Sawtooth Wilderness

Story and photos by Sara Hall

For the quintessential outdoor experience in Idaho, adventurers should head to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Covering 756,000 acres, the recreation area has more than 700 miles of trails, 40 peaks rising over 10,000 feet and more than 300 high-elevation alpine lakes.

Within Sawtooth National Recreation Area, find both beauty and solitude in the 217,000-acre Sawtooth Wilderness. Considering Idaho’s nickname of the “Gem State,” the Sawtooth Wilderness is its crown jewel. The area features jagged granite peaks, glacier-carved valleys and numerous mountain lakes, creeks and forests. 

Hikers have a lot of options in the wilderness area with nearly 350 miles of trails, but the season is short due to snow, weather and trail condition. A great route for backpacking (including for beginners) is a loop around the long Redfish Lake, the largest lake in Sawtooth. The trail connects to the incredible Bench Lakes, which are well worth the extra climb. 

There are several dispersed camping sites around the little lakes, which are teeming with wildlife in and around the water but remain still and serene at dawn. Other highlights on the loop include a creek overflowing with water during the right time of year, impressive waterfalls, lush forests, a lily pond, wildflowers and unbeatable mountain views. 

Take some extra time to have fun on Redfish Lake, including taking a water taxi across, as it’s a recreational dream come true. The prominent peak towering over the lake is the Grand Mogul, which lives up to its name at 9,733 feet.