Sitting on the western edge of the Sawtooth Mountains, the Alice Lake and Toxaway Lake loop is a gorgeous backpacking trail that will constantly leave you in awe. Alice Lake, sitting under the watchful eye of El Capitan, is utterly breathtaking. And Toxaway Lake, on the other side of the pass, is just as beautiful, with jagged peaks past the lake’s edge.
While this loop is terrific without the photography angle, if you are into astrophotography, this is a must-do. It was one of the darkest skies I’ve ever experienced. The Milky Way was obvious to the naked eye while trekking the Alice Toxaway Lake loop.
A Guide to Backpacking Alice Toxaway Loop
Key Backpacking Details for Backpacking Alice Toxaway Loop
- Length: 20 miles
- Elevation Gain: 3,000
- Highest Point: 9,400
- Difficulty: Not too hard
- Starting Point: Pettit Lake Campground/Trailhead
Our Alice Lake and Toxaway Lake loop route:
- First Day – Tin Cup Trailhead to Alice Lake
- Second Day – Alice Lake to Toxaway Lake
- Third Day – Toxaway Lake to the car
Common Questions about Hiking in the Idaho Sawtooths
What if I only want to hike to Alice Lake? How far is that?
This would be a 12-mile round-trip hike with 1,600 feet of elevation gain. This is a very popular day hike in the area.
What Gear should I bring on the trip?
- Light backpacking tent
- 15-30 degree sleeping bag
- Light, yet comfy sleeping pad
- 55L-65L backpacking bag
- Jet Boil Stove
- Water filter
- Hiking Poles
- Backpacking Chair
- Backpacking Meals
- 1x Hiking Pants, 2x Sunshirt, 1x Down Jacket, 1x Rain Jacket, 1x sleeping shirt, 1x leggings, 1x beanie and hat
What’s the summer weather like for the Alice Lake and Toxaway Lake loop
Expect really, really nice weather for your summer backpacking trips near Stanley, Idaho, and the Sawtooths. Temps should be in the 70s and lows in the 40s and 50s. The only downside will be the mosquitos.
Will I be able to see the milky way with my naked eyes?
If it’s a clear night and the moon isn’t up or over half full, you should get amazing views of the milk way overhead! So, set those alarms and enjoy the views.
Days 1 – 3 on the Alice Toxaway Lake Loop
Day 1: The Hike to Alice Lake in the Sawtooth’s
If backpacking Alice – Toxaway loop, you can go clockwise or counterclockwise. Clockwise means you only have 6 miles on the first day to Alice Lake, while counterclockwise is about 8 miles to Toxaway Lake. We went to Alice Lake first, figuring we’d handle the long decline on the third day. It wasn’t bad at all.
The Alice Toxaway Loop is pretty straightforward in the Sawtooths. There’s one stream crossing at the four-mile mark that might require a watchful eye, but it isn’t tough. As you push to Alice Lake, you’ll trek up switchbacks that drain you in the middle of a summer day. Thankfully, those aren’t too bad; soon enough, you’ll have El Capitan in sight.
Regarding camping, there aren’t any rules currently about the distance from the water, and we set up camp on the first peninsula you’ll see. So don’t worry too much about finding a spot; plenty of great places to camp on the Alice Lake and Toxaway Lake loop. We arrived around 5 pm and had four hours until sunset, so we had plenty of time to relax in the beautiful surroundings.
Day 2: Alice Lake to Toxaway Lake
The following day, we were treated to a lovely sunrise, as the tips of the distant peaks turned orange as the sun rose above the horizon. With only 6 miles planned for the day, we took leisure time that morning before packing up and heading over the pass to Toxaway Lake.
The trek to the pass was barely over two miles from where we camped. We thought it would be a lot longer. Before long, the three of us were eating snacks at the top. On the way up, we were given perfect views of Twin Lakes. It was so much better than I expected.
After munching on food, we traversed the switchbacks and began our final stretch to Toxaway Lake. The trail intersects with a vertical route going to either Edith Lake or below to the edge of Toxaway. We went right and found a place alongside the water for our final night on the Alice Lake and Toxaway Lake loop.
Sadly, the bugs were much worse here than the evening before. Still, the trio didn’t let this stop us from jumping into the lake and cooling off under the hot summer sun.
On our final evening of the Alice Lake and Toxaway Lake loop, we were driven into our tents by the swarm of bugs hanging around before emerging to shoot the Milky Way above. Then, on only a few hours of sleep, we arose for sunrise. It was freaking stunning, and I loved every second of the chilly morning air in the Sawtooth.
Day 3: Toxaway Lake back to Tin Cup Trailhead
The way out can get a bit monotonous with 8 miles – nearly all downhill. However, we made good time, and the early morning temperatures kept us from heating up too much. So there’s not much to talk about for this portion. It was pretty coming down into the meadow under the lake.
The worst part was the 400-foot incline over the hill in the last mile, which was mentally rough. After 7+ miles with packs on, the last thing you want is a bunch of switchbacks.
Thankfully, we persevered and soon returned to the car with the Alice Lake and Toxaway Lake loop in our back pockets. It was a truly memorable trip with otherwordly views. This is a steal of a hike for only 20 miles and less than 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
Wrapping up – Alice Toxaway Lake loop Advice
- Bring proper bug repellant/protection for the Alice Toxaway Lake loop.
- If you’re going for astrophotography, plan around a new moon
- Clockwise is better.
- Alice Lake > Toxaway Lake
- The distance between Toxaway and Alice really isn’t that far.
- For photographers: If you come up to Alice first, the first ‘lake’ you get to below El Capitan will have the smoothest water. Alice Lake will smooth out eventually, but it’ll take longer.
- If you’re looking for a shorter trip into the Sawtooths, going to Saddleback Lakes is a great idea.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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