A Winter Jaunt at Winchester State Park Playing Close to Home

  • Address: 1786 Forest Rd, Winchester, ID 83555
  • Elevation: 3920 ft
  • Gains: 40 ft (80 ft if side trails are used)
  • Distance: 3.3 miles (+1.5 miles of side trail)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Best Seasons: Year-Round
  • Fees: See current fees here
  • Directions: From Highway 95, take the Business Loop into Winchester. Follow it to Camas St. and turn West (left if you're coming from the south, right if you're coming from the north). Camas St. will take you out of town and past a day use playground to the main park entrance on your left.
  • Maps:

I’ve got a thing for trees. Don’t get me wrong, the views on the prairie are stunning, especially when the sun has lit the clouds on fire and the snow glistens on the mountaintops, but I’m at home among the trees.

So, when Jacob and I wanted to go for a little hike, we packed the dogs into the CRV and headed down to Winchester Lake State Park. It’s just 15 minutes down the road from where we live, and we have one of those Idaho State Park Passports that only cost $10 per year and gives us unlimited day use access to all Idaho State Parks, so like two visits to Winchester pays for it. And of course, the lake is surrounded by trees.

We turned off the highway at the Winchester Gas Station Rest Area and followed the Highway 95 Business Loop (aka Joseph Ave) into town. A left on Camas Street took us around to the west side of the lake and the main park entrance. There are campsites, RV parking, and even yurts available for rent, and the park can fill up on a warm summer weekend. For now, though, the place was quietly covered with snow and ice, which suited us just fine.

The main parking area and lake access is at the end of the paved road that meanders through the park. There are docks where you can fish, BBQ grills and park benches, a boat launch, even life jackets you can barrow for a swim or canoe ride. Best save those for the summer, though. During the winter you can try your hand at ice fishing while the lake is frozen over.

The Lakeshore Trail passes through the parking lot on its way around the lake. There are 4 loops you can explore that will bring you right back to the Lakeshore Trail, but Jacob and I opted to wander down the southern arm of the lake where the Lapwai Creeks runs in. That snow covered watershed sat peacefully in the diffused light of the morning sun, the cold creek snaking down to join the water in the lake where it, too, would finally become still and frozen.

We were following an old ATV track that would eventually wrap around to Granite Road and back out on the prairie, but it would not take us back to the lake. So we left the ATV track and followed another trail up the hillside in an effort to circle back to the Lakeshore Trail. I didn’t realize that we had actually wandered outside the park boundaries, but I wasn’t worried about getting lost because we had a clear path to follow back to the car, good cell reception that provided a satellite map on my phone, and plenty of trail to follow in the woods. I did not, however, want to go wandering off trail in the snow. Being wet and cold was not on the agenda for today.

The map showed White Tail Trail just up ahead of us, which is one of the loops that leads back to the Lakeshore Trial. It was even marked with blue ribbons in the trees. I hoisted Jacob up onto my shoulders and followed White Tail Trail to Black Pine Trail, which brought us back to the foot bridge that crosses the Lapwai Creek arm of the lake where we had started.

All in all, we covered a little more than a mile. It proved to be just enough for little Jacob, who was becoming cold and tired. He was such a trooper, and thoroughly enjoyed tromping through the snow, but by the end of it all he was ready to go home. I scooped him up and carried him to the car where a warm heater and bag of cheddar gold fish had him laughing again in moments. Doggie kisses from the back were a plus, too.

I’m so thankful to have a place nearby where we can get lost in the trees and be home by lunch. The full  Lakeshore Trail loop is about 3.3 miles with another mile and a half of side trails available. It would be a great trail for snowshoes if we get another good snowfall. Who knows? Maybe next time we go back it’ll be with a crew of Clearwater Trekkers!

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