Best Hikes in Sawtooth National Forest (ID)


Sawtooth National Forest is situated in central Idaho with districts extending into northern Utah. Salmon-Challis National Forest lays just north and Boise National Forest sits west of Sawtooth.   Named after the Sawtooth Mountains, the forest has several other notable peaks including Hyndman Peak (12,009′), the 9th highest point in Idaho. Special places include: the area around Ketchum that offers some of the best hikes in Sawtooth National Forest; Sawtooth Wilderness; Redfish Lake, and the Stanley Basin.

Fishing, rafting and kayaking, and mountain biking offer numerous recreational opportunities in addition to great winter activities. If you are visiting during the summer or fall, the best hikes in Sawtooth National Forest are described below! Official Website.

StateIdaho; Utah
Nearest Metro AreaBoise, ID
Area Size2,110,408 acres
EstablishedMay 29, 1905
Hiking Trails1,731 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in Sawtooth National Forest

(*** = Top hikes in Sawtooth National Forest)

Alice – Toxaway Lakes Loop*** – 18.4 mile loop

Popular multi-day backpacking loop beginning from the Tin Cup trailhead starting at Pettit Lake. You will encounter Alice lake, Toxaway lake, Twin lakes, and Farley lake along this loop. You will get to experience several mountain peaks including McDonald’s peak, El Capitan, Parks peak, Snowside peak and Imogene peak. There are several day hikes that you can take that lead off the Alice Toxaway Loop to experience other alpine lakes and peaks in the area.

Bench Lakes – 7.6 miles out and back

From the Redfish Trailhead, hike along the west side of Redfish Lake to a spur trail leading to Bench Lakes.

Chocolate Gulch – 5.3 mile loop

Perfect hike for everyone that features wildflowers in the summer, a smooth trail along the river, and great views of the Boulder Mountains. The trailhead is only 10 minutes from the town of Ketchum.

Fishhook Creek Trail – 5.6 miles out and back

Great family-friendly hike in the Redfish Lake Lodge area of the Sawtooth NRA. Accesses a beautiful meadow with views of the Sawtooth peaks on the edge of the Sawtooth Wilderness. Trail passes through lodgepole pine and aspen stands. For a wonderful extension of this hike, climb to the ridge on the Alpine Way Trail.

Iron Creek Trail to Goat Lake*** – 8.6 miles out and back

Starting from the Iron Creek Trailhead, head south along multiple trails to reach one of the best lakes and waterfalls in Sawtooth National Forest. Goat Creek Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Sawtooths. The trail from Alpine Way Trail is unmaintained by the Forest Service and is difficult to get lost. Come prepared and be careful!

Iron Creek Trail to Sawtooth Lake*** – 9.4 miles out and back

This hike packs a punch with great mountain views of Alpine Peak and Mt. Regan on your way to beautiful Sawtooth Lake. Along the way you’ll also pass the smaller Alpine Lake. When you arrive at Sawtooth Lake, climb up the formation on the northeast corner for even more fantastic views. Make sure you are not fooled by turning around at the small pond just before Sawtooth Lake comes into view. It is one of the best alpine lakes that Idaho has to offer!

Norton Lakes – 4.2 miles out and back

Perfect trip for the family or any new day-hikers. The trail follows Norton Creek with several creek crossings along the way until you reach Lower Norton Lake then Upper Norton Lake. For the more experienced, Miner Lake is a steep climb away on the north side of Norton Saddle. Depending on the year, the lakes may be iced over well into the summer.

Pioneer Cabin Loop – 8.5 mile loop

Steep and scenic the trail ends at Pioneer Cabin, a 1937 vintage ski hut. Enjoy breathtaking views of the Pioneer Peaks. Although this is quite the difficult loop, the views of the surrounding mountains along the way make it worthwhile.

Washington Lake Trail – 6.0 miles out and back

A nice gradual incline on a high alpine singletrack trail to Fourth of July Lake and Washington Lake. The backdrop of the White Cloud Mountains ridgeline behind the lakes make for a beautiful view. The trail itself is also enjoyable with several bridge creek crossings. After Washington Lake, the trail continues for several miles before intersecting with Germania Creek Trail if you wish to continue on.

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