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8 Best Hikes in Stanley, Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains

Updated April 2024 for additional information and accuracy.

Welcome to our guide on the best hikes in the majestic Sawtooth Mountains surrounding Stanley, Idaho! Nestled in the heart of the Gem State, the Sawtooth Range is a hiker’s paradise, boasting rugged peaks, pristine alpine lakes, and breathtaking vistas at every turn. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly hike to a lake, views of a waterfall, a bit of scrambling and route finding, climbing over a boulder field, meandering through the forest, or summiting sharp, jagged mountains, the Sawtooth Mountains offer an array of hiking experiences to suit all skill levels. From iconic trails like Alice-Toxaway Loop and Sawtooth Lake to lesser-known gems like Bench Lakes and Goat Lake, each hike promises unforgettable scenery and the chance to immerse yourself in the raw beauty of Idaho’s wilderness.

The Sawtooth Mountains surrounding Stanley, Idaho are one of our favorite mountain ranges in America and way better than most National Parks because the Sawtooth Mountains are just as beautiful without the crowds.

Where To Camp In Stanley, Idaho

Whether you are driving through Stanley on your way to/from Sun Valley and McCall or like us, see Stanley, Idaho as your main destination, you’ll find that there aren’t very many hotel or BNB options, however, there are a ton of options for camping.

Depending on what RV we are traveling in and the time of year, we have camped in many different areas surrounding Stanley, Idaho

For some reason, we often find ourselves here around the 4th of July, making it a little harder to get a campsite. However, in early June and late August, it is fairly easy to find a campsite, especially free camping.

If you are looking to boondock, there are a ton of options and many of them are big rig-friendly. I personally don’t like to take my 42′ fifth wheel off-road but we did free camp here with our 30′ class C motorhome and were able to easily get in and out even though the road was a little rutted.

And as a bonus, Gabi captured this picture while we were boondocking here.

Idaho Summer Stargazing, Stanley
A stunning night under the Milky Way in the vast Sawtooth Wilderness

While I love free camping, lately we’ve just been choosing the easy option of camping in the town of Stanley at Mountain Village Resort. I like that they have a few sites with full hookups. You can also choose to camp in the big grass area, which has great views. Other reasons we choose to camp here are that our cell service works great, we can walk to get coffee, beer, and food, they often have live music, and they have their own private hot springs.

I have also enjoyed camping at Glacier View, which is near Redfish Lake. The negatives here are that it is hard to get a site and there was no cell service the last time we were there. The benefits of camping here are that you are right by the lake, close to great hiking trails, and the sites are spacious.

We’ve also camped by Stanley Lake and further south by Tin Cup Trailhead and it’s all GREAT!

If I were in a small RV or tent camping, I would try to get a campsite at Iron Creek Campground since a few of these best hikes in the Sawtooths begin there.

Free camping Stanley, Idaho
Free dispersed camping in the region of Stanley, Idaho

Fun Things To Pack For Hiking In Stanley, Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains

Overall Best Hike in the Sawtooths: Goat Lake

Goat Lake, Alpine Lake, Sawtooths
Going for a swim in the alpine waters of Goat Lake

Overall: Challenging but the most bang-for-your-buck day hike in the Sawtooths
Distance: 8.1 miles
Elevation gain: 1768’
Trailhead: Iron Creek TH
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If you only had time to choose one hike in the Sawtooths AND you are capable of doing a strenuous hike, then I think Goat Lake is the best bang-for-your-buck hike.

Sawtooth Lake and Alice Lake are probably more popular hikes in the Sawtooths, however, that is because they are easier not necessarily more beautiful. I think they only scratch the surface of beauty when compared to Goat Lake.

Goat Lake is perhaps the most beautiful alpine lake in America. It’s a steep trail but the views of the Sawtooth mountain range, waterfall, and snow-capped peaks make it worth the effort.

Goat Lake is also a great place for backcountry camping! We loved the snow-capped mountains surrounding the lake and if you enjoy backpacking, this would be a great one to add to your bucket list.

