Backpack to Sawtooth Lake

10 miles  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Dusty Klein

Backpack through unrivaled Idaho scenery, with the iconic jagged mountains. Camp on a beautiful alpine lake with various day hikes from camp.

Sawtooth Lake is "must-see" for Idaho hikers or any outdoor enthusiasts visiting the Sawtooth National Forest. The five mile trek to the lake is made worthwhile by breathtaking, photogenic alpine lakes and the crisp, clean Idaho air. It's up to you whether to day hike the trail or to camp at the destination, but one thing is for certain: don't forget to bring your camera!

From Boise, take Hwy 55 to Banks, where you'll hang a right and head on Banks Lowman Road for 33 miles along the South Fork of the Payette River. Once you reach Lowman and a T in the road, take a left and cruise 55 miles until you approach Stanley. Once Stanley comes into view, be on the lookout for Forest Road 619, it's about a mile before the small town. Turn right on to a gravel road and follow it the last 2-miles-and-change to the trailhead. There is a campground and other various camping spots at the base of the Iron Creek Trailhead if you plan on coming up after work and camping, or just want to get an early start the following day.

Be sure to fill out a free Sawtooth Wilderness permit at the trailhead and drop it in the box. There is also a map of the region here if you want to get a visual on the upcoming hike. Although you will see others on the trail, understand that this area is fairly remote. Pack a first aid kit even if it's just for peace of mind.

The first part of the journey is quick and pretty. You'll travel along the first couple of relatively flat miles with glimpses of Iron Creek. Whip your camera out about a mile and a half in; an unbelievable view of the water flowing through a meadow, contrasted by towering mountains will make your friends wish they had brought theirs too. Following the sign ahead, remain left and continue for another mile or so of mild hiking until the switchbacks begin.

Four miles from the trailhead, you'll see a sign pointing to the left for Alpine Lake. About a quarter mile off of the trail, this is a gorgeous high mountain lake that doubles as a pristine lunch spot. This lake is camp-able and will see less hiker traffic than Sawtooth Lake but is simply a "little sister" to our final destination. Get ready for the last mile climb, as it's the toughest, steepest stretch of the journey. As you climb the switchbacks, look back over Alpine Lake for some spectacular views. From that high you'll be able to see straight to the bottom of the undisturbed water below.

As the trail flattens out and you approach Sawtooth Lake, you'll be greeted probably by a few patches of snow on the ground (yes, even in summer months) and by a small lake with creeks flowing into it. Don't be fooled, you're not there yet. Follow the creeks and the path upstream. Cross over the creeks by shifty log bridges and once Sawtooth Lake comes into view, there's no mistaking it by its size and shear beauty. Mt. Regan, the tallest of the Sawtooth Mountains, protrudes from the opposite end of the lake and will undoubtedly be the focus of many of your landscape photos.

If you're backpacking, you've got options. You can 1) camp near this log jam around where you approached the lake, 2) cross the jam and search for camp spots along the lake, or 3) continue right to extend your journey to other lakes deeper within the mountains.

This region is very cold and requires warm clothing even in the summer months. The contrast of warm days and cold nights is a unique challenge for backpackers. In addition to day hiking, star gazing and taking pictures along the way, you can also try your luck with a fishing pole. The water is so clear that you can actually see the trout bite on the hook. We spent hours catching and releasing 6-8" fish with a fly rod on our last trip to the lake. Pack light, but be sure to pick up a license before the trip if you do plan on fishing.

The hike to the lake takes about two and a half to three hours, while coming down takes significantly less time and effort. As always, be sure to pack out what you packed in and leave your camp spot in better condition than what you found it. This region in Idaho is notorious for forest fires. Before embarking on this trip, check with the local Ranger Station to make sure it is safe and that you'll have a smoke-free trip.

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ūü•áTop Contributor

18 days ago

Love this hike!

A beautiful hike up through the Sawtooths to the beginning of a string of mountain lakes. We camped by the second of the two lakes at the top. Plenty of great spots to camp and lots of pretty scenery. Not too difficult of a hike, either. If you're in good physical shape but have never been backpacking before, this is a perfect beginner trip! Next time bring fishing gear‚ÄĒwe saw lots of fish jumping out of the lake the next morning. So beautiful!!!

hike to baron lakes august 1968

we hiked up from trail lake. it was raining everyday and the night we camped at trail lake we climbed up on a big rock and called to the great white mama puma. "great white mama puma! bless us with your smile, mama puma! come on, sun! go away rain! considering that our leader was a methodist minister, it should have been sufficient to guarantee good weather, but it wasn't. we hiked on up to sawtooth lake the next day, in the rain. when we got up the next morning, it was to three inches of snow on the ground and snowing heavy. we decided that to go on up to baron lakes was very unwise and instead headed back down. still, it was a fun hiking trip. the mountains are always good, you just have to be ready for the challenge. i've thought many times about finishing the trip, it's only been 50 something years, but other things have gotten in the way------life has gotten in the way. the lakes, the mountains-- they're still there-------someday...... someday...


ūü•áTop Contributor

about 3 years ago

Great Alpine Lake

The trail isn't too long but it is steep. Some of the mountains in this area are just gorgeous. The lake itself is great and we didn't have too many people on a weekday but I could see the trail being very busy.

Beautiful Hike

This is an incredible hike! Well worth the several hour journey. The description here is spot on. Definitely not one to try before August though, I did it the first weekend in July and all of Sawtooth lake was still frozen over. An overnight trip up would be fantastic, but a day hike is definitely possible, even with the drive from Boise.

Beautiful Alpine Lake

Overall this article was fairly accurate. Follow the road to where it ends and you'll see the Iron Creek Trailhead. Just stay to the right on the dirt road leading up to it. There were a lot of people trying to hike this (it was a Saturday), however, I went later in the afternoon so they were all on their way back. Make sure to stay to the trail on the right when the sign for Alpine Lake comes up. You can see it as you ascend and don't necessarily need to go down to it. Additionally, when you're almost to Sawtooth Lake, you will come across another lake, just go past it and you'll run into the beautiful lake you set out to see. Make sure to take a picture of the sign before you go to know which lake you're passing en route.

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