Saddleback Lakes are accessed from the Redfish Lake Creek Canyon Trail. Though you can access the canyon via the Bench Lakes Trail, most hikers pay for a shuttle across Redfish Lake from the boat docks on the north shore. There are several shorter day hiking options around the Redfish Lake inlet.
Despite the lack of an official Forest Service trail, Saddleback Lakes is a popular destination. A relatively short and steep (the steepest in the Sawtooths!) hike makes this a nice day trip for experienced hikers. The stunning southwest face of the Elephants Perch towers over granite slabs that slip directly into the waters of the lake. Additional sheer walls and rock spires encircle the south and west sides of the canyon.
The route to Saddleback is not an official Forest Service trail, so a detailed description is not provided. Access can be blocked by high water at the crossing of Redfish Lake Creek and by dangerous snow slabs that clog the top of the climb. A slip while crossing this spring-hardened snow can and has led to a fatality. The trail is steep, indistinct and braided at times, so hikers should be confident in their route-finding abilities before tackling this route.
Saddleback Lakes and the Elephants Perch is the epicenter for technical climbing in the Sawtooths. “The Perch” and surrounding peaks hold the highest concentration of technical climbing routes in the range and have been written about in several different climbing publications. The quality of the climbing and additional publicity draws a steady stream of climbers to the area for much of the summer season. It is not uncommon for multiple backpacking and climbing parties to be camped around the lake for several days at a time.
The impacts of such heavy use are apparent around the lake. While the no-fire regulation and Leave No Trace practices help prevent fire rings and garbage from accumulating around the lake, other impacts are unavoidable. Campsites show heavy use and soils are compacted. Locations for effective human waste disposal are limited, and it is not uncommon to come across previously used “scat holes.” Regardless of how carefully campers dispose of their own waste, the reality is that over time, the hundreds of annual deposits will filter directly into this small bedrock lake basin. While Saddleback is not the only high-use area in the Sawtooths, the unique combination of stunning beauty and quality rock climbing brings higher than normal use to this fragile environment. We strongly recommend camping directly on bedrock slabs and using a “wag bag” or other pack-it-out human waste disposal system to limit impact!
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 that is 6 to 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.
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