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Best Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho

Best Day Hikes in Sawtooth Mountains
The Sawtooths of Idaho are one of our favorite mountain ranges to hike in America!

Updated July 2020 for additional information and accuracy.

Planning a trip to the Sawtooth Mountains? These are 5 of the best day hikes that should be on your bucket list of hikes to do near Stanley, Idaho. We loved hiking these 5-day hikes in the Sawtooth Range because some required a bit of scrambling and route finding across a boulder field, some were surrounded by sharp, jagged mountains, and some were easy enough for the whole family to do.

The Sawtooths of Idaho are one of our favorite mountain ranges in America!

This national forest contains hundreds of hiking possibilities and unlike neighboring mountain ranges in Utah and Wyoming, crowds are lacking, leaving a wonderful sense of freedom and raw wilderness.

There are dozens of day hikes to choose from, and though we haven’t done them all, these 5 epic day hikes in the Sawtooths are hard to beat.

Before you head out on your epic hike in the Sawtooths, check out our absolute favorite day hiking backpack, REI’s Flash 22. This backpack has seen over 3,000 miles and it’s our go-to pack for all our hiking adventures.

best day hiking backpack

We’ve visited the Sawtooth Mountains twice. Once was back in 2017 and we tackled 3 great hikes and wrote up this blog. Somehow, it took us 3 years to get back to one of our favorite places but finally we did. We just recently went hiking in the Sawtooths for 4 days and were able to try a bunch of new hikes and make this blog much better than it was before.

Because we know most people don’t have a huge amount of time to explore the Sawtooths, we decided to rank the top day hikes in the Sawtooths starting with the best.

Overall Best Hike in the Sawtooths: Goat Lake

Goat Lake, Sawtooth Range, Idaho
The alpine wonderland of Goat Lake

Distance: 8 miles
Difficulty + elevation gain: Strenuous, 1800′
Overall: Challenging but the most bang-for-your-buck day hike in the Sawtooths

Though Sawtooth + Alice Lake are the most popular hike in the Sawtooths, personally, 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.

We loved the snow-capped mountains surrounding the lake and camping here overnight is definitely going on our bucket list.

This beautiful day hike in the Sawtooths goes through forests, has panoramic views, and requires a teensy bit of route finding, a short scree scramble, and boulder hopping at the end.

Enjoy gorgeous vista views of ethereal mountain peaks in all directions. It’s a steep trail but the reward is serendipitous.

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.

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

Goat Lake, Idaho: Best Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho
Here, round right to the rock band…

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.

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.

Goat Lake is also a great place for backcountry camping!

Best Moderate Hike in the Sawtooths: Sawtooth Lake

Distance: 10 miles
Difficulty + elevation gain: Moderate, 1800′
Overall: The most popular & stunning alpine lake hike in the Sawtooths, moderate the whole way there, comfortable place to relax

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. This trail is actually longer than Goat Lake but the trail grade is much less steep.

Sawtooth Lake is also a popular backpacking circuit and this makes the trail well trafficked.

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.

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

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 actually add half a mile (roundtrip) to reach the lake however we opted to skip this tiny detour since you get absolutely incredible views of Alpine Lake on the switchbacks that ascend up 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 really amazing part of Sawtooth Lake.

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

Related: Climbers Guide to City of Rocks, Idaho

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

Alice Lake: Epic Day Hikes in the Sawtooth Range, Idaho
Enjoying the view at Alice Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains

Distance: 11.5 miles
Difficulty + elevation gain: Moderate, 1600′
Overall: Long but moderate, stunning alpine lake with lots of tree coverage making it a great place to go hang out for a couple of hours

Probably the most famous backpacking circuit in Sawtooth—and Idaho for that matter—is the Alice lake to Toxaway Lake Loop. Though we didn’t make it to Toxaway Lake I can agree that Alice Lake is one of our favorite hikes we’ve been to. It’s an absolutely stunning place to camp even If you don’t backpack the whole loop.

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 unreal! Plus, there were perfect trees to hang a hammock on right next to the lake while we took in the views and went for a swim.

Directions & Details:

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

It’s 11.5 miles round trip to the lake and back but it’s also the easiest 11-miles we’ve ever done. The trail is very low incline so you won’t feel much fatigue.

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.

Related: Ultimate Idaho Adventure Road Trip

Easy Alpine Lake Hike in the Sawtooths: Bench Lakes

Bench Lakes, Sawtooth Day Hikes
Bench Lakes is a great family friendly hike!

Distance: 7.5 miles
Difficulty + elevation gain: Easy-moderate, 1200′
Overall: Easiest, most family-friendly alpine lake hike in the Sawtooths, not the most stunning alpine

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 definitely the easiest alpine lake trail in the Sawtooths.

While the lake is still beautiful, it definitely 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 Redfish Lake campgrounds or the Lodge (both are highly recommended), you can walk to this trail from your campsite/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 go for a swim here than the other lakes.

Related: Yellowstone + Grand Teton National Parks Road Trip Guide

Easy Waterfall Hike in the Sawtooths: Bridalveil Falls

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

Distance: 7.5 miles
Difficulty + elevation gain: Easy-moderate, 500′
Overall: Easiest hike in the Sawtooths, family friendly

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 really low.

This hike is peaceful, flat, and delivers stunning views of the sharp McGown Peak.  

Directions & Details:

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

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

There is a small climb over fallen logs as well as 2 creeks 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. 

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

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