How to Get One of America’s Best Backcountry Campsites
By Michael Lanza
Alice Lake, a cerulean jewel about three-quarters of a mile long, sits at nearly 8,600 feet in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. Stand on its shore in the calm of a typical summer morning or on a windless afternoon or evening, and the glassy water reflects a long row of granite pinnacles rising across the lake, which are white with snow until mid-summer. The water is so clear that rocks on the lake bottom look as sharp as printed words on the page of a book in your hands.
A favorite among Sawooths aficionados, Alice has beautiful campsites around its western and northern shorelines, and is probably most often visited by backpackers hiking the 18-mile Alice Lake-Toxaway Lake loop. With outstanding scenery most of the way, it’s arguably the best two- to three-day backpacking trip in the Sawtooths. And Toxaway Lake offers another great spot for camping on that loop.
That loop passes over the Alice Lake-Toxaway Lake Divide, the 9,200-foot pass separating the two stunning valleys that cradle those lakes. From the pass, it’s also possible to dayhike and scramble off-trail up 10,651-foot Snowyside Peak, the fifth highest among more than 40 peaks that rise above 10,000 feet in the Sawtooths. Snowyside has some third-class scrambling, on generally good rock, and somewhat tricky route-finding to reach the summit, where the panorama takes in most of the Sawtooths and the White Cloud Mountains across the Sawtooth Valley.
See my story “Jewels of the Sawtooths: Backpacking to Alice, Hell Roaring, and Imogene Lakes,” about that hike and another in the Sawtooths, with more photos and important details and my tips for planning it yourself.
Like most stories at The Big Outside about trips I’ve taken, reading it requires a subscription, which costs just pennies over $4/month for a year or less than five bucks for one month. Click here to join now and get a free e-guide.
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Also, check out my stories, “Ask Me: What Are the Best Hikes in Idaho’s Sawtooths” and “Photo Gallery: Mountain Lakes of Idaho’s Sawtooths.”
Don’t miss my feature story “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites,” where I share photos and short anecdotes from the prettiest places in the wilderness where I’ve pitched a tent (or slept under the stars) over nearly three decades of backpacking and trekking all over the U.S., writing for this blog and for many years as the Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine. That story also includes links to existing stories at The Big Outside about the trips on which I enjoyed those special campsites.
I’ve helped many readers plan an unforgettable backpacking trip in the Sawtooths and elsewhere. Want my help with yours? Find out more here.