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Trip Report: Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains

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Cover Image: Mount Heyburn and Bench Lake. All images: Bret Edge

I don’t remember the first time I heard someone mention the Sawtooth Mountains but I can tell you that I was immediately intrigued. 

Backpackers En Route to Toxaway Lake

En route to Toxaway Lake. 

My head was filled with images of jagged peaks looming large in all directions.  I knew the Sawtooths were in Idaho, and I also had visions of ice-cold alpine lakes reflecting those menacing peaks, as well as wolves and grizzly bears cavorting in wildflower filled meadows. I may have been wrong about the grizzlies (they haven’t ranged into the Sawtooth’s just yet) but all of my other assumptions were spot on. 

Sawtooth Mountains and Clearing Storm

The peaks, post storm.

This mountain range is a hiker’s paradise. Visit the Sawtooths and you’ll find short, easy family-friendly hikes, multi-day off-trail epics, and everything in between. 

With July temperatures at our home in Moab regularly blowing past 100 degrees, my family and I always plan road trips to a cooler locale. Cooler, and green, because honestly, we do get tired of looking at red rocks. 

Sunrise at Toxaway Lake

Sunrise at Toxaway Lake.

Last summer, we packed up my truck and pointed it north for our first ever visit to the Sawtooth Mountains.  They did not disappoint!

We began our trip with an overnight backpacking excursion to Toxaway Lake, a most perfect alpine lake nestled below beautiful granite peaks. We hiked through meadows filled with wildflowers, past thunderous waterfalls and across tricky talus slopes, passing more lakes and tarns along the way before arriving at our campsite.

Hiker Relaxing in Hammock at Toxaway Lake

We pitched our tent in the trees a short walk from the lake’s chilly waters. There was ample hammock time as my wife, Melissa, surprised us when she pulled an Eno Hammock from her backpack! Supported between two trees at the very edge of the lake, it couldn’t have offered a more perfect place to relax after the day’s hike with heavy packs. 

I slipped off my Oboz Beartooth BDry backpacking boots and strapped on a pair of Chaco’s before drifting off for a nap in the hammock.

Overlanding Campsite Overlooking Sawtooth Mountains

Over the course of the next few days we cruised dirt roads deep into the Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains, played cornhole in Stanley, camped in a different spot each night, soaked in hot springs, explored an old mining ghost town and did a handful of dayhikes.

One evening, camped in a meadow high in the White Clouds, we listened to wolves howling all around us.  It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life!  Another night, we found a campsite on a ridge overlooking what seemed like the entire Sawtooth Range, with the little town of Stanley dwarfed in the valley below. 

FJ Cruiser in Sawtooth Mountains

On our final two days in the Sawtooths we backpacked to middle Bench Lake, where we had the entire lake to ourselves…and a few deer. 

Shortly after retiring to the tent for the night we heard an obviously large animal crashing through the trees straight toward our tent.  The animal stopped just a few feet away. I slowly unzipped the door, poked my head outside and shined my headlamp around. An impressively large buck deer raised his head and looked right at me for a moment, then went back to munching on some foliage. He couldn’t have been more than ten feet from the tent. Hearts racing, we soon fell asleep with the crisp mountain air chilling our cheeks.

Afternoon in Fishhook Meadow II

Afternoon in Fishhook Meadow.

I thought ten days in the Sawtooths would be sufficient. It wasn’t. 

Yes, we had a great time and the experience whet our appetites for more adventure in those incredible mountains, but I want to spend a summer, and a fall, hiking and kayaking and mountain biking there.      

Bret Edge is a professional nature and adventure photographer, gallery owner, husband, Dad and dude. He leads private and group photography workshops all year in the Red Rock landscape around Moab, Utah. 

At the heart of everything we do are the folks who make the magic happen. A group of likeminded footwear-industry vets who left our big-brand jobs back in 2007 intent on doing business a better way. 

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