Sawtooth Backpacking, Mountain Backcountry

Sun Valley Idaho
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Sawtooth Backcountry

Real backcountry adventures can be found in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area located just north of Sun Valley, Idaho.

  • Backcountry permits can be obtained at the Stanley Ranger Station, Redfish Lake Visitors Center and the SNRA headquarters.
  • The Sawtooth Lake Hike is known for its changing scenery and outstanding views.
  • Be “Bear Aware”.
  • Minimize the effect of your visit to the backcountry.

The most unusual aspect of the backcountry of the Sawtooth region is that no motorized vehicles are allowed. There is no logging, no roads, or any buildings, which do not have historic value. In fact, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is one of only a few areas in the entire United States where subdivision type buildings have actually been torn down in an effort to conserve the natural ambiance of the area.

Backcountry Camping Areas

In some areas of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area you will find larger, developed campground offering first-come, first-served camping and picnicking, as well as biking, swimming, boating, and a beach area. The views of the Sawtooths are spectacular at each one and nearly every campground offers a trailhead that will lead you into the wilderness backcountry area.

Besides these larger campgrounds, there are many other places to camp in the Sawtooths including some on additional lakes that dot this rugged mountain region. There are plenty of backpacking trails and other off the beaten track places to explore.

Backcountry Trails

Trails lead up valleys into the mountains, and to the hundreds of alpine lakes inside the wilderness. Trails connect to other trails, and you can make your own loop trips of a day to a week. The most popular day-hike is to Sawtooth Lake. It's easy and beautiful, but if you have time, get into some of the more remote lakes for a long day or overnight trip.

Pick up a free map and inquire about trail conditions at the:

  • Stanley Ranger Station, 3 mi. south of Stanley on Rte. 75
  • Redfish Lake Visitors Center, 5 mi. south of Stanley on Rte. 75
  • SNRA headquarters, 3 mi. north of Ketchum

Sawtooth Lake Trail
A scenic hike to a large lake high in the Sawtooth Wilderness.

  • Distance: 11 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1700 feet
  • Approx. time: 5.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Type: Out and Back.
  • Trailhead: Drive NW from Stanley on hwy 21 for 2.5 miles. Turn left onto Iron Creek campground road and follow for 3 miles To the Iron Creek trailhead. There is a large parking area with shade. SNRA trailhead pass is required. This can be obtained at the Stanley Ranger Station.

Bear Safety

Many black bears make their home in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Therefore, it is necessary to be “Bear Aware”.

  • Camping: Avoid camping in areas that have obvious signs of recent bear activity. Be sure to sleep at least 100 yards from where you do any cooking or store food.
  • Food: Store food, cooking utensils and other items that have odors (like soap, toothpaste, etc.) properly as these odors attract bears. Keep your campsite clean.
  • Backpacks: Backpacks containing food and odorous items should never be left unattended.
  • A fed bear is a dead bear: If bears obtain human food it can result in them becoming aggressive in other situations to obtain more food. If a bear presents a threat to human safety, the bear is either removed from the park or killed.

Rules & Regulations

  • Trash must be carried out of the backcountry
  • Human waste must be buried at least 100 feet from water and at least 6 inches below the ground
  • Make sure to filter, boil or treat any drinking or cooking water that is used from lakes or streams
  • Remain on designated trails

Leave No Trace

Remember to abide by the Leave No Trace program:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors