope and personal flotation devices.
Get ice condition updates from knowledgeable locals such as park rangers, bait shops, visitor bureaus and chambers of commerce. To check the ice before heading out, use a drill, ice chisel, auger or hatchet and a tape measure, and make sure to check different places because thickness may vary.
A minimum of 4 inches of good ice — ice that is clear or blue — is recommended to support a single skater. Clear ice is safer than white, gray or cracked ice. Don’t go on ice that has open water unless officials have opened it for ice skating.
The best ice for skating the picturesque frozen lakes around Bonners Ferry is usually in January and February, but a good freeze can happen any time between November and early March. Winter’s icy chill is a few degrees colder around this northern part of Idaho than farther south and freezes the region’s lakes more consistently.
Cold years bring months of skating opportunities on many of the tree-lined lakes. Nearby Smith Lake is easy to get to and frequented often, as is Dawson Lake, which is additionally known for its ice fishing opportunities.
The prominent spots to ice skate north of Bonners Ferry are the Brush Lake and Robinson Lake campgrounds. Both give a taste of the wilds of lake skating, but they are visited often and are close to local comforts. These two spots are accessible via well-maintained (but not always plowed) roads, enticing motorists and skaters of any ability. Couples looking for a romantic getaway will enjoy Robinson Lake, which is just a few miles from the British Columbia border and feels far from anywhere.
For a more remote adventure, snowshoe or snowmobile to Roman Nose Lakes, but keep in mind that heavy snow covers the frozen water in mid-winter.
The Bonners Ferry Ranger District of Idaho Panhandle National Forests may be able to provide updates on road conditions — but not ice conditions — around Bonners Ferry to help plan an excursion to any of these locations.
Sandpoint has an incredible array of skating opportunities that are great for all levels of ice skaters. Usually in January and February — but occasionally earlier or later — locals and visitors head to the Third Avenue Pier, down to Sand Creek below the Cedar Street Bridge, or out to City Beach in Sandpoint. On cold days when the ice is thick enough, the community often comes together to clear sections of ice for skating, hockey and family fun.
Just outside of town, Round Lake State Park is an easily reached favorite for ice skaters of all ages and abilities. A historic spot for skating and ice fishing on cold days is Cocolalla Lake, where teams of horses once hauled massive blocks of ice out of the lake to be loaded on rail cars and shipped across the country.
On the other side of the Washington border, South Skookum Lake often transforms into a frozen wonderland accessible by snowmobile, while Frater Lake offers the convenience of a warming hut and Sno-Park parking.
About 30 miles north of Sandpoint, along a dirt road that is impassible by car after the heavy snows arrive, you’ll find the route to Harrison Lake, a peaceful mountain lake surrounded by towering peaks and snow-draped trees. Early November and early April on Harrison Lake can offer the most scenic ice skating experiences in North Idaho if snows haven’t closed the road and the ice is thick enough; skating during these weeks is too dangerous at lower elevations. The 4.6-mile hike up to Harrison Lake and back is worth the trek.
Farther south and right off Interstate 90, the lakes around Coeur d’Alene can be ice skating havens. When the temperature stays low enough (most often in January and February), the most reliable place to skate near Coeur d’Alene is Fernan Lake. There are no real amenities here for skaters, but the forest-flanked lake’s close proximity to town makes wintry bliss just a quick trip away for all ages and skating abilities.
North of Coeur d’Alene on state Highway 41, Twin Lakes and Spirit Lake freeze often enough to be reliable ice skating destinations during cold stretches. Both areas are hot spots for ice fishing, but skaters are always welcome.
At the southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene, cold snaps freeze the shallow waters of a small lagoon at Heyburn State Park, the oldest state park in the Pacific Northwest.
On the eastern side of the lake along state Highway 3, Killarney Lake and Rose Lake are known to freeze most winters, giving skaters and ice fishers frequent chances to share the fun frozen waters.
– Written by Douglas Scott, last updated in September 2022.
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2021 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.