Vanlife diaries #15: Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest
Awed by the dramatic beauty of the Sawtooths and with absolutely no plans to leave anytime soon, the week quickly passed with another handful of hikes in central Idaho’s mountain paradise. This just might be the highlight of our entire trip!
What we’ve been up to this week
We started off the week with our largest undertaking yet, the massive 20mi Alice-Toxaway Loop, which includes no fewer than 8 incredible alpine lakes tucked away in the pristine Sawtooth Wilderness.
Without a doubt, it was the pinnacle of our many hikes in the Sawooths thus far and it will be truly hard to beat over the coming weeks (although we will certainly try).
The journey lasted just over 10 hours, but we easily could have spent days exploring the many side trails and accessible peaks along the main loop.
The views were outstanding, particularly from the pass above Twin Lakes, and we went hours without seeing other hikers— most opting to just visit Alice Lake (5mi) and return to their car.
Although we were absolutely exhausted by the end of the day, it was well worth every ounce of effort to experience this more remote section of the Sawtooths, and I’m already dreaming of a return expedition to explore some of the longer spur trails to remote alpine lakes that we just didn’t have time to tack on.
Read more: 15 BEST HIKES IN THE SAWTOOTH NATIONAL FOREST (+ AN EXTENSIVE GUIDE TO STANLEY, IDAHO)
Resting up from our long day on the trail, we spent the following day walking along Redfish Lake, running errands in Stanley, and scoping out the best campsite for when Dan’s best friend Jonny would arrive later that afternoon.
We ended up spending the next week camped at this incredible site overlooking the entire Sawtooth range, perfectly set-up between our van and Jonny’s VW Westy with every camping luxury one could imagine.
It was genuinely hard to leave our amazing camp every morning, and it was only the promise of sparkling alpine lakes that made it possible.
On Wednesday, we enjoyed another fantastic hike, this time out to Alpine and Sawtooth Lakes (10mi).
Despite a fair amount of snow near Sawtooth Lake and actual icebergs floating in the water, I still managed a cold swim under the afternoon sun and returned to the car a very happy hiker.
We followed up Sawtooth Lake with another lake hike in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, located just north of the Sawtooths.
Dan and I had read about Langer Lake and nearby Roughneck Peak in a local magazine we collected on arrival in Idaho, which reported that this area has all the beauty of the Sawtooths, yet a fraction of the visitors.
Given that it’s mid-June and therefore a little early season, we haven’t seen many people on even popular trails, but were still intrigued by the promise of a hidden gem hike.
I wouldn’t say this area really competes with the Sawtooths at all, but the sprawling view from Ruffneck Peak back onto the Sawtooths, Pioneer Range, and the White Clouds was absolutely worth the sweaty ascent.
We spent the weekend splashing around on the sandy shores of Red Fish Lake and playing lawn games up at our awesome campsite, recharging for another week of hikes and some major summit attempts to come!
Where we stayed this week
Before Dan’s friend arrived for the week, we managed to score an absolute knock-out campsite overlooking the entire Sawtooth range and we held onto this site like our lives depended on it (and it felt like they did over the weekend, when a huge flood of people descended upon this otherwise quiet part of Idaho and attempted to muscle us out of our campsite).
- Boondocking on the shore of the Salmon River in Sawtooth National Forest, ID (free; 14 June)
- Boondocking on Forest Service land off Nip and Tuck Road above Stanley, ID (free; 15-20 June)
What we spent this week
Staying in the same area for several weeks certainly has its perks, especially where our budget is concerned!
- Groceries: $13
- Eating out: $52
- Fuel: $0
- Accommodation: $0
- Activities: $0
Hi Brooke, my kids and I also hiked to Sawtooth Lake and Alpine lakes and others in the area in mid-June. There was a lot of snow around the lakes but that didn’t keep me from swimming. I loved the refreshing swimming after the sweaty ascents!
Thanks for your great article! Gary
Thanks for reading, Gary!
This is one of our absolute favourite areas, and I’m sure you can see why 🙂
Hi Brooke, great hike and great area. We’re heading there this coming weekend again with our kids for their third summer backpacking. If you make it back, try over the pass and down to Hidden and Ardeth Lakes (and further!). If you think Toxoway and Alice are beautiful … well, you haven’t seen anything yet!
Btw, what’s up with the weird posts above?! Don’t let them get to you. I wish you awesome travels!
Thank you for the refreshingly positive comment on this post (I also have no idea what’s up with the previous 2 comments!).
We met a couple of hikers on the trail who recommended Hidden Lake, so it sounds like we will definitely have to put that on the list for our imminent return! Better than Toxaway and Alice is definitely enough to sell me on the idea!
Hope you and your family enjoy the trip 🙂
I live in this area and find it odd that you are hiking and swimming when the mountains are still snow covered but the trails are bone dry. It looks as if you photoshopped quite a few of your photos . . .
Hi Lori, so much to unpack here… I don’t even think you need to be a hiker to understand that lower trails melt out long before the thick snowpack on peaks is completely gone. Many mountains never melt and are snowy year-round, just go outside and see for yourself.
Good job using your breasts to get people to read. Dont objectify women, but here’s some huge tits in your face. Way to.keep the sexualization of women alive!
brooke brisbineTyler Roses
This comment is laughably ridiculous, but I think it’s worth responding to all the same. I am not “keeping the sexualisation of women alive” by swimming in a sports bra and sharing the photo on MY website– you are keeping it alive by looking at a happy snapshot of a woman swimming in a beautiful lake and choosing instead to see only breasts. This says far more about you than it does about me.
As a helpful reminder, me (or any woman) swimming in a sports bra or a swimsuit or even a full-body wetsuit is perfectly acceptable and entirely our prerogative. The decision to wear something I’m comfortable in (and in this case, something I was hiking in) doesn’t actually impact you in any way and it certainly doesn’t call for you to draw attention to my “tits”—- something I did not ~ask for~ simply by wearing a sports bra in a lake.
I’m sure you’d be more comfortable if I wore a loose fitting dark t-shirt in the water, but alas, I don’t exist to make you comfortable. The sooner you realise this, the sooner sexualisation of women will ACTUALLY start to dwindle.
If this picture and post are so wildly offensive to you that you felt the need to degrade me with a rude comment, I’d say that you have some serious self-reflection to do. As far as I know, no one is holding you hostage and forcing you to look at disturbing photos of a woman swimming in an alpine lake, so simply click away from the page and the overwhelming threat of ~women in clothes I don’t approve of~ will quickly abate.
As a final word to the wise, though, I’d avoid beaches and pools and lakes and rivers and backyard sprinklers for the foreseeable future— they are just riddled with happy women wearing swimwear of their own choosing and I know how that’s likely to set you off. If you just stay inside this summer, it’s probably best for all involved.