Planning a trip to the Sawtooths and looking for the ultimate 3-day itinerary to pack the most punch on your trip? I’ve got you covered. The Sawooth mountains are a mountain range located in central Idaho, about 3 hours east of Boise. They get their name from their jagged, tooth-like appearance. Before we go any further, let me say that the Sawtooth Wilderness is an absolute GEM. It’s less known than most mountainous areas of the US, which is why it’s remained so pristine and less crowded than areas such as National Parks. So if you’re planning a trip here, please respect this area and leave it better than you found it.
It’s amazing to me that Idaho is still considered by many to be a relatively “boring” state. Some think of corn fields, others think of potatoes. Unless you’ve visited, you probably don’t think of Idaho as a place with jaw-dropping mountain peaks, countless waterfalls, abounding hot springs, and some of the most pristine alpine lakes. Even though I had done my research prior to my trip to Idaho, I was still blown away by the beauty. While there are many places I recommend visiting (I’ll save that for another blog post!), the Sawtooth Wilderness definitely takes the cake on must-visit spots if you only have a few days in Idaho. The Sawtooth make the perfect pitstop on a roadtrip out west, a family destination for summer fun, or a backpackers dream destination.There is literally something for everyone here, whether you’re a hardcore recreator, or just want to relax in the great outdoors. This being said, the itinerary I’ve provided here is for the average traveler, looking to take in as many sights as possible with moderate activity. I will also state which activities are considered “family-friendly” for your planning purposes. Let’s dive into the 3 day guide to the Sawtooths!
WHEN TO GO
Due to the frigid cold temperatures come winter, I definitely recommend visiting spring, summer or fall. In the summer you’ll be able to take the most advantage of the alpine lakes, hiking, and beaches. However the hot springs will be more enjoyable in the spring and fall! Keep in mind that even in the summer, the temperatures vary LARGELY from night to midday - spanning up to 50 degrees. Expect temperatures in the 30s and 40s fahrenheit at night even in summer months.
WHERE TO STAY
Stanley Lake Campground
Glacier View Campground
Chinook Bay Campground
Redfish Outlet Campground
The above listed are my personal favorites, however the options go on and on! You can find all camping options in this area listed HERE.
Start your first morning by heading to Stanley Lake for sunrise. The Stanley Lake Overlook would be the best spot to be for actual sunrise! You can just relax and enjoy some coffe, then get a little hike in. There are a few options here-
Easy Hike: Loop around the lake
Moderate/Hard Hike: Stanley Lake to Bridalveil Falls
After your hike, take a dip in the water + enjoy a picnic on the beach! If you have more time, rent kayaks or SUPs to take out on the lake. Rentals can be found HERE.
In the evening, enjoy a warm soak at a hot spring. If you enjoy more established ones, check out Mountain Village Hot Spring. If you prefer more remote, check out Sunbeam Hot Springs.
Day 2: Head out early to Redfish Lake to take a boat across the lake for your hiking adventure! You will park by the lodge and head out on the dock where you will pay for your boat ride. It’s $13 per person and $5 for a dog. They send boats out every few hours to pick up hikers from across the lake, so you can opt for roundtrip or one way (requires more hiking). Here are your best hiking options in this area-
Easy Hike: Lily Pond + Redfish Lake Creek Falls
Moderate Hike: Bench Lakes Trail
Hard Hike: Redfish Lake to Alpine Lake
There are also countless backpacking trails that start here. They are LONG in mileage and will definitely take multiple days. Reservations are not required but you will need to fill out a slip at the trailhead indicating which trail you’re doing. Make sure you do your research on gear, terrain, weather, and requirements before heading into the backcountry!
Once you return back on the boat, you can enjoy a beach afternoon at Redfish Lake. The water is crystal clear + feels amazing after a hot hike. There is also a general store, restaurant, and food tent right there so you can grab some hydration and food. If you still have some time after this, consider fishing! This is a fun, relaxing activity that is perfect for this location. For a more guided experience, check out Salmon River Anglers fly fishing trips!
Day 3: If you’re all hiked out, rest your legs and give your upper body a workout instead with white-water rafting! You can book this through the River Company for an awesome experience. Obviously this isn’t super doable if you have very small kids, so an alternative activity would be renting a kayak or canoe with the family on Redfish Lake!
If you simply cannot get enough of the amazing hiking (and hey, I don’t blame you!), here are some options for your final day!
Easy: Fishhook Creek
Moderate: Goat Lake
Hard: Sawtooth Lake
Finish your trip with the hot springs with arguably the best views near the Sawtooths - Valley Creek Hot Springs!
This 3 day guide to the Sawtooths will give you plenty of action, sight-seeing, memorable activity with hopefully some downtime enjoying the gorgeous lakes as well. There really is something for every type of traveler here! Are the Sawtooths on your bucket list?