5 easy-to-access hikes in Idaho's Sawtooth Wilderness

Celebrate 50 years of wilderness with a hike in the easily accessible Sawtooths

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comJune 19, 2014 

Happy Anniversary, Wilderness!

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act by taking a hike in a wilderness area, naturally.

An easy place to start is the Sawtooth Wilderness near Stanley with its more than 300 mirror-like alpine lakes and 50 peaks over 10,000 feet.

You don't have to be a hard-core backpacker, or own a pack string to explore the Sawtooth Wilderness. It has some easily accessible trails to give newcomers young and old a chance to see the area's silvery creeks, emerald meadows and snow-capped peaks.

"It's awesome," said Mariya Osipchuk of Boise as she hiked along the trail near Stanley Lake Creek.

She was on a June hike with Vincent Stowell. They recently moved to Idaho from Colorado.

The couple took advantage of the trail, which offers quick and easy access to the wilderness area.

There are several other easy-to-reach trails into the wilderness from points like Redfish, Pettit, and Alturas lakes, also near Stanley.

Since we're taking about anniversaries, let's look at some of the history of wilderness.

The Sawtooths were first protected in 1937 as a Primitive Area. The 217,088-acre area was officially named a wilderness in 1972.

That couldn't have happened if it weren't for the passage of the original Wilderness Act of 1964.

Enough with the stats, let's experience the sights, sounds and smells of the Sawtooth Wilderness. The peaks and alpine lakes of the wilderness in Central Idaho include the headwaters of the Boise, Payette and Salmon River drainages.

Here are some good choices from the U.S. Forest Service to get a taste of the wilderness:

FISHHOOK CREEK

The trail is easy and considered a good family hike for all ages. It follows along in the Fishhook Creek drainage near Redfish Lake and offers views of Sawtooth peaks and meadows. The trail ends at the wilderness boundary.

It's popular because it is near campgrounds and cabins in the Redfish Lake area.

Length: 4 to 6 miles round trip, depending on how far you go on the out-and-back trail.

Elevation gain: Around 300 feet.

Difficulty: Easy.

Getting there: Take Idaho 75 about 4 miles south from Stanley to the Redfish Lake turnoff. Follow the forest road to Redfish Lake and the trailhead parking area.

FLATROCK JUNCTION

This is one of the most popular hikes in the Sawtooths because it is accessible by the shuttle boat from Redfish Lake Lodge.

You can take the boat across the lake to the trailhead at the Redfish Lake Inlet or transfer camp.

From there, it is only a few steps across the wilderness boundary, so it's a good way for kids and the elderly to see the Sawtooths.

If you want to go farther, you can hike to Flatrock Junction and beyond.

Instant views of the mountains are seen on the boat ride. Check at Redfish Lake Lodge for details on the boat schedule.

Length: A few steps to a round trip of 7 miles to the junction.

Elevation gain: Between 800 and 900 feet.

Difficulty: Easy all the way to Flatrock Junction.

Getting there: Take Idaho 75 about 4 miles south from Stanley to the Redfish Lake turnoff. Follow the forest road to Redfish Lake and the trailhead parking area.

SAWTOOTH LAKE

This lake is the largest in the wilderness area and is near 10,190-foot Mount Regan. The whole area offers spectacular views in all directions. It's one of the most popular trails in the wilderness.

Length: 10 miles round trip. It makes a better overnighter rather than a day hike.

Elevation gain: 1,700 feet.

Difficulty: Moderate, and more challenging if you're carrying a backpack for an overnighter.

Getting there: Take Idaho 21 about 2.5 miles northwest of Stanley to the Iron Creek Road. Follow it for 3.5 miles to the end at the trailhead.

BRIDALVEIL FALLS

This is a great hike for beginners and all ages, and takes you right along the boundary of the wilderness with good views of the front of the Sawtooths. It goes through mountain meadows, timbered country and follows an old mining road. Head off the trail to the left (southeast) and you'll be in wilderness.

Length: 7 miles round trip to the falls, but you can turn around anytime and still have magnificent views. Some hikers only do the first mile or so, and that's enough to take in the beauty of the area.

Elevation gain: 350 feet.

Difficulty: Easy.

Getting there: Take Idaho 21 about 5 miles northwest of Stanley and turn on the Stanley Lake Road. Go about 3.5 miles and past the campground to the trailhead.

ALPINE CREEK

The trail follows the creek drainage with views of the Sawtooths in the forefront. It ends at the base of steep climbs up to alpine lakes. The trail goes into the wilderness.

Length: 6 miles round trip.

Elevation gain: 500 feet.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Getting There: Drive south on Idaho 75 from Stanley about 21 miles to the Alturas Lake turnoff. Take the road to Alturas Lake. Go past the lake and continue on a dirt road after the pavement ends. It leads to the trailhead.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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