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Bench Lakes

Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

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Bench Lakes

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  • The Bench Lakes Trail is open partway to mountain bikes (all the way to the Redfish Inlet), so many hikers/climbers will ride bikes to the lake junction.- Bench Lakes
  • Hiking the trail into the wilderness (you have to leave your bikes behind) with Mount Heyburn (10,299') in the background.- Bench Lakes
  • Cruising up the first several switchbacks with Mount Heyburn (10,299') in the background.- Bench Lakes
  • Looking across the first, lowest Bench Lake.- Bench Lakes
  • Mount Heyburn (10,299') can be seen from the lowest Bench Lake.- Bench Lakes
  • Another view of the granite spires that make up Mt Heyburn from the southeast shore of the 3rd Bench Lake.- Bench Lakes
  • Looking across the 3rd Bench Lake.- Bench Lakes
  • The view looking down canyon across the south shore of the 3rd Bench Lake.- Bench Lakes
  • The 4th Bench Lake occupies an incredible alpine cirque at the base of Mount Heyburn.- Bench Lakes
  • A climber begins the traverse along the south shore of the 4th Bench Lake.- Bench Lakes
  • The 4th Bench Lake can be covered by snow and ice into July.  The snowfields beneath the north face of Mount Heyburn can last all summer.- Bench Lakes
  • Boulders and lake detail.- Bench Lakes
  • The climbing routes on Mount Heyburn are often accessed by climbing the talus fields above the 4th Bench Lake.- Bench Lakes
  • Small climbers trails can be followed through the talus and scree fields.- Bench Lakes
  • Looking down valley on the Bench Lakes and Redfish Lake at the bottom of the valley.- Bench Lakes
  • Stunning blue above the 4th Bench Lake.- Bench Lakes
  • Rock cairn in the northwest saddle of Mount Heyburn.- Bench Lakes
  • Looking at the Rotten Monoligh from the northwest saddle of Mount Heyburn.- Bench Lakes
  • A faint climber's trail leads from the northwest saddle to the southwest or Silver Saddle of Mount Heyburn.- Bench Lakes
  • Hikers can choose to descend the Bench Lakes trail to the Redfish Inlet and catch a boat ride back to the north end of the lake. This trail supports some beautiful wildflowers in early June.- Bench Lakes
  • Taking a family hike along the Bench Lakes trail.- Bench Lakes
  • A family enjoys a field of arowleaf balsam root while descending to the Redfish Inlet dock and campground.- Bench Lakes
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Nice day hike to lakes. Access to climbing. Boat shuttle option. Spring flowers to Redfish inlet.
Cons: 
Heavy use. Horse outfitting impact. Trail does not go to higher lakes.
Region:
Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, ID
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Net Elevation Gain: 
1,455.00 ft (443.48 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer, Fall
Suitable for:
Hiking, Biking, Horseback
Total Distance: 
8.20 mi (13.20 km)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
6,560.00 ft (1,999.49 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Contributor

Bench Lakes are a series of five alpine lakes that drain the north face of Mount Heyburn. The trail traverses the western Redfish moraine all the way to the Redfish Inlet offering nice views of the lake. A spur leaves the main trail two-thirds of the way across the moraine and climbs to the 2nd Bench Lake. The 4th and 5th lakes are tucked into stunning alpine bowls only accessible by hiking off-trail. A fun option is to link the hike with a boat shuttle across the lake at the beginning or end of the day. In the winter, backcountry skiers can rent the Bench Lake Hut from Sun Valley Trekking. Mountain bikes are also allowed all the way to the Redfish Inlet, but not up to the Bench Lakes.

Being so close to the Redfish Lake Lodge, Bench is one of the most popular hikes in the Sawtooths. The lakes are also the destination for Mystic Saddle Ranch’s half-day guided horseback ride. Such heavy use has deteriorated the trail, primarily as it climbs out of Fishhook Creek where it is very eroded and rocky. In late summer, the trail can be very dusty.

Hiking distances and ascents are as follows:

  • From the Fishhook trailhead to 2nd Bench Lake: 4.1 miles, 1,455 feet
  • From the Fishhook trailhead to Redfish Inlet: 5.3 miles, 941 feet

Most of the trail lies within the Sawtooth Wilderness. Please observe the following  regulations:
• Mountain bikes are not allowed past the wilderness boundary.
• Self administered wilderness permits are required and available at the trailhead.
• Dogs must be on a leash between July 1 and Labor Day
• Camp 100-feet from trails, lakes and streams
• Pack out all garbage.
• Human waste should be buried in a cat hole 6-8 inches deep, buried and well disguised. Pack out all toilet paper.
• Campfires allowed ONLY in a backcountry pan or fire blanket
• Campfires are NOT allowed at some lakes and in some drainages in the Sawtooths. Please review the campfire restrictions at individual trailheads.
• Permits required for all stock use in the wilderness. No grazing allowed in the Salmon River watershed (This includes the Alpine Lake drainage)
• No equine stock at Edith Lake. ALL stock prohibited in the Goat Creek and Alpine Creek (Alturas Lake) drainages.

Technical Climbing

Mount Heyburn, with its prominent spires clearly visible from the Sawtooth valley, was an epicenter of early climbing in the range. Robert and Miriam Underhill with Dave Williams made the first ascent of the peak by a route up the southwest ridge in 1934. The Iowa Climbers set up a base camp in the area during their 1948 summer expedition. They climbed the original Underhill Route and also ascended the Petzoldt Couloir that splits the North Face to a notch between the east and west summits. 

Louis Stur and Jerry Ball established the Stur Chimney in 1958, a 4-pitch route up the west face. In 1962 and 1966 both north buttresses of the two main summits fell to the team of Fred Beckey and Jerry Fuller. William March even managed a complete traverse of the east ridge over the numerous gendarmes along the way. Today, the climbing traffic seems to be mostly limited to the Petzoldt Couloir (an alpine climb) and Stur Chimney. Other than a few vague descriptions in the American Alpine Journal accounts, details of these routes are hard to come by so future climbing parties may very well feel like they are breaking new ground.

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Field Guide + Trail Map

Field Guide + Trail Map

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Nearby Camping + Lodging

(14 within a 30 mile radius)

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Published in collaboration with Idaho River Publications

Our mission is to inspire adventure with beautiful, comprehensive and waterproof map-based guidebooks.  Owner, publisher, and photographer Matt Leidecker, grew up exploring and guiding on the rivers in central Idaho.  His award winning Middle Fork of the Salmon River – A Comprehensive Guide is the standard by which other river guidebooks are measured.  Printed on virtually indestructible YUPO paper, IRP guides are truly unique all-in-one resources for adventure.  Each book is loaded with full-color maps, stunning photographs, and information on the history, geology, and wildflowers.  Visit Idaho River Publications to explore our guidebooks to the Rogue River in Oregon and the mountains of Central Idaho.

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