Winchester Lake at Winchester State Park


Why? Nice easy walk.

Season: Year-round if you include snowshoeing or cross country skiing

Ease: Easy. It’s a relatively level 3 1/3-mile circuit around the lake.

The trail around Winchester Lake, formerly known as Lapwai Lake, is an interesting mix of civilization and the outdoors, woods and open areas. But no matter which bit of the mix you’re in, so to speak, you’ve always got a lovely lake to look at. And even if you’re not into walking, it’s almost worth the drive to see the lovely rust-colored bridge that arches over an inlet and ends next to a jumble of grey boulders that’s right next to the boat launch. That you can have a picnic or camp overnight only gives you more reasons to go, at least in the summer.

For me, the “main” hike starts at the parking lot, near that footbridge, and continues about halfway around the lake. There are a couple of side trails along this part, too. It’s the non civilized part of the trail, in the woods and through open areas and around an inlet with fine plant growth at the water’s edge. An out and back hike of any length along this section is a good, short outing.

The other half of the lake is a mixed bag. The other trailhead for this section, near the aerators in the lake that look like huts, is just off the road. From it, you walk along the road a bit, in the woods a bit, around the sewage plant, on more road, and back into more park-like areas behind and below the park headquarters. And then more road.

Not that there aren’t some nice spots along this half – it’s just that I’d rather hike out and back on the half that doesn’t involve roads and the like.

My favorite hike around the lake was on a snowy, early spring day, one of those days when the world comes in black, white, and grey. Patterns catch the eye on days like that, like the differences between ice and open water. Animals are easier to spot, and there’s more chance of solitude as fewer people come out in the winter.

I’m certain that Wiinchester State Park isn’t a quiet place on a summer weekend. It’s much too nice a spot. But a family outing could easily include a walk along some of the trail. It’s graveled, wide and virtually flat, with no rocks or roots to trip up tiny feet. The only danger might be getting damp feet early in the year in some of the low sections.

Name Note: The town of Winchester was named in a town meeting in 1908 – for the rifles that most people who were there had with them.

Directions: Going south, turn right just past milepost 280 off Highway 95 and onto Business 95. Turn left at the stop sign 1.4 miles later, at the brown State Park sign. Turn right on Camus (also called Forest) 0.3 miles later and left in another 0.7 miles at the entrance to Winchester State Park. The road ends at the boat ramp and one of the trailheads is there, as are pit toilets.

There are also trailheads at the other end of the trail, as you come into town from the Grangeville direction on the other end of Business 95. And there are a couple side trails off the main lakeshore trail.

Information: Winchester State Park, (208) 924-7563. Be prepared to pay the $5 park fee every day of the year.

There’s a picnic area and campgrounds at the park as well as several isolated picnic spots around the lake.

And yes, if you look at old maps, the lake used to be known as Lapwai Lake.

Maps: Maps and other park information are available at the booth where you pay the park fee or at the park office on the right between the booth and the boat launch or at the website.