By Michael Lanza
When can you claim to know a mountain range well? Maybe it’s once you have spent enough time—certainly measured in years, and probably decades—that you have explored beyond the most accessible and popular spots to the obscure, unknown corners. Perhaps it’s when you have hiked most of its trails. Just possibly, it’s when you unfold a map and it takes several minutes to tick off for someone all the places you have visited. That’s a good start, anyway.
I’ve been exploring Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains for 20 years—backpacking and dayhiking, climbing peaks, backcountry skiing—and have fallen in love with these rugged, crenulated peaks. I think you’ll see why in this photo gallery.
Protected as federal wilderness and the best-known piece of the sprawling wilderness areas of central Idaho—south of the nearly 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the second-largest in the Lower 48, and west of the 275,000 acres of newer wilderness in the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains—the Sawtooths resemble a cross between the High Sierra and the Tetons.
Dozens of summits rise above 10,000 feet. Innumerable granite spires and pinnacles loom above valleys and cirques where hundreds of alpine lakes ripple in the wind; the Sawtooths are outdone by few mountain ranges in the number and beauty of alpine lakes (see some of the best Sawtooth lakes in this photo gallery).
While these peaks harbor some classic, technical rock climbs, many summits can be reached on third- and fourth-class scrambles, including the highest in the range, 10,751-foot Thompson Peak. Besides Thompson, I’ve climbed a number of them, including most of the iconic summits visible from the Sawtooth Valley: Heyburn (lead photo, above), Horstman, McGown, Williams, among others—some feasible in a day, all of them great adventures in a range where it’s not unusual to have a high summit all to yourself.
I’ve helped many readers plan an unforgettable hiking or backpacking trip in the Sawtooths.
Want my help with yours? Find out more here.
Put Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains on your list of places to see this summer.
See more photos and information that will help you explore Idaho’s premier mountain range in these stories at the Big Outside:
“Ask Me: What Are the Best Hikes in Idaho’s Sawtooths?”
“Sawtooth Jewels: Backpacking to Alice, Hell Roaring, and Imogene Lakes”
“Going After Goals: Backpacking in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains,” about a 57-mile hike into the remote southern Sawtooths.
“Ask Me: The Best Long Backpacking Trip in Idaho’s Sawtooths”
And see all of my stories about Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains at The Big Outside.
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