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Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake

Sawtooth Mountains

Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

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Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake

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  • Elk Meadow is an expansive 3-mile-long alpine meadow that is tucked into the northern end of the Sawtooth Wilderness.- Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake
  • The trail is open to a wide variety of uses.- Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake
  • The trail traverses through 2 miles of pleasant, smooth, and flat singletrack before reaching the eastern edge of the meadow.- Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake
  • About halfway to Elk Meadows, the trail passes an oxbow meander of Elk Creek.- Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake
  • The flower displays along the southern edge of the meadow change as the summer progresses. Here is a late June bloom of Mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi).- Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake
  • Later in July the common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Rydberg's penstemon (Penstemon rydbergii) come out.- Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake
  • Rydberg's penstemon or another of the many penstemon varieties.- Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake
  • Slender paintbrush (Castilleja gracillima).- Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake
  • The trail traverses the meadow, but it fades quickly. Hikers shoud look for this tall "trail" sign to indicate the way. It is common to feel a little lost in the vast expance of meadow grasses and meandering creeks.- Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake
  • The climb up to Elizabeth Lake is shaded and steep. Unfotunately, the motorcycle traffic on this steep trail has had some damaging effects.- Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake
  • Elizabeth Lake is located below the trail and tucked into an isolated and shady nook. This trail sign indicates where hikers need to descend to the lake.- Elk Meadow + Elizabeth Lake
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Stunning wildflowers. Expansive meadows. Short hike. Secluded lake.
Cons: 
Meadows can be wet. Trail fades in the meadow. Motorized.
Region:
Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, ID
Congestion: 
Low
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Net Elevation Gain: 
1,005.00 ft (306.32 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer, Fall
Suitable for:
Hiking, Biking, Horseback
Total Distance: 
11.80 mi (18.99 km)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
6,679.00 ft (2,035.76 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Contributor

Elk Meadow is a stunning sub-alpine meadow about 2 miles from Elk Creek. It is a beautiful, flat, and relatively short wildflower hike that would be great with kids. The trail is also part of the Elk Mountain Loop mountain bike ride.

Elk Meadow

The trail into Elk Meadows is an easy hike or bike across a lightly forested flat. The wildflower display in the meadow from mid-June to late August is absolutely stunning, especially with a backdrop of high peaks covered in snow. It makes a great early season hike and is a good destination for younger hikers. The trail disappears completely further out into the meadow for those continuing on to Elizabeth Lake. This hike is part of the popular Elk Mountain Loop, so be ready to get out of the way of speeding mountain bikes and motorcycles. A shorter, 1.5-mile alternative is to head east along old roads (now a trail) to the Park Creek Meadow for a slightly-less-stunning display of wildflowers.

Elizabeth Lake

Elizabeth Lake is a narrow lake tucked into a heavily-forested niche with steep slopes rising directly from the banks. While not very dramatic, Elizabeth offers relative solitude not found at the more popular high mountain lakes. You can access Elizabeth Lake from the north via Trap Creek, but this southern route leads through the beautiful Elk Meadow that can be awash in wildflowers in late June and early July. The trail beyond the Elk Mountain Junction through the meadow is more of a thought than an actual tread. 

Though it is marked on the map, the trail is non-existent for most of the way through the meadow. Stay on dry ground in the center of the meadow for 0.8 miles. At the edge of a small stream, a 10-foot post with a “trail” sign attached leads hikers back to some semblance of a trail. From here, follow a faint tread that leads to the north side of the valley. It gets easier to follow along the meadow’s edge through open trees to the junction with the upper Elk Creek Trail. The trail to Elizabeth Lake is easy to follow from here.

The meadow itself is probably the remnant of a shallow moraine-bound lake that filled with sediment before eroding through the natural moraine dam on its downstream shore

Hiking distances and ascents are as follows:

• From the Elk Mountain Trailhead to Elk Meadow: 2.3 miles, 175 feet.
• From the Elk Mountain Trailhead to Park Creek Meadow: 1.5 miles, 120 feet.
• From the Elk Mountain Trailhead to Elizabeth Lake: 5.9 miles, 1,005 feet.

Additional Adventures

The trail continues beyond Elizabeth Lake connects over a mellow divide to Marten + Kelly Lakes, which sit at the head of Trapp Creek.

Mountain Biking

The trail is open to mountain bikes but is NOT recommended for uphill travel as it is steep, loose, and badly eroded from motorcycles climbing an unsustainably steep grade. It is worthwhile to ride to the base of the climb in order to shorten the hike to Elizabeth Lake. Linking Trap Creek to Elizabeth Lake and Elk Mountain is a decent ride with a lot of technical rocky challenges south of Kelly Lake and a steep and loose descent to Elk Meadow. It is best to wait until summer when Elk Meadow is drier to attempt riding through the meadow.

Off-Trail Hiking

From Elizabeth Lake there are two summits on either side of the lake that offer a great view south into the heart of the Sawtooths.  Peak 9,300 is the highest point along the Copper to Observation ridgeline and looks a bit easier to summit via its east ridge.  The climb to Point 9,205 is a straightforward walk through the trees from the Kelly Divide. Both peaks could be looped on a short 3.2-mile circumnavigation of Elizabeth Lake.

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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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