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The Top 5 Adventures In The Sawtooth Mountains

If you've never been to Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains, you are missing out on one of the most epic mountain ranges in the country.

By: Dusty Klein + Save to a List

This rugged wilderness boasts hundreds of trails and an uncountable number of jagged mountain peaks, crystal clear alpine lakes, and flowing snowmelt creeks. The best part? It's all within a short distance of beautiful Stanley, Idaho.

Stanley, population 63 and the "Gateway to the Sawtooths," is a quaint, historic, welcoming town that doubles as an adventure hub for explorers coming and going into the wilderness. Nestled along the Salmon River, Stanley is known for its gnarly camping opportunities, unrivaled view of the mountain range, legendary hot springs, and its tough, tight-knit community.

Stanley is also notorious for its harsh winters, so there's no better time to go explore the Sawtooths than before the summer ends! Hop in the car, ditch the crowds, grab your camera… we'll see you in Stanley, Idaho for these must-do mountain excursions.

1. Hike from Redfish to Alpine Lake

Photo: Dusty Klein

What makes this trip special is the boat shuttle across the banana-shaped Redfish Lake to start the hike. The feeling of leaving a busy shoreline on boat heading towards towering mountains and certain adventure makes for one exciting moment. Like other alpine lake hikes in the region, Alpine Lake can be tackled on a long day hike or on an overnight backpacking trip.

Views of the valley as you rise above Redfish are truly one-of-a-kind. The leg odometer passes 11 miles roundtrip, and that doesn't account for the steep switchbacks encountered on the latter-half of the hike. If you can make it, however, you'll be sure to have some wicked pictures. Check out the adventure to learn more! Learn more.

2. Backpack to Alice Lake

Photo: Dusty Klein

Alice Lake, a favored hike among Idahoans, can be enjoyed either part of the 18 mile Toxaway Lake Loop or an out-and-back hike from the Tin Cup Trailhead. The trek to Alice is just north of 5 miles and features Idaho's version of El Capitan towering over the clear, cold alpine lake. Opposite the rock feature, snowy, jagged peaks climb out of the water and also make for great photo ops.

This is the ideal time of year to pack to Alice Lake because of the weather and drop in mosquito activity. Don't forget your fishing pole! Learn more.

3. Paddle on Stanley Lake

Photo: George Manlove

Stanley Lake is an alpine lake in the Sawtooths about 7 miles outside of the town it's named after. It features a campground with various amenities that makes it fun for the whole family. Bring your tent (or a camper if that's what you're into) and soak it all in. You're going to be glad you brought your camera, too. Even if it's just a quick stop on your way by, Stanley Lake is one fiercely cool spot to snap some new Instagram pics.

The lake rests at the base of the 9,860' McGown Peak and on calm days makes for outstanding paddling. Whether it's a SUP board, canoe, or kayak, the best way to enjoy Stanley Lake is ON it. Learn more.

4. Backpack to Sawtooth Lake

Photo: Dusty Klein

Perhaps the most popular trail in the Sawtooths is the Iron Creek Trail to Sawtooth Lake. Sawtooth Lake is an example of everything that is amazing about the mountain range. Mountain peaks? Check. High alpine lake? Check. Flowing streams? Check. And if that's not enough, there's some SWEET camping spots along the lake and plenty opportunities for day hikes around the area.

Sawtooth Lake is just about 5 miles from the trailhead and the trail runs up some steep switchbacks in the last couple miles of the hike. The iconic view of the lake and of Mt. Regan across the water makes every step worth it. Click the adventure for a more detailed analysis of the trip! Learn more.

5. Photograph the Sawtooth Mountains

Photo: Dusty Klein

If you're looking to quickly experience the mountains in all of their glory, check out this mini photography adventure. There's three consecutive spots starting from the Hwy. 21 junction in Stanley that lead you to unobstructed views of the mountains. Plan ahead to hit these during sunrise or sunset and you'll be sure to capture some epic photographs. Fellas, take notes. Two of the spots could potentially make good date spots. Learn more.

While in Stanley, it's a MUST to stop at Stanley Baking Company for breakfast pastries and the Redfish Lodge lounge a little outside of town for a post-adventure cocktail. The bartender, Trey, keeps it real.

As a general reminder, Idaho is too beautiful to litter. Please pack out what you pack in, respect any forest rehabilitation efforts you may come across, and follow Leave No Trace ethics. I'd love to answer any questions about the area and my experiences in the Sawtooths. Happy hiking!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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