Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
2,900.00 ft (883.92 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
12.00 mi (19.31 km)
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Most of the Sawtooth Mountains’ top destinations are on the east side of the range, near Sun Valley or Stanley. The west side, even though it’s closer to Boise, is often overlooked because it has fewer lakes and trailheads. That means uncrowded trails and expansive backcountry. Grandjean makes a great base camp for all that the western Sawtooths have to offer. There is a campground, a lodge, and one main trailhead, with several trails you can hike from there. Perhaps the best day hike from Grandjean is to Trail Creek Lakes, and it makes an excellent overnight backpacking trip as well.

The Trail Creek Lakes are a collection of small alpine lakes near the core of the range, tucked beneath classically jagged Sawtooth peaks. The first lake is the one most people see, and where the official trail ends, but it’s possible to hike and scramble further to find true solitude at the higher lakes.

The hike from Grandjean begins at the campground, which is run by Sawtooth National Forest. As with other hikes in the Sawtooths, you must fill out a free wilderness permit at the trailhead and carry it with you, whether day hiking or backpacking. At first, the trail leads through shady, mature woodland, but soon climbs a grassy hill and enters a burnt forest in the canyon of Trail Creek. A wildfire in 2006 left a patchwork of charred and intact vegetation, which is a natural result of fire that promotes forest diversity over time. Throughout the hike you’ll notice plenty of trees that survived the blaze, and you’ll see new growth everywhere trees were killed.

The thin canopy makes for fantastic views all along the hike, but also means that much of the way is exposed to the sun. Luckily, the trail crosses the creek a handful of times, so you can resupply water or douse yourself to cool off. There are no bridges at the crossings, so they can be dicey during early summer flows, but rocks and logs are usually in place to help out.

The path goes steadily upward, with craggy slopes and granite pinnacles defining both sides of the valley. Eventually you’ll reach a signed junction where one trail continues toward Stanley Lake, and another goes to Trail Creek Lakes. Continuing toward the lakes, the trail crosses a brief muddy section, then becomes very steep on the final push. You’ll want to pause to catch your breath, and also take in the scenery. Across the valley, clearly visible through skeleton trees, is the hulking Observation Peak, with the entire canyon falling away below. From this vantage you can really tell how far you’ve hiked.

Soon the trail flattens out, among regenerating understory that bursts with summer wildflowers, and comes to a small pond. Just around the corner is the lake. Suddenly you’ll see the blue water, reflecting it’s dramatic backdrop of granite walls and pointy peaks. The trail meets the shore at some rock outcrops, which make perfect pedestals for photography or for fishing. The trail continues around one side of the lake, where more places to lounge, fish, and swim can be found. This is also the way to go if you want to trek to the higher lakes.

At the first lake are a few flat spots that make good campsites. Two or three are near the lake inlet (avoid setting up camp right where the trail meets the lake), and a few more are found on the path that continues along the shore. Be sure to only use spots that have clearly been used before, so as not to increase the impact. Spots are limited, and camping can become crowded on summer weekends. If you stay at the first lake, be prepared to camp in proximity to others and share space.

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Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

Backcountry Permit

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Alpine lakes. Views all along hike. Trail follows a creek.

Cons

Burned area, can be sunny and hot. Limited campsites at the lakes.

Trailhead Elevation

5,200.00 ft (1,584.96 m)

Highest point

7,970.00 ft (2,429.26 m)

Features

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

Typically multi-day

No

Suitable for

Horseback

Permit required

Yes

Permit self-issue on site

Yes

Location

Comments

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