Johnson Lake

Sawtooth Wilderness

Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

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Johnson Lake


  • The view into Johnson Creek from the Johnson Divide.- Johnson Lake
  • Johnson Lake.- Johnson Lake
  • A small tree-covered island in Johnson Lake.- Johnson Lake
  • A multitude of shrubs add beautiful color to the 1994 Rabit Creek Fire scar.- Johnson Lake
  • Young evergreen trees are well established in the Johnson Creek basin 17 years after the Rabbit Creek Fire.- Johnson Lake
  • Remnants of the Rabbit Creek Fire are slowly being absorbed into the landscape, overgrown by a lush combination of flowers and low-lying shrubs.- Johnson Lake
  • Rabbit Creek Fire recovery.- Johnson Lake
  • The rocky shoreline of Glacier Lake is accessed from a nice off-trail loop above Johnson Lake.- Johnson Lake
  • Dead whitebark pine detail.- Johnson Lake
Overview + Weather
Neat fire ecology. Remote solitude. Peak scrambling. Multi-day pack trip.
Long hike. Mosquitos. Old fire scars. Remote.
Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, ID
Pets allowed: 
Net Elevation Gain: 
3,450.00 ft (1,051.56 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Summer, Fall
Suitable for:
Hiking, Horseback
Total Distance: 
21.00 mi (33.80 km)
Trail type: 
Trailhead Elevation: 
6,570.00 ft (2,002.54 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description


Johnson Lake is located deep in the west side of the Sawtooth Range. It is most typically accessed from the Little Queens drainage out of the Atlanta Region, though hikers can incorporate it on a backpack loop from the Queens to Little Queens River. Adventures lower in the Little Queens drainage include Scenic Lake and Browns Lake.

Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake occupies a rolling granite basin at the head of Johnson Creek just over the ridge from Browns Lake. Much of the area was burned severely during the 1994 Rabbit Creek Fire. The 18-year recovery process is reaching the stage where new pine trees are nearly head-high in places. A huge variety of mosses, flowers, shrubs, and young trees cover the burned landscape beautifully.  The short spur trail to Johnson Lake is no longer maintained and fades away before reaching the shoreline.

Additional Adventures

For backpackers hoping to continue beyond Johnson Lake, Pat’s and Arrowhead Lakes occupy another basin at the head of Johnson Creek. From Arrowhead Lake it is a short hop over the Queens River Divide to Lake 8,696 and the head of the Queens River drainage. The logical backpacking loop from Queens River to Johnson Creek to Little Queens River is 29.8 miles and requires 5,930 feet of climbing.

Off-Trail Hiking

There is a lot of great ridgeline scrambling between Browns Peak and Blacknose Mountain.  A fun loop leaves Johnson Lake and explores the curious talus-filled valleys on the north side of Browns Peak en route to Glacier Lake and the Hole. This also accesses the north ridge of Browns Peak (Class 3 to Class 4) or the ridge to Point 9,228 that affords an outstanding perspective from high in the middle of the basin.

Wilderness Regulations

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 and well disguised in a cat hole 6-8 inches deep. 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.

References: All content excerpted from Exploring the Sawtooths - A Comprehensive Guide by Idaho River Publications.

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Updates, Tips + Comments

Field Guide

Field Guide

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Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(15 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(87 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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