2 Nights in the Sawtooths

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Sep 18, 2017
First, a little background on this trip: my bro-in-law has been stationed with the Army in Germany for the last 3 years. I visited him in February, and we toured around Europe for a bit. One of our stops was Iceland and although stunning, we were both uninspired by the crowds. This is when I invited him for a backpacking trip next time he was in the States to find some solitude.

Fast forward a few months and he receives orders that he will be transferred to Texas and will have a few days leave around the 4th of July, between departing Germany and reporting to Texas. Since we are both originally from Utah and this was to be a bit of a homecoming for him, I really wanted to plan our trip to the Uintas, but as many of us are finding out, the big winter is causing accessibility to the high country to come late this year. After multiple plan adjustments, we decided to head to the Sawtooth range of Idaho. Thanks to several of you on this site who provided useful information for planning this trip.

The drive to the trailhead was mostly uneventful and after a quick stop in Hailey for last minute supplies, gas and fishing licenses we were off to Redfish Lake. The lodge at Redfish Lake was a bit of a zoo, but it was nice to have a few amenities to start off the hike. After a barbeque lunch from the outdoor grill we hopped on the shuttle boat that would take us to the far side of Redfish Lake. The shuttle currently costs $12 one-way or $17 round trip, saves 4-5 miles of hiking (each way), and provides great views of the Grand Mogul and this section of the Sawtooth range.


From the TH we shouldered our packs and were on our way. Right from the beginning the scenery was beautiful and the first couple miles flew by.





Our destination for the evening was Saddleback Lakes which does not seem to be super popular with backpackers but is very popular with rock climbers due to a prominent feature called The Elephant’s Perch. At about 2.5 miles up the trail, we were to leave the main trial that follows Redfish Creek and head up a small side drainage. This meant that we would need to cross Redfish Creek. We had heard multiple reports about this crossing that varied from “DO NOT ATTEMPT” to “you don’t even need to wet your feet”. We found a spot where some logs had been laid across the river. The logs were a little unstable, but the crossing went smoothly. I did not get a picture of the logs, but the pic below shows the general area of the crossing. Even if the logs were not there, there was a large, flat rock that provided a decent crossing spot (downriver from the spot in this pic).


After crossing the river, the trail to Saddleback Lakes ascends steeply. I figured from the topo map that we would gain about 1200’ in approx. 1.5 miles and it felt every bit that steep. The crux of the climb was a small snow field on a steep slope. Not only was this a steep climb up, but the snow also slanted sharply towards the creek which provided an extra element of adventure.


In the end, the snow was not much of an obstacle and not long after clearing the snow we found ourselves at Lower Saddleback Lake. The lower lake is surrounded by steep slopes so we continued up and started looking out for suitable camping spots at the middle lake. There were a couple climbers camped near where Lower and Middle Saddleback Lakes meet, so we went a bit further, around to the west side of the lake and found several great camping spots. We pitched our tents near some good sitting rocks and not far from a small inlet where we could get water.


After setting up camp we explored around the lake and found a nice spot on the southwest side where we spent the evening taking pictures and fishing. The views from here are incredible and there is a camping spot at the top of a large rock, but I would discourage its use as camping here would diminish the view for all other users. The fishing was ok, and we were catching small brookies on about every fifth cast.


The next morning, we had breakfast, packed up and took a short trip to Upper Saddleback Lake. We heard reports that the Saddleback area can get crowded with climbers. We did not experience that, but if you did hike up to find multiple groups, I believe you would still find solitude at the upper lake. The climbers seem to prefer the area near the outlet of the middle lake as it provides better access to “The Perch”.


After working our way back to our packs, we continued back down the same trail we used to enter the area. The trail was just as hard on the joints on the way down as it was on the muscles and lungs on the way up. After arriving back at the Redfish Creek crossing, we hopped across the logs, ate a quick lunch and then headed southwest up the main trail. Our destination for the night would be Cramer Lakes.

The “Perch” from the Redfish Creek valley


About a mile up the trail we arrived at the Alpine Lake junction. It seems that Alpine Lake is a popular destination and we saw fewer people after this junction. Shortly after the junction we turned south and had to cross Redfish Creek again. This crossing did not have any logs, but we were able to find an area where the creek flowed over a flat rock. We crossed through swift water that was up to my thighs at the deepest point. It was a little sketchy at times, but not too bad overall. I’m sure it is a total non-issue later in the season.


From the creek crossing we needed to climb approx. 1200’ in about 4 miles. It is much more pleasant to ascend 1200’ in 4 miles that it is to do it in 1.5 miles. The hiking was very nice and soon we arrived at Lower Cramer Lake.


We continued past Lower and came to a spot where a fallen log crosses the creek at the outlet of Middle Cramer Lake. There is a waterfall at the far end of Middle Cramer, so we hopped across the log to get some pics. After crossing the log, we found ourselves at a great campsite. I think this is the camp that @Vegan.Hiker and @Ben used during their trip last year. It was such a nice spot, we decided to make camp here too.


After making camp, we decided to explore Upper Cramer Lake. The views from Upper Cramer are fantastic and you can see there was still a lot of snow on the passes. We bumped into a couple of backpackers who had made camp at Upper Cramer and were going to attempt the pass up to Hidden Lake. I doubt they made it too far as their attempt seemed casual and they did not appear to have any specialized equipment. I do wish I would have seen them again to hear about their experience.


Looking back towards our camp from near the top of the waterfall


The next morning, we packed up for our hike back to the Redfish Lake shuttle. My bro-in-law needed to get back to Utah and eventually continue to Texas, so we wanted to catch one of the earlier boats. It was difficult to say goodbye to such an amazing place.



The hike out was uneventful and we made good time. The creek crossing near the Alpine junction was a little more adventurous as the water was a bit higher, but no major problems. We eventually arrived back at the dock a few minutes before a shuttle arrived. The shuttle and Redfish Lodge was a slap back to reality as we were now experiencing much more company than we had in the past few days. We skipped the grill at the Lodge and drove back to Hailey for a burger at the Wicked Spud.

This was such a great trip with awesome scenery and good company. The temps were in the low 70’s during the day and upper 30’s at night. I can’t wait to come back at a time when there is less snow and I can make it over a few passes and spend a few more nights.

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Oct 10, 2018
Dude that's sick. I'm gonna go do something just like that in two weeks


off grid
Jun 14, 2016
Nice! Hey, I just missed you. Went there for the first time over the 4th to get away from excess snow elsewhere too.


Apr 27, 2016
Looks like a great trip. We used to spend a week or two every summer up near Stanley when I was growing up. I think the last time I was in the Sawtooths was when I was in college in the late 90s. Your pictures made me think it is time to schedule a trip that direction.


Dec 5, 2017
Love your report and photos. The pic from your 1st night campsite is spectacular! I've never been to the Sawtooths and am now interested. Thank you!

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