This beautiful day hike in the Sawtooths goes through forests, has panoramic views, and requires a bit of route finding, a short scree scramble, and boulder hopping at the end. Don’t take the scree part lightly. This short section of eroded dirt is often the deal breaker for many so if you have any trouble with heights or balance on loose steep, loose dirt, choose a different hike.

Directions & Details:

To get there, start from Iron Creek Trailhead. Follow the trail for a mile then turn left after entering Sawtooth Wilderness following the sign towards Marshall Lake and cross the creek.

Goat Lake, Idaho: Best Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho
Don’t miss this left turn, we almost did

After 1 mile of flat ground through the forest, you’ll cross a mini footbridge and begin heading uphill. As you head up switchbacks you’ll be given amazing views of the surrounding mountains.

Goat Lake, Idaho: Best Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho

The following mile skirts around the left side of the mountain and eventually you’ll come to an unmarked junction by a large rock band on your right (shown above). You’ll see a small trail going down and left. Do not go that way. Instead, scramble up the rock band on your right. After the initial climb up the rock band, cairns and an obvious trail will appear.

Goat Lake, Idaho: Best Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho
…Scramble right then switchback left
Goat Lake, Idaho: Best Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho
Stay as close to that boulder as you can
Goat Lake, Idaho: Best Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho
When you see this you’re almost there

Head up the boulder field until you reach the top of Goat Falls. Here, cross the river via one of the many bridges and make your final ascent up to the lake.

Be sure to soak in the picture-perfect lake, have a snack, and go for a swim before returning the way you came.

Best Peak Hike in the Sawtooths: Thompson Peak

Difficulty: Strenuous
Distance: 12.5 miles
Elevation gain: 4117’
Trailhead: Redfish TH
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Best Hikes Sawtooth Mountains

Do you love standing on top of mountain peaks? We are constantly chasing the highest 360 views we can find. The cool thing about doing Thompson Peak in the Sawtooth Mountains is that, unlike 14ers in Colorado, hiking here is at a much lower overall elevation making it significantly easier to summit peaks.

Even better is that the turquoise color of the alpine lake under Thompson Peak (which by the way has no official name), is one of the prettiest lakes in the world. It’s worth just hiking to this lake even if you don’t want to summit Thompson.

Best Moderate Hike in the Sawtooths & Most Popular: Sawtooth Lake

Overall: A very popular & quite stunning alpine lake hike in the Sawtooths; moderate the whole way there; comfortable place to relax at
Distance: 9.6 miles
Elevation gain: 1817’
Trailhead: Iron Creek TH
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Distance: 10 miles
Difficulty + elevation gain: Moderate, 1800′
Overall:

Sawtooth Lake is one of the most rewarding hikes we’ve ever done. The relatively easy 5-mile ascent brings you to a large, icy-colored, alpine lake with a beautiful jagged mountain peak in the background.

Though not quite as stunning as otherworldy Goat Lake, Sawtooth Lake is the next best thing, and looking down on the views of Alpine Lake as you hike the trail.

Alpine Lake, Sawtooth Lake trail, Sawtooth Mountains
View of Alpine Lake while ascending the switchbacks to Sawtooth Lake

This trail is longer than Goat Lake but the trail grade is much less steep. As a bonus, if the trail gets to be too much for you, the views at Alpine Lake are also quite nice and by hiking only to Alpine Lake instead of all the way to Sawtooth Lake, cuts out a mile and about 500′ of elevation gain.

Sawtooth Lake is also a popular backpacking circuit which makes the trail well-trafficked.

hikes Sawtooths

Directions & Details:

The Sawtooth Lake hike starts from the same trailhead as that of Goat Lake, Iron Creek Trailhead. The trail is well signed the whole way to Sawtooth Lake and it’s nearly impossible to get lost.

