Summer Day Hiking in Idaho's Sawtooth Range

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13248A, Lodge


  • Enjoy seven day hikes, including a peak climb, in Idaho’s most rugged mountain range
  • Visit valleys carved by glaciers and the lakes they left behind
  • Sleep & eat in nicely furnished cabins located right on the Salmon River


  • Lodging in the cabins and all meals
  • A leader trained in geology
  • All permits and fees


DatesAug 25–31, 2013
StaffJohn Calandra

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Truncated by a 40-mile normal fault on the east, the Sawtooth Range rises abruptly from the valley acting as our gateway to trails that take us into the core of these mountains. The mountain rock is a beautiful pink- to apricot-colored variety of granite. This granite has many fractures, called joints, which made it easy for alpine glaciers (now gone) to carve the mountains into steep, serrated edges.

These mountains are protected by within the 216,000-acre Sawtooth Wilderness, which is bounded on the east and north by the larger Sawtooth National Recreation Area. To visit the Sawtooths we will stay in nicely furnished cabins located along the Salmon River, just a stone’s throw from Stanley, Idaho. We’ll carpool to our trailheads and eat lunch on the trail. This trip is designed to maximize your hiking and minimize your travel time, so I promise that none of the trailheads are more than a half hour from the cabins.

Be prepared to enjoy long days in the field; our hikes will range from 4 to 11 miles. Elevation gains will vary from 240 feet to 2,900 feet.  On these trails you’ll hike close beside many of the Sawtooth peaks and view a landscape created by alpine glaciation:  U-shaped valleys, moraines, cirques, arêtes and paternoster lakes. A non-technical peak climb will provide a 360-degree view that includes the Sawtooths and four other mountain ranges!


After meeting at the cabins around 1 p.m. on Sunday, there will be a brief pre-trip meeting and then we’re off to our first day hike.  Eat lunch before arriving at the cabins. The first day hike is less than five miles without much elevation gain and we should be back to the cabins by dinner time. After dinner, we can hang out by the river and socialize.

The next two hikes become progressively longer, higher, and more scenic. On the second day we’ll hike across the top of a lateral moraine up to a chain of paternoster lakes. The third day takes us into the heart of the range to one of the larger lakes surrounded by an array of jagged peaks.

The hikes are all out-and-back hikes, so except for the first and last day, we’ll eat lunch at our outbound destination, which is usually a pristine lake; on the fourth day, it is a peak. To get to our trailhead on the fifth day, we’ll first take a boat ride, then hike through a valley flanked by walls of granite to an alpine lake.  The hike on day six takes us along the south side of a popular backpacking route surrounded by peaks and ending at a lake just before one of the higher trail passes in the region.

On the last day, we’ll hike to the top of a hill located near Stanley where we’ll take in a parting view of the Sawtooth range. We will finish our outing by having lunch which will be at one of Stanley’s restaurants (included in trip price). We’ll have plenty of time to socialize, say our good-byes, and return to Boise, Idaho, for our flights out.



Getting There

As mentioned earlier, plan on arriving at the cabins at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The easiest place to fly into/out of the area is Boise, Idaho, is about a three-hour drive from Stanley. Cars can be rented at the Boise Airport. The leader will furnish roster information so approved participants may contact each other about sharing a rental car. It is the sole responsibility of each participant to arrive at the starting point at the specified time. You will not need to rent four-wheel drive vehicles, but high-clearance is recommended.

Accommodations and Food

During the trip we’ll be staying near Stanley in nicely furnished cabins with kitchens. Food for all meals is provided. Fresh-cooked breakfasts and dinners will be made in the cabins; we will prepare and eat these meals together. During breakfast you will pack your lunch for the hikes (except first & last day). Participants are expected to help with the cooking and cleaning duties. Vegetarians can be accommodated. 

Trip Difficulty

As mentioned earlier, be prepared for long days in the field. The hikes average eight miles per day; three are 10 to 11 miles and these hikes all end well above 8,000 feet. It is highly recommended that beginning several months before the trip, you begin walking with a loaded pack on a regular basis. Fill the pack with weight similar to what you will have on the trip, which will probably be 15 to 20 pounds. While you might not be able to train for higher elevations, having sufficient stamina to do the walking on this trip at a decent pace is important.

Our one peak climb is just over six miles, but ends at almost 9,900 feet and has an elevation gain of over 2,700 feet. The itinerary is subject to change based on weather conditions or other factors such as forest fires. You must be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions.

Equipment and Clothing

  • Day pack at least 1,500 cubic inches; hydration-compatible recommended
  • Ability to carry 3 quarts of water in a hydration bladder system and/or water bottles
  • Well-broken in hiking boots (low-cut shoes acceptable)
  • Raingear (top & bottom)
  • Warm upper layer (e.g., fleece), warm hat & light gloves
  • Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, plenty of sunblock)
  • Hiking poles (optional but highly recommended)
  • Small collapsable lunch bag

Do not forget prescription drugs or anything else you must take during the day. The leader will carry a full medical kit and water purification tablets in case we need drinking water on the trail.



  • Fuller, Margaret, Trails of the Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains. Trail Guide Books, fifth edition, 2011.


  • If you are going to buy a map just get this one:  Earthwalk Press Sawtooth Wilderness Hiking Map and Guide
  • USGS quads, 7.5 Minute Series (scale 1:24000):  Stanley, Stanley Lake, Mt. Cramer, Warbonnet Peak, Alturas Lake, & Horton Peak



The Sawtooth Wilderness is a great example of what the federal government can do to protect an area from commercial interests, thus preserving it so that we can enjoy it. A good description of what was accomplished by making the Sawtooth Mountains a wilderness area is provided in the second link above.

Across the Sawtooth Valley to the east are the White Cloud Mountains. Although these mountains lie within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, this magnificent area is not fully protected by the Wilderness Act as are the Sawtooths. This issue remains a political hotbed today; for more, read the History section of the fourth link above.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.



John Calandra has been involved with Sierra Club Outings since 1991 as a local outings leader in Michigan and Nebraska and as a National Outings leader since 2001. He has led trips in ten different states including week-long backpack and base camp trips in New York's Adirondacks, Wyoming's Wind River Range, Montana's Bitterroots Range, California's Sierra Nevada mountains and Colorado’s San Juan mountains. John works in the computer industry but began his career as a geologist. He lives in Papillion, Nebraska with his wife Debbie, son Nick, and three cats.

Assistant Leader:

Tom Brown

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