backpacking saddleback lakes idaho stanley hiking sawtooths

Trail Report: Backpacking to Saddleback Lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains

Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains are a hidden gem quickly gaining traction with outdoor lovers of all stripes. Just outside of Stanley, Idaho, and Redfish Lake, lies an impressive wilderness area, free from the usual crowds you’d see closer to a metro area. And here, backpacking to Saddleback Lakes will give an unbelievable experience amongst the alpine lakes.

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Backpacking to Saddleback Lakes

Backpacking Sawtooth Mounatins – Saddleback Lakes Trip Details:

Length: 9 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,300 feet

Difficulty: Moderate to Hard

Boat Ride Cost: $18

Permits: Free

No Drone Zone

Book your hotels near Stanley here.

Related: Backpacking to Alice Lake

Hiking into the Sawtooth Mountains

The trek to Saddleback Lakes is a little different than most backpacking trips. The first difference is you start at a bustling resort at Redfish Lake. Second, you will need to take a boat ride across the lake. This price has skyrocketed lately and is now $18 round trip. The 8-minute ride drops you off at the far end of the lake.

Once there, it’s a pretty straightforward hike – minus the creek crossing. After a mile of elevation gain and another mile of casual ups and down (but mostly flat), you’ll come to the creek crossing. At this two-mile mark, keep your eyes open as the crossing isn’t apparent.

There’s no bridge, meaning you can either take your boots off or take the logs, as you can see below. You’ll probably look at the logs and think only a crazy person would cross them, but our group of 7 crossed it, ranging in weight from 160 to 240.

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backpacking saddleback lakes idaho stanley hiking sawtooths
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backpacking saddleback lakes idaho stanley hiking

After the creek crossing, you’ll begin the uphill push to Saddleback Lakes. The trail isn’t perfect, and there’s a high and a low route (closer to the water or to Elephant Perch), eventually getting you to the same point. After that, you’ll have to cross the stream below the lake again. This isn’t nearly as hard as the previous one; you only have to jump from rock to rock.

Finally, you’ll be at Saddleback Lakes and can begin to find your home for the night. We went counterclockwise around Saddleback Lake and set up our tents with a direct view of Elephant Perch. There’s plenty of space on the lake, so don’t worry about not finding a location.

Gear to Bring Backpacking to Saddleback Lakes

Dark Idaho Skies Backpacking Sawtooth Mountains

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Thanks to low light pollution, Idaho has some of the darkest skies in the nation. This makes it perfect for astrophotography or to enjoy looking above and wondering if we’re the only ones in this crazy universe.

While the Milky Way core doesn’t line up over Elephant Perch, you can get a portion of the Milky Way in the shot if you have a wide enough lens. Even if it’s not the ‘perfect’ photo, it is still a beautiful view.

Making backpacking to Saddleback Lakes worth it

  • When backpacking the sawtooth mountains, bring bug repellent/bug nets. They’re terrible.
  • The Saddleback Lakes hike doesn’t look hard, but the final mile is pretty arduous with pack weight.
  • Water will never be an issue except for the last mile.
  • You can jump off the big rock with no problem.
  • Even if you tell the boat staff you’ll be back at ‘x’ time, they will still take you back if you arrive early.

Any adventure into the Sawtooth Mountains is worth it, but backpacking to Saddleback Lakes is especially special. Have a blast out there ya’ll!

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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