A little over an hour in the trail breaks into a clearing in the trees and here you get your first stunning views. Here, the switchbacks begin and soon you’ll reach Alpine Lake. There’s a junction where you can add half a mile (roundtrip) to reach Alpine Lake. You can opt to skip this tiny detour since you get incredible views of Alpine Lake on the switchbacks that ascend to Sawtooth Lake.

Sawtooth Lake, Sawtooth Range
The first view of Sawtooth Lake, but don’t forget to hike further, the views get better

P.S. When you reach the first arm of the lake, that’s not the really beautiful part. Be sure to hike all the way around the corner to see the amazing part of Sawtooth Lake.

It took us a total of 2.5 hours to reach the lake. You’ll want to spend at least an hour enjoying the view.

Sawtooth Lake, Sawtooth Range
Going for an alpine dip in Sawtooth Lake.

Related: Best Hikes in Idaho

Bonus: Add Alpine Peak for a Challenge

Difficulty: Strenuous
Distance: 12.8 miles
Elevation gain: 3421’

Once you get to Sawtooth Lake, you’ll continue hiking towards the backside of the lake and then begin the challenging 1300′ gain over .7 miles to the summit of Alpine Peak. this hike requires some class 2 and class 3 scrambling.

Best Lake to Hang a Hammock in the Sawtooths: Alice Lake

Overall: Long but not too difficult; a stunning alpine lake with lots of tree coverage making it a great place to hang a hammock at and swim
Distance: 11.6 miles
Elevation gain: 1600’
Trailhead: Tin Cup TH
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Alice Lake: Epic Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho
Enjoying the view at Alice Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains

Probably the most famous backpacking circuit in Sawtooth—and possibly even Idaho for that matter—is the Alice Lake to Toxaway Lake Loop. We’ve done the entire loop as a day hike (see below), however, just hiking to Alice Lake is amazing and you don’t need to do the whole loop to soak in the beauty of the Sawtooths.

We thought this was one of the best day hikes in the Sawtooths because when you get to the lake, the backdrop of the mountains is gorgeous, there are perfect trees to hang a hammock on right next to the lake, and it’s a great lake to swim in.

Directions & Details:

Start this Sawtooth hike from Tin Cup Trailhead, following signs to Petit Lake from Highway 75 along the Sawtooths.

It’s a little over 11 miles round trip to the lake and back but it’s also a pretty easy 11 miles since the trail isn’t all that steep.

The lake views at the top are panoramic. What makes the view so stunning is the long majestic Sawtooth Range to the west. Pick one of the many spots along the lake, enjoy the views, have some snacks, and jump in the crystal-clear lake.

Alice Lake: Epic Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho

Related: Ultimate Idaho Adventure Road Trip

Best Backpacking Trip That You Can Do As A Day Hike: Alice-Toxaway Loop

Difficulty: Strenuous
Distance: 18.7 miles
Elevation gain: 3139’
Trailhead: Tip Cup TH
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Most hikes that are under 20 miles we prefer to just do as day hikes instead of backpacking and so, we did this one as a family on my birthday a few years ago and loved it. Overall it wasn’t that hard of a hike, just long. The views from the pass were worth the effort, however, if you hike it clockwise, the views towards the end get less impressive. We did this hike clockwise but in retrospect, as a day hike, I would probably choose to go counterclockwise.

Directions & Details:

Once you get past Alice Lake, there’s a trail that branches off to the left to views of Twin Lakes, which are nice but you do get better views of them from the trail as you climb and from the divide.

The climb up to Alice Toxaway Divide is gradual but consistent (about 500′ over a mile). Take in the views though because the views on the other side of the divide are not quite as impressive because you are more in the forest for most of the rest of the hike and don’t have the expansive views of mountains and lakes as you did in the first half.

You’ll next descend to Toxaway Lake and then you have a 2-mile long climb. Here you can decide whether it’s worth adding in the 4-mile round trip detour to Imogene Lake or continuing on for the 8.5 miles back to the trailhead, most of which is downhill, however, the 2 short uphill sections feel way longer than they should.

