Backpacking in the Sawtooths – July 2015

We spent the week of July 4th in Idaho backpacking in the Sawtooth Mountains – at 6 days, it was our longest backpack ever. We covered about 50 miles with a lot of elevation gain and loss as we traversed over various passes and into valleys. The Sawtooths are full of alpine lakes and we saw our fair share, over 10 named lakes, each pristine and full of trout. Except for our last day as we hiked out on the Saturday of the July 4th weekend, we hardly saw more than a few people each day, which is why we came to the Sawtooths: stunning mountain scenery without the National Park crowd levels.

We were mostly lucky with weather the whole week – no rain, but it was much hotter than we expected. And we were not fully prepared for the vicious mosquitoes that seemed to get worse every night. By the last night, once the sun began to set, all we could do was hide in our tent and listen to the amazingly loud hum around us. We actually ran out of DEET on our second day, but lucked out with a bit of trail magic and found a bottle of picaradin-based repellent left on the trail, which wasn’t quite as effective, but far better than nothing. Without it, Nathan certainly would have come home with far more bites, and he got quite enough as it was.

Despite the bugs and the unexpected heat, we had a great trip! With some suggestions and help from local blogger Michael Lanza of The Big Outside, we put together a nice itinerary hitting the best of the Sawtooths. Our plan for the second day ended up being a bit over-zealous, in part because the trail was quite overgrown, so we had to stop early and camp along a stream instead of at Baron Lakes. But we were able to make up most of the distance the next day and get back on track.

Our first night at Sawtooth Lake was our favorite with a beautiful sunset and moonlight.


The views from the ridge lines and mountain passes were amazing.


We had a great spontaneous swim break at Hidden Lake one afternoon. Katharine swam out to this rocky island.



The mosquitoes limited our fishing time, but we had some success a couple mornings.


We used rocks, dams, and logs for numerous water crossings.  Some were more stable than others.


The wildflowers were at their peak.


The scenery of the Sawtooths was truly stunning – it was a great week in the wilderness!


If you’re curious, this was our itinerary:

Day 1: Iron Creek Trailhead to Sawtooth Lake

Day 2: Hiked along North fork of Baron Creek to Baron Creek, camped along Baron Creek below the final climb to Baron Lakes

Day 3: To Cramer Lakes via Baron Lakes and Alpine Lake

Day 4: To Edna Lake via Hidden Lake

Day 5: To Twin Lakes via Toxaway Lake

Day 6: To our car at Tin Cup trailhead (Petit Lake Campground) via Alice Lake, Petit Lake

We used Sawtooth Transportation to shuttle us to the trailhead.


More photos:

  1. Tim Macasek’s avatar

    Wow guys, great information! Me and two of my closest friends are planning a trip out to the Sawtooths from July 24-31 and want to do two overnight hikes. We’re also really concerned about the mosquitos from the many stories we’ve heard about how bad they are in mid-summer. Any thoughts or suggestions for us? I follow Lanza too, but wanted input from a few less experience hikers. Thanks!


  2. NateKat’s avatar

    Hi Tim!
    Thanks for reading, glad it was helpful!
    It’s my understanding that the mosquitoes are the worst early in the summer – so by late July, hopefully they won’t be as bad as we experienced. They didn’t bother us much while we hiked during the day, just at camp in the evenings and mornings. Try not to disturb the bushes!
    If you are thinking of doing two separate overnight hikes, I would definitely suggest doing Sawtooth Lake for one of them, it really is stunning and very easy as a 2 day/1 night. You could also do it as a day hike, but spending the night there was a highlight of our trip.
    I definitely cannot recommend the section of trail from Sawtooth Lake to Baron Lakes – most of it was not very scenic and it was seriously overgrown and tough going.
    Otherwise I would suggest following one of Lanza’s itineraries, like the 4 day backpack from Redfish Lake to Petit Lake. We passed a couple other backpackers who highly recommended Saddleback Lakes (which Lanza mentions as an alternative first night). I guess there’s no official trail, but they said it wasn’t too hard to get to & the solitude and views were worth it.
    My only other advice is to be ready for lots of stream crossings without bridges and downed trees across the trail, they slowed our pace a bit. There are way less people in the Sawtooths compared to similar National Parks, but we definitely noticed the corresponding reduction in trail maintenance.
    Have a great trip! Let us know if you have other questions



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