Sun, Water, Mountains, and History
With its combination of sun, water and mountains, it’s hard to imagine the idyllic Farragut State Park in Idaho’s panhandle as anything other than a place to relax, have fun and appreciate nature. And yet, this 4,000-acre park was once the second-largest naval training facility in the country and as such, attracts history buffs as well as recreation seekers.
Located at the southern end of Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced pond-oh-ray), about 50 miles northeast of Spokane and 20 miles north of Coeur d’Alene, the park draws visitors from across the U.S. and Canada with its sandy beaches, blue water and sunny vistas.
“With its size and forest setting and lake, and just the space in the park, there are a lot of opportunities for recreation here,” says Pam Ellis, office specialist at Farragut State Park.
From 1942 to 1946, the now-state park operated as Farragut Naval Training Station, a major training base of the U.S. Navy during World War II. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who noticed the lake on a flight to Seattle, reportedly scouted out the location.
Nearly 300,000 sailors received basic training at the facility in its 30 months of operation. After that, the site was a German prisoner-of-war camp, then a college and technical institute. The land was transferred to the state of Idaho in 1949 and became a state park in 1965.
Today, there are few remnants of that history at the park. More than 220 individual campsites, seven group sites and 10 camping cabins have replaced the some 770 naval buildings that once dotted the land. A square concrete structure with an inner courtyard that used to house unruly recruits is now the Museum of the Brig. It houses camp, naval and war memorabilia and is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. “The naval museum draws quite a lot of people to the park just for that,” Ellis says.
In the peak summer months Farragut campgrounds are usually booked solid.
“It is a destination park,” Ellis says. “Out-of-state and out-of-country visitors compose the majority of our campers.”
Visitors enjoy the park’s myriad recreation options: RV and tent camping sites, 40 miles of shared use hiking and biking trails, horseback riding trails, a boat launch, fishing sites, four disc golf courses, archery, and more. Many summertime visitors use Farragut as a home base for visits to nearby Silverwood Theme Park. Sites range between $19-$37 a night, depending on the spot and amenities.
In the wintertime, the park maintains 10 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails, plus snowshoe and sled trails. “People always comment, ‘I can’t believe how beautiful it is and how much there is to do,’” Ellis says.
Photos by Kevin Kiernan