Baron Lake, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho.

Ask Me: The Best Long Backpacking Trip in Idaho’s Sawtooths

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Hi Michael,

We are a group of eight fit and active backpackers (our mountains are the High Sierra) who are interested in heading to Idaho to check out the Sawtooths next summer. I know these are some of your favorite mountains! We’re coming from California to spend a total of 10 days (including travel and a night on front and back side in Stanley). We’d like to spend about six or so days on the trail. We’re usually happy with the eight to 11 miles per day range (depending on difficulty). Of most interest to me is the Grand Sawtooths Loop from the guidebook Backpacking Idaho, by Douglas Lorain.

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5 Responses to Ask Me: The Best Long Backpacking Trip in Idaho’s Sawtooths

  1. Margot   |  September 5, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    Hey Michael (and Eric!) How fun this post came out as we were out on our trip – and what a trip it was. We all had a fantastic time and found the Sawtooths to be as incredible as we hoped! We were super lucky to have most days smoke-free as we could barely see the mountains when we first drove into Stanley. At any rate – thank you so much for all of the info – I will also be checking out caltopo, thanks for the intel Eric.

    This were the distances we ended up with via various GPS tracking devices our group had:

    Day 1, boat ride: 3.42 miles
    Dock to northernmost point of Baron Lake (campsite), 9.02 miles, 2,535 ft. elevation gain

    Day 2, Baron Lake campsite to far east side of Upper Cramer Lake (campsite), 9.11 miles, 1,769 elevation gain

    Day 3, Upper Cramer Lake campsite to Southwest Peninsula of Toxaway Lake (campsite), 11.29 miles, 2,243 elevation gain

    Day 4, lay day. (Hiked around Toxaway lake – 2.75 miles & 128 ft. elevation gain)

    Day 5, *Toxaway Lake campsite to Alice Lake peninsula on center west side (campsite), 4.8 miles, 1,030 elevation gain

    Day 6, Alice Lake campsite to Tin Cup TH, 6.12 miles, 27 ft. elevation gain (basically all downhill)

    So we basically got our butts kicked the first 3 days (especially with those heavy packs) and then took it much easier our last 3 days. We were bummed to miss Imogene, but Day 3 was super tough as it was. Toxaway was what the group needed that day, and that lay day on Day 4 was delightful. We got to rest and fish and stroll around pack-free and do all of those little things that help keep you happy out there. And our buddy pulled 4 good size trout out of Toxaway that became a birthday appetizer delight for us all. Good stuff!

    We were pretty concerned about camp sites at Alice due to it being the Friday of Labor Day weekend so we got up early and hoofed it over there to arrive as people were packing up. Knowing that Alice is only 6 miles from the TH, we figured correctly it would be a very popular spot for the holiday weekend and boy was it. That strategy paid off and we scored the 5 nice spots we needed for our crew. Group campsite acquisition was definitely an issue at all of the lakes we visited, we didn’t find the Sawtooths as uncrowded as we expected at all, lots of people out enjoying that area.

    All in all we had a perfect trip and really appreciate the route planning help! We can’t wait to go back and explore more of the area. Thanks again.

    • MichaelALanza   |  September 5, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      Hi Margot, congrats on completing your first Sawtooths hike. There are more areas to explore there when you’re ready. I’m glad your group enjoyed it, and that the itinerary allowed you to adjust your days as needed. Flexibility is good.

      I believe the number of other backpackers you saw was mainly a reflection of it being a peak weekend and time of year to be there. Alice-Toxaway is also a popular loop. I’m sure it didn’t diminish the experience too much, though.

      Keep in touch.

  2. Eric Martin   |  August 31, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    Hey Mike and Margot.

    Given that you were unsure on the exact mileage and elevation gains for a few of the days, and the lack of any natgeo maps for the area, I plugged the above route into caltopo.com to get some rough estimates. Given the trail routes on their maps, I got the below estimates for your trip.
    Mileage Elev Gain Elev Loss
    Day 1 Redfish to Baron 8.26 2,917 1,138
    Day 2 Baron to Cramer 7.94 2,214 2,170
    Day 3 Cramer to Imogene 11.93 2,956 2,901
    Day 4 Imogene to Spangle 9.98 2,620 2,486
    Day 5 Rock Slide Lake 3.99 757 757
    Day 6 Spangle to Alice 13.19 3,055 3,038
    Day 7 Alice to Tin Cup TH 5.81 227 1,816
    Total 61.10 14,746 14,306
    Avg 8.73 2,107 2,044

    Trip looks pretty manageable besides Day 6, Spangle to Alice. But as Mike said, you have options to stop at earlier lakes if needed, and should be a bit rested (relatively) from the previous 2nd night at Spangle.

    Let me know if you have any questions on any of the above. The linke to the route I used is https://caltopo.com/m/KFMM.
    Hope it helps.

    Mike, could pass along to Margot via email if needed.

    • MichaelALanza   |  August 31, 2017 at 2:37 pm

      Hey Eric, thanks, that’s very helpful. I’m going to use that site more. Much appreciated.

      • Eric Martin   |  September 1, 2017 at 3:21 pm

        No problem Mike. Have enjoyed and used your blog for some time now and happy to help out.

        I stumbled across caltopo about a year ago and has made route and trip planning much easier especially for lesser traveled trails. The tools and different map layers on the site pretty much give endless options for map and profile building.

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