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:
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.
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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