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Jared Kennedy | 07.25.2019

The Sawtooth National Forest envelopes the Sawtooth Mountains, for which it was named, as well as other nearby mountain ranges. The Pioneer, White Cloud, Boulder and Smoky mountains are all nearby and can be easily accessed from Stanley or Ketchum, the town that hosts Sun Valley Lodge. The area of the Sawtooths is an outdoor destination that attracts outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes; people come to camp along the lower elevation lakes to explore the canyons and valleys or to scale the summits of the more than 50 peaks over 10,000 feet that are in the vicinity.

Want to make the most of your experience in the Sawthooths? Here are 16 ways to take on the backcountry along with some inspiration on where to go.

Go hiking

There are no shortage of hikes to take in the Sawtooths. Go for a day hike or spend a few days on a longer backpacking trip into some truly remote areas. Fall Creek Canyon, in the Pioneer Mountains, is a wonderful place to go for a one-day or overnight trip.

Do some backcountry camping

The Sawtooths are a backpacker's dream. In the Sawtooth Wilderness, the Middle Fork of the Boise River, Camp Lakes and Flytrip Basin is a 30-mile trip with several places to camp for the night. Setup camp alongside a high mountain lake where you can watch the shooting stars, make a small campfire (until summer fire restrictions prohibit it), and wake up to the sun's first rays hitting the surrounding mountain peaks.

Take in the sweeping views

This is the land of mountains and valleys, forests, lakes, rivers and waterfalls. The views are big from nearly anywhere you look. The trip to Cramer Lakes + Divide is just one of many that will make you fall in love with the Sawtooths and keep coming back for more.

Bring along your mountain bike

Some trails in Ketchum and the surrounding area are open to mountain bikers. Although riders should be wary of wilderness areas—where bikes are not allowed—bike-friendly trails are a spectacular alternative to hiking on foot. Redfish Lake Loop via Grand Mogul Trail + Bench Lakes Trail is a 13-mile loop that circumnavigates Redfish Lake. Be advised that the Sawtooth Wilderness stops just west of Redfish Inlet, and bikes are allowed no further up canyon.

Explore historic mines

The Sawtooths were actively mined for years, and many hikes go to places where you can explore this legacy. The Eureka Gulch hike follows an old mining road and passes the tunnels and abandoned mining equipment that was a part of Ruby Mine.

Swim in a mountain lake

After a long hike, who doesn't love taking a dip in a cool mountain lake? There are a lot of lakes to hike to in the Sawtooths. Alpine Creek Canyon is remote enough that you can skinny dip to your heart's content and lay down on the rocks flanking the shore to dry off in the summer sun.

Soak in a hot spring

Sunbeam Hot Springs has a series of heated pools that are accessible from the side of Idaho's Highway 75. It's a great place to stop for a soak in the Salmon River on a trip to and from the Sawtooths.

Go backcountry skiing

While most skiers stick to Sun Valley Lodge and the main resorts in the winter, the Sawtooths offer some amazing places to ski in the backcountryWilliams Peak Hut can be booked in advance by skiers who have completed an avalanche training and have visited the area before. If it's your first time, consider hiring an experienced guide.

Check out the waterfalls

Mountains mean waterfalls, and the Sawtooth Mountains are no exception to this rule. It's a relatively easy hike to Stanley Lake Creek + Lady Face Falls. Just be careful when trying to get the best view of the waterfall because the granite slabs in front of it can be really slippery.

Bring a canoe

Redfish Lake sits at the entrance of the Sawtooth Wilderness. The 4.5-mile long lake, elevation 6,547 feet, has impressive views of the surrounding mountains. If you don't have a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddle board of your own, they can be rented by the hour, half-day or full day from the Redfish Marina, operated by Redfish Lake Lodge at the northern tip of the lake.

Go flyfishing in the backcountry

Bring your fly rod with you on a backpacking trip to the high altitude lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains and you can catch cutthroat trout to your heart's content. Pats Lake, Arrowhead Lake, + Queens River Divide offer many places to fish on the 29-mile there-and-back route.

Walk through old-growth forests

High-altitude old-growth forests usually don't gain the impressive heights of those lower down, but hiking through the ancient trees is impressive nonetheless. The Redfish Inlet Hikes is one of the hikes in the area that go through sections of old-growth Douglas fir.

Climb a mountain

The mountaineering in the Sawtooths is challenging, and many routes have long approaches. One such mountain is The Devils Bedstead. It's the fifth-highest peak in the Pioneer Mountains and has an elevation 11,865 feet at the summit.

Relax in wildflower meadows

Starting in the spring at lower elevations and continuing until late summer in the high country, the wildflowers bring a whole new level of beauty to the backcountry. Elk Meadow is one of many places in the Sawtooths to take in the blooming bulbs.

Observe the wildlife (without feeding it)

Moose, elk and deer are just a few of the animals that you may encounter on a trip through the Sawtooth Wilderness. The aptly named Bull Moose Creek might provide you with a bull moose sighting, and these other spots may do so as well.

Go rock climbing

For climbers, the rock of the Sawtooths offers great multi-pitch routes to climb. From Saddleback Lakes, Elephant Perch's 1,200-foot granite wall and the many cracks to Old Decker Peak's summit are easily accessible. There are many other routes in the area that can be reached by approaches of varying lengths and difficulties.


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