Family at the top of Alice Toxaway Divide with views of Twin Lakes in the background

Easy Alpine Lake Hike in the Sawtooths: Bench Lakes

Overall: Easiest, most family-friendly alpine lake hike in the Sawtooths, not the most stunning but still gorgeous compared to city life
Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation gain: 1200’
Trailhead: Tin Cup TH
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Bench Lakes, Sawtooth Day Hikes
Bench Lakes is a great family-friendly hike!

Want to reach an alpine lake but don’t want something too strenuous? This is the hike for you! While it’s still a borderline “moderate” hike, this is the easiest alpine lake trail in the Sawtooths.

While the lake is still beautiful, it doesn’t compare to Alice, Sawtooth, and Goat Lake. If you know you’re capable of doing harder hikes, I honestly wouldn’t recommend this however if you know 8 miles is kind of your limit, you should probably start with this trail before pushing yourself on the other more strenuous Sawtooth treks.

Bench Lakes trail
Beautiful views on the way up to Bench Lakes

The other pro of this hike is that if you’re staying at one of the campgrounds surrounding Redfish Lake or the Lodge itself, which are both pretty amazing, you can walk to this trail from your campsite or room.

Directions & Details:

Begin at the Redfish Lake Trailhead and follow the signs to Bench Lakes. The first junction will not say Bench Lakes but you’ll make a left over the creek here.

The grade is consistent the whole way up. When you reach the lake, which takes about 2 hours to reach, make sure you hike over to the 2nd of the Bench Lakes. It’s much more beautiful and since this trail isn’t as high in elevation, it’s much warmer to swim in than the other lakes.

Related: 21 Things To Do In Idaho In Summer

Best Hike Un The Sawtooths With Less Crowds: Redfish Lake to Alpine Lake

Overall: Few crowds and gorgeous views of the Sawtooths that you can’t get from town
Distance: 11.5 miles
Elevation gain: 1978’
Trailhead: Boat Across from Redfish Lake Lodge
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The best part of this hike is the boat ride across Redfish Lake to get to the trailhead. Park near Redfish Lodge and you’ll see a dock where the Redfish Marina, which offers hiker boat shuttle service. As of 2023, prices are $16.00 one-way or $22.00 for a round trip for adults, $4.00 each way for 6 years and under and $3.00 for dogs. Toddlers two and under are free.

The second best part of this hike is that because it requires a boat ticket (unless you add 6 miles of hiking), there are few people on the trail.

Another nice part about this hike is that there is an initial one mile climb and then it is fairly flat for the next 3 miles and then the last one mile climb isn’t that steep.

Jiraiya and I were able to power this hike out really fast and the views of the mountains along the way were incredible.

best hikes Stanley Idaho

Related: Raising Confident Kids in the Outdoors

Best Easy Waterfall Hike in the Sawtooths: Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Falls: Best Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho
Bridalveil Falls, Idaho

Overall: This hike is easy and delivers stunning views of the sharp McGown Peak.
Distance: 8.3 miles
Elevation gain: 833’
Trailhead: Stanley Lake TH
See on Alltrails

The epic views of McGown Peak that shine throughout the hike made this one of the best hikes in the Sawtooths. The cool mist of the ions flying through the air beside you will make you glad you made the trek. Plus, this hike feels deep in nature and the crowd factor was low.

Bridalveil Falls: Best Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho
Hiking to Bridalveil Falls with McGown Peak views

Directions & Details:

Start at Stanley Lake Trailhead. The marked trail goes into the valley on the right side of McGown Peak

There is a small climb over fallen logs as well as 2 creek crossings. The hike finishes with a steep scree scramble to get to the falls.

Hike this at dawn for a beautiful golden glow on the trees, meadows, and mountains. 

Bridalveil Falls: Best Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho
McGown Peak in the distance

Do you have a favorite hike in the Sawtooths? Let us know what we missed in the comments below.

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