Hike Mt. Jefferson and Lake Marie

Sawtell Trailhead, Island Park, Idaho, United States

  • Activities:

    Chillin, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    11 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    2000 Feet

Dog Friendly
Family Friendly

This day-long hike will give you stunning views of the greater Yellowstone area, including the Tetons, with little elevation gain!

This out-and-back hike to the highest point in the Centennial mountains of Idaho and Montana skirts the continental divide and provides stunning views of both states.  From U.S. Highway 20, Sawtell Peak Road heads west, winding back and forth up the south side of Sawtell Peak.  Because there is an FAA flight traffic control station at the top of Sawtell Peak, there is a road to the top that takes you up to a very convenient trailhead at about 9,000 feet.  There is space for four or so cars near a felled trailhead sign.  From here, head west on an easy trail for about 2.2 miles.  When the trail turns sharply north at what feels like a saddle, you can choose to stick to the trail heading to Lake Marie first, for another 2 miles, or head up the ridge line for 1.3 miles to reach the peak.  The hike to Lake Marie weaves through Rock Creek Basin, a wide open bowl with wildflowers and mellow pitches.  There may be some passable snow patches July along the switchbacks until early July.  The last half-mile to the lake requires shuffling down a steep pitch with no clear trail but plenty of rocks to plant your feet on - just follow the National Forest Service trail posts.  After a nice snack by the lake, feel free to explore Rock Creek Basin more.  There are some little falls along the stream that feeds the lake.  Follow the trail back to the ridge.  If your legs aren't up for more hiking, head west once out of the basin, follow the trail to the road.  If you have the energy and daylight, leave the trail and hike east.  After an initially steep ascent, you should have mellow slopes on your left and a band of cliffs on your right as you skirt the ridge toward Mt. Jefferson.  Any point along the ridge is phenomenal for taking pictures.  From the top, you will have a panoramic view of the Greater Yellowstone area, including the iconic Teton range, the Island Park Caldera, and if you're lucky and have a sharp eye, "the nine 12ers," the only range in Idaho reaching above 12,000 feet.  After taking in the views, and maybe looking over the cliffs to the north, head back down the way you came, meet up with the trail, and follow it back to the car.

Pack List

  • Water 
  • Bear Spray 
  • Snacks 
  • Camera 
  • An extra layer or two
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Overall rating: 

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This trek offers some beautiful views into the surrounding area, and if you are only tackling Mt. Jefferson you can easily make that trip in 5 hours round trip while taking your time. Definitely keep an eye out for where to veer off trail and head towards the peak! I got distracted and missed the, "trail turns northward" and ended up backtracking a half mile to get up on the ridge line. As for the ridge line, do follow it as you'll find a semi-worn path that'll make the overall trek much simpler. I followed it on the way back down, but ended up blazing my own trail on the way up thinking there wouldn't be any trails to follow. When I got to the saddle before the final approach the wind started whipping through at a good 35mph, however once I began the ascent the wind quickly died down until near the top. Overall a great hike!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Justin Appleby

Engineering student at Stanford. Part-time adventurer.

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