Trip Report: Fall Sawtooths Backpacking Trip


One of the best times and places to backpack in the Pacific Northwest is in Idaho's Sawtooth Range in September.  Kids have gone back to school, crowds have subsided, the mosquitos are gone, and the fall colors are at their best.  Last week, my family did a 5-day thru hike from Redfish Lake to the Tin Cup Trailhead at Pettit Lake, and it was spectacular!

We started in Stanley, Idaho with full bellies after a hearty breakfast at the Stanley Baking Company & Cafe.  You can't really go wrong, but I recommend trying their oatmeal pancakes -- they're amazing!  We then met our shuttle driver at the Tin Cup trailhead where we left our car, and he drove us about 20 minutes back to Redfish Lake Resort where we caught a boat shuttle to the far end of the lake to begin our adventure.

Our destination on the first night was Cramer Lakes.  We ended up camping at a spot between Lower and Middle Cramer Lakes with a view of the waterfall which cascades into Middle Cramer Lake.

The next morning I woke up early and hiked back down the trail about 10 minutes to photograph the colorful huckleberry bushes and marsh grasses that encircle Lower Cramer Lake.  It was so peaceful and calm, and I was starting to enjoy the tranquility of the wilderness.

Our route the next day took us up 1,900' to Cramer Pass, and from there, we dropped into Hidden Lake where we made our camp on the second night.  My crew would agree that the highlight of this evening was the homemade, dehydrated lasagna we'd prepared ahead of time from Linda Yaffe's excellent cookbook, Backpack Gourmet.

The sky was clear and the moon was full over our camp, so it was a great evening all around.

The next morning, we woke to snow falling on our camp (at 8,500') with the knowledge that we'd be climbing over 9,390' Sand Mountain Pass to get to our next destination.  We packed up early and made our way towards Toxaway Lake.

With only 4 inches of snow on the ground, the trail wasn't particularly hard to follow, but we frