By Michael Lanza
I may be risking an impassioned debate here, but I think there are very few mountain ranges in America with as many drop-dead, gorgeous high mountain lakes as Idaho’s Sawtooths. Yes, a few mountain ranges clearly outnumber the Sawtooths in that department, like the High Sierra, Cascades, and Wind River Range. But I believe the Sawtooths deserve similar recognition, and I’ve seen many of those watery jewels over more than 20 years of wandering around Idaho’s best-known hills. This gallery of photos of many of them may persuade you to agree with me—and to see them for yourself.
I don’t make this claim about Sawtooth Mountains lakes lightly. I’ve hiked and backpacked all over the country as a past Northwest Editor for Backpacker magazine for 10 years and many years running this blog, and I’m a big fan of the High Sierra and the Winds, the Tetons, the Cascades (especially the North Cascades), the White Mountains (where I started hiking), and other mountain ranges. Anyone reading my story “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites” or looking at my photo gallery of favorite backcountry lakes will see I’ve camped by a lot of nice lakes.
Some lakes in the Sawtooths, like Alice and Sawtooth lakes, are well known. Others are more remote and obscure; you may have never seen a photo of some of these. All are only reached by hiking or riding a horse for miles into the wilderness. Seeing these incredible places requires time and effort.
When you consider the beauty and the sheer numbers of clear, high mountain lakes tucked in granite basins ringed by soaring cliffs and jagged peaks, I just think Idaho’s Sawtooths are up there with the best. I rank the Sawtooths among the 10 best backpacking trips in America.
Click on the photo gallery to open it and use right and left arrow keys to scroll through it.
Click here now for my expert e-guide to the best backpacking trip in Idaho’s Sawtooths!
If you think I’ve overlooked an outstanding lake in the Sawtooths, or if you believe you know of a range with prettier mountain lakes, please suggest it in the comments section below this story.
See all of my stories about Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, including “The Best of Idaho’s Sawtooths: Backpacking Redfish to Pettit,” “Jewels of the Sawtooths: Backpacking to Alice, Hell Roaring, and Imogene Lakes,” “Going After Goals: Backpacking in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains,” “Roof of Idaho’s Sawtooths: Hiking Thompson Peak,” and “The Best Hikes and Backpacking Trips in Idaho’s Sawtooths.” Most stories about trips at The Big Outside require a paid subscription to read in full, including my expert tips on how to plan and take those trips.
I’ve helped many readers plan an unforgettable backpacking trip in Idaho’s Sawtooths and elsewhere. Want my help with yours? See my Custom Trip Planning page to learn more.
13 thoughts on “Mountain Lakes of Idaho’s Sawtooths—A Photo Gallery”
Heading to the Sawtooths in a few weeks for my second backpacking trip there. Exact route still undecided. I work at a ranch near Yellowstone in the Absarokas, about a two hour drive from the Beartooths. The alpine lakes in the Beartooths are as bountiful as they are beautiful. Most people know of The Beaten Path, and deservedly so because it is beautiful. But there is so much (relatively) easy cross country trekking that can be done in those mountains. Thanks for all of the great information in your posts Michael.
Thanks, Chad, and have a great hike in the Sawtooths. I’m eager to explore the Beartooths.
I completely agree. I just spent 2 months in the Sawtooths this summer and enjoyed every minute of it. Hard to choose the most beautiful pristine lake among so many. I may go again next Summer.
That sounds like a great way to spend two months, Doug. Let me know if you’d like my help planning your next Sawtooths trip; I know those mountains well. See my Custom Trip Planning page. Thanks for the comment and keep in touch.
Nice. I’m going on a packrafting trip this upcoming week so reference photos are useful. (Too many lakes, not enough time so I have to choose.)
Have a great trip, Jennifer!
Goat lake is one of my favorites!!
Yes, that’s a great spot, and I know it’s a favorite of other people who know the Sawtooths well.
Beautiful pics Mike
Nice picks Michael. It does look like a special place. The question though, how many of those lakes have you swam in? ?
Thanks, Chris. I’ve swum in most of them, many have rocky shores and clear water along the shore that’s not clogged with marshy vegetation, making them quite accessible. Water temp depends on how late in summer, elevation, the lake’s depth where you’re swimming, and how much sun it gets (some lakes get more shade if they sit on the north side of tall cliffs). Generally, the temp can vary from cold but tolerable, to so chilly that it’s refreshing for less than a minute then you have to get out, to so frigid you’re swimming immediately for shore after jumping in.
Wow! Beautiful photos and some of my favorites. Sometimes the places closest to home are the ones you treasure the most. Thanks for posting!