Updated on November 2, 2020
Day 4 of 2020 Idaho Trip, Sawtooth Wilderness
Fourth day of my Idaho trip. I travelled along Idaho Route 75 farther up to Sawtooth Wilderness Today, hiking Sawtooth Lake trail while exploring a few lakes along the way with drone.
While planning this trip, it seemed to me that most of the better hiking trails in Sawtooth National Forest were located in Sawtooth Wilderness, near the town of Stanley. I was interested in two particular day-hike trails, Sawtooth Lake Trail and Bench Lakes Trail. Unfortunately, the drive from my Airbnb in Hailey to Stanley was 1.5 hours, and after I spent the previous day resting and recovering, I only had one day left to visit Stanley region and hike one of the two aforementioned trails. Going with the popular option, I opted for Sawtooth Lake Trail.
The drive from Hailey to Stanley passed through Galena Summit, at an elevation of 2654m. Soon after that, there was a roadside turnout with magnificent views of Sawtooth Valley.
Galena Summit Overlook
ID 75 Turnout 1
After descending from Galena Summit, Idaho Route 75 runs in Sawtooth Valley, mostly alongside Salmon River. This was a roadside turnout where I got the chance to launch my drone and appreciate the surrounding scenery.
It’s a humbling thought that the river was named after the breed of fish, traveling all the way from Pacific Ocean to these mountains to hatch.
Before starting my hike to Sawtooth Lake, I made a final stop at the shores of Pettit Lake, a lake at valley elevation not far from Idaho Route 75. Most families come here for picnic or kayaking, but I stopped here so that I could view the lake from my drone.
With a drone, I flew across the 2km length of Pettit Lake in no time, reaching the rocks and forests of Sawtooth area.
And my drone’s return from those pointy mountains was captured in this video:
After that, I headed directly to the trailhead of Sawtooth Lake.
Sawtooth Lake Trail
On the map, the parking lot was at “Iron Creek Trailhead”, named after the creek flowing next to it.
The last 5km of forest road to the trailhead was unpaved and heavily washboarded, still in better shape than the one to Hyndman Peak trailhead though.
With a campground nearby and many other trails sharing the same trailhead, parking was a bit tight, with many cars resorted roadside parking off lots.
And there’s a self-served registration box where one had to fill out a registration/permit form. With the trail being so popular, the registration box was pretty much overflown.
And here’s GPS tracking:
The first 3km of the trail was in dense pine forest like this. The trial was easy to tackle without much elevation change.
After the intersection at 3km, the trail continued on.
Forest grew sparser so one could start to appreciate the hills decorated with wildflowers.
Unfortunately, many of the switchbacks before Alpine Lake wasn’t on steep terrain, with many shortcuts that seemed like reasonable and inviting alternatives routes.
A little bit under 2 hours and 6km from trailhead, I reached alpine lake, which was a smaller lake than the Sawtooth Lake at the end. It’s located a short detour away from Sawtooth Lake Trail. I decided to take a rest here and enjoyed my lunch.
After Alpine Lake, the trail picked up difficulty by becoming rockier and steeper. Many families stopped at Alpine Lake as it’s a more accessible destination.
The shores of Alpine Lake was infested with swarms of bugs (maybe moths were a more accurate description) that was quite an intimidating sight. But unlike the hateful bugs I typically run into, they didn’t seem to bother with my lunch.
Nonetheless, my natural fear of bugs meant I didn’t linger at the lake for long after my lunch.
After that, the trail took on a series of switchbacks. With views overlooking Alpine Lake, it wasn’t as taxing.
And some turns of the switchbacks were great overlooks.
Finally, 2.5 hours since my start, I was at the shores of Sawtooth Lake.
First one was at its northern shore, a sneak peek of a portion of the lake. After the passage below, one would appreciate its full span of broadness.
Compared with previous Alpine Lake surrounded by trees, Sawtooth Lake showed a more masculine aspect of the wilderness. It’s barren shores of talus field made strenuous travels, not to mention they were covered with snow for most of the year. Yet at the same time, the views were expansive, the mountains felt reachable, the waves from pleasant breeze were mesmerizing. It managed to be both brutal and beautiful at the same time.
Sawtooth Lake turned out to be a popular camping spot, from which people explored deeper into Sawtooth National Forest. Farther West, Observation Peak was 7.5km away. And towards the East, one could hike off-trail to the summit of Alpine Peak. However, the roundtrip hike to Sawtooth Lake was 15km and I thought that’s enough for me, so like most people, I stayed at the shore of Sawtooth Lake for about 20 minutes, soaked in the sceneries, and headed back.
It’s during my trip back that I was really appreciating how even most of the trail was, that I could literally run most of the way down. It took me less than 2 hours to reach trailhead parking from Sawtooth Lake.
ID 21 Turnout
After leaving Sawtooth Mountains and just before reaching the town of Stanley, State Route 21 travelled through some open ranch with mountains on both sides. I stopped at one of the roadside turnouts and took the following photos.
After that, I started my drive back, while making a few stops along the way. My first stop was Redfish Lake, the largest and most developed lake in the region. My other choice of hiking, Bench Lakes Trail, started near Redfish Lake.
By “most-developed”, I mean there were a couple of campgrounds and even hotels by its shore. The “North Shore Picnic Area” I visited had its parking lot almost full, with jet skis and kayaks popular in deeper waters and children playing in shallow waters.
Above these, there’s a shuttle/tour boat service travelling the entire length of Redfish Lake. I got my drone, and I thought it could do that too. Here’s a video, flying over to the valleys beyond the lake.
And from its shore, its glittering waters backdropped by imposing mountains.
My next stop of the day was Alturas Lake, in particular, Smokey Bear Campground which was located at its shore.
The campgrounds near Alturas Lake seemed certainly less occupied than the ones at Redfish Lake, a perfect fit for those looking for some solitude and away from the amenities of civilization.
Unfortunately, probably because it’s getting late and sunlight was mostly blocked by mountains, the lake didn’t look particularly pretty from my drone. In comparison, the smaller Perkins Lake to the North was still shining in vivid colors.
And here’s my drone flying over both lakes:
After that, I went on the way back to Hailey.
I made a final stop at a turnout along State Route 75 past Galena Summit, with views of valley extending to the horizon.