Payette Lake

Let’s go to the lake house!

It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? The stunning scenery of Payette Lake makes the picture-perfect backdrop for living the high life at your lake house in McCall, Idaho. Surrounded by lush forests that seem to go on forever, the pristine lake is really the element that sets McCall apart as somewhere special. As both an exciting year-round vacation destination and the quiet, idyllic small-town mountain life, homes on the lake are the best of everything McCall has to offer. It only takes one visit to fall in love with the beauty of this spectacular mountain gem nestled in the Payette National Forest.

Big Payette Lake

Payette Lake (also known as Big Payette Lake) is a natural lake, carved out by a glacier over 10,000 years ago (estimates suggest the glacier was 1000 feet high, 2.5 miles wide and 8 miles long). Today, this beautiful body of water holds 5330 square acres of crystal-clear mountain water with its deepest point at 392 feet deep. Sitting at an elevation of 5021 feet above sea level, the mountains of central Idaho share the forests with the largest roadless wilderness area in the Lower 48, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. The North Fork of the Payette River flows into Payette Lake, where docks, swimming, boating, kayaking, sailing, stand-up paddle boarding, waterskiing, jet skiing and lake cruises await.

Ponderosa State Park

Ponderosa State Park shows off her majestic beauty with 1,000 acres of a peninsula, surrounded by Payette Lake, just two miles from downtown McCall. Filled with old-growth Ponderosa Pine (some of the oldest in the western United States) and Douglas Fir, this park features campgrounds, beaches, hiking trails, fly fishing and unspoiled natural wilderness. Wildlife abounds with common sightings of deer, elk, moose, bear, geese, mallards, eagles, osprey, muskrats and beaver. Campgrounds are closed in winter, but the park provides plentiful, groomed Nordic skiing and snowshoeing trails.


When you live on the lake you are still only minutes away from all of the other amazing activities in the area, like Brundage Mountain (famous for its consistent powder skiing), close enough for a few runs on your lunch break. Golf courses, multiple hot springs, snow tubing, sleigh rides, nordic skiing, snowmobiling, rivers, alpine lakes, mountains, hiking trails, horseback riding and pretty much all the nature you could want in one resort destination, is complemented by a full array of food, restaurants and events. Public parks and shorelines on Payette Lake include Davis Beach, Brown Park, Legacy Park, Rotary Park— east of Shore Lodge and Art Robert’s Park (downtown McCall). Sandy beaches and mountain views combine for the best combination of scenic mountain life. Boats and the other water recreation choices are available for rent. Fishermen enjoy angling from the shorelines as well as by boat. Music events, craft fairs, arts, competitions and festivals keep your calendar as full as you’d like, while there is plenty of room to enjoy your solitude in this natural playground. Winter Carnival brings a whole new meaning to the celebration of winter with 10 days of festivities, fireworks, sculptures, races and competitions. The Blue Moon Yurt, at Ponderosa State Park, is a memorable winter culinary experience that combines fresh air, a leisurely cross-country ski outing and an unforgettable, cozy meal. McCall was recently one of eight finalists in the America’s Best Communities (ABC) competition, a nod to our great community and the people who live here.

McCall began as a favorite summer spot for Native Americans. Payette Lake was named after the French-Canadian fur trapper, Francois Payette in the 1800s. Then, in the 1880s many Europeans came to homestead (including many Finns, who left their cultural mark on McCall if you look closely around town). Thomas and Louisa McCall came in the 1890s, purchased the property for the townsite and established a school, hotel, saloon, post office and townsite. Lumber was eventually the driving force behind McCall’s economy. But there is one McCall tradition that has lived longest of all, and it has everything to do with Payette Lake.

Sharlie, the Lake Monster

The local legend of our very own Lake Monster, Sharlie, seems to have always been part of McCall’s landscape. Stories of an evil spirit living in the deepest waters of the lake were told by Native Americans who summered in the Long Valley. But the first documented history we have of Sharlie sightings are from 1920, when a railroad crew happened to see a large log that floated, moved forward, then swam away, leaving only a wake behind. Decades later, a group saw a creature, describing it as, “At least 35 feet long, with a dinosaur-type head, pronounced jaw, humps like a camel and shell-like skin.” This story made national news and hunters began to watch for, and even hunt, the creature they called “Slimy Slim.” Stories continued over the years, and the number of people that spotted her grew as well. A. Boone McCallum, editor of the Star News, suggested a national contest to find a name for the creature. The winner was Leslie Hennefer Tury’s idea, “Sharlie”— a reference to an old-time radio show. The name stuck and sightings have continued to be reported, though Sharlie apparently prefers to keep us guessing. Her playful legend continues.

Sometimes, a place can take root in your heart and become part of your local landscape. Payette Lake, McCall, Idaho is that kind of place.