Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
16,811.00 ft (5,123.99 m)
Trail type
Loop
Distance
72.30 mi (116.36 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Located in central Idaho, the Sawtooth Mountains are an impressive range made up of jagged granite peaks, picturesque valleys, and over 400 alpine lakes! 

The Grand Sawtooth Loop circumnavigates some of the most scenic parts of the Sawtooth Mountains and avoids some of the more crowded areas. Most of the crowds on this route will be found camping at the many lakes along the way. 

The Grand Sawtooth Loop can be completed in either direction, but is described here going clockwise. 

Iron Creek Trailhead is a great option for anyone looking for a slightly less crowded trailhead. Wilderness permits are required and can be obtained at the trailhead. 

The trails are fairly easy to follow however, being that this is a route, and not an official trail, hikers and backpackers must be prepared in advance with maps and review the various junctions.

Iron Creek Trail → North Fork Baron Lake Trail → Redfish Creek/Baron Lakes Trail → Mt. Cramer Trail → Tenlake Basin Trail → Benedict Trail → South Fork Payette River Trail → Trail Creek → Iron Creek Trail 

DESCRIPTION

The Iron Creek Trailhead can be reached via Forest Road #619 and is located just 5.5 miles outside of Stanley, Idaho. Parking is plentiful, but does fill up on the weekends. 

The trail begins in a forested area and follows Iron Creek for about a mile before starting a climb up several switchbacks towards Alpine Lake. Here the trail becomes rocky and exposed, but filled with rewarding scenery and views of the Sawtooth Mountains.

Around 4 miles in you will reach a junction on the left which leads to Alpine Lake, continue to the right on Iron Creek Trail (Alpine Lake is a nice detour for anyone wanting to take a dip or needing to filter some water). 

Shortly after the junction with Alpine Lake you will reach Sawtooth Lake, one of the largest and most spectacular in the region! Camping is plentiful at the lake, but does fill up. Sawtooth Lake marks the start of the actual loop. 

Take the North Fork Baron Creek Trail towards Baron Lakes and Baron Falls. Continue for a series of ups and downs passing Cramer Lakes and Hidden Lake. The trail crosses the South Fork Payette River (here you have an option to make the loop shorter by taking the South Park Payette River Trail, but this will cut out some of the most beautiful sections of the route). 

For the next 9 miles you will be treated to numerous high elevation lakes and beautiful scenery including Virginia Lake, Edna Lake, and Vernon Lake (a great area for camping). 

From here the trail climbs several switchbacks until reaching a pass with rewarding views of Ardeth Lake and Tenlake Basin. 

The trail descends to Ardeth Lake and continues to an easy stream crossing between Spangle Lake and Little Spangle Lake. Continue along Benedict Trail to the South Fork Payette River Trail. Pass the Grandjean Trailhead junction (one of the more popular starting points for this loop) and continue to a four way trail intersection (the trail is labeled “Trail Creek” on National Geographic Maps, but this may vary depending on the map you use).  Turn right towards the McGowen Lakes and continue along the Iron Creek Trail to Sawtooth Lake. 

Descend to Sawtooth Lake and stay on Iron Creek Trail to return back to where you started.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Days

4

Pros

Lakes. Rivers. Swimming. Scenic Mountain Views. Wildflowers.

Cons

Some crowded areas. Some burn areas. Mosquitos at lakes in summer.

Trailhead Elevation

6,898.00 ft (2,102.51 m)

Highest point

9,468.00 ft (2,885.85 m)

Features

Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Family friendly
Waterfalls
Wildlife
Fishing
Big vistas
Wildflowers
Bird watching

Typically multi-day

Yes

Permit required

Yes

Permit self-issue on site

Yes

Location

Comments

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