Facts About Sawtooth Wilderness

Facts About Sawtooth Wilderness
Within the boundaries of the 217,088-acre Sawtooth Wilderness in central Idaho tower forty-two peaks over 10,000 feet--the fountainhead of three major rivers. Among these craggy granite mountains lay glacier-carved cirques, basins and valleys holding over 300 alpine lakes connected by a 270-mile trail network. Most enticing from its vaulting eastern escarpment as seen from Stanley, the rustic gateway community to its northeast, this national wilderness area is additionally surrounded by the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

Redfish Lake

Located just outside the eastern boundary, this five-mile long, one-mile wide finger lake is the main jumping off point for backcountry travel, and a destination in itself. A beautiful lodge and several drive-in campgrounds surround its north end. More importantly, it is the trailhead for the westbound Fishhook Creek Trail and the southbound trail to Redfish Canyon, both accessing spectacular portions of the Sawtooth Wilderness. A shuttle boat departs the lodge five times daily from Memorial Day through September, transporting passengers to the south end for drop off or pick up at the Inlet Transfer Camp boat dock--an exhilarating way to start or end a wilderness trip.



Other major trailheads include Grandjean from the west (Hwy 21), Stanley Lake from the north (Hwy 21), and Tin Cup at Pettit Lake on the east side south of Redfish Lake. Generally, the first five miles in from the eastern side are the most frequented from June through September.

Backcountry Regulations

Wilderness use permits are required and free of charge, available at drop boxes along the trail at the wilderness boundary or at any ranger station. Group size is limited. Backpack stoves are recommended for cooking. Campfire restrictions are in effect during high-use season (July 1 to Labor Day) in some areas. All campfires must be burned using a fire pan or fire blanket with no stone fire rings, or by using existing fire rings. Human waste must be buried 100 feet from water sources using cat holes six to eight inches deep and covered with soil. Dogs are allowed, but must be on a leash while on-trail from July 1 to Labor Day; in camp they can be let loose under supervision.

Mountaineering and Fishing

Off-trail hiking is unlimited and traversable, offering good approaches to the many peaks. Routes range from the scramble up the south couloir of Thompson Peak (highest in the Sawtooth Range at 10,751 feet) to world-class technical ascents up Elephant's Perch or Warbonnet Peak. In winter, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing are options. Fishing is excellent with stocked rainbow, cutthroat and golden trout, plus some grayling. An Idaho fishing license is required.

Flora and Fauna

Wildlife abounds, including mountain goat, black bear, elk, deer, cougar, lynx and wolf down to fox, badger, skunk and pika. Whitebark pine dominates the high country, ponderosa pine is abundant in the western area and lodgepole pine is in the lower elevations in the east. Wildflowers, including Indian paintbrush and mountain sorrel, are in bloom from late spring though summer depending on elevation.


Article Written By Vaughn Clark

Living in Boise, Idaho, Vaughn Clark has been a freelance writer for 18 years. His articles have appeared in "Backpacker" magazine, "The New Times," the "Ventura County Star," and "Santa Barbara News-Press." He has also published poetry and written three full-length adventure screenplays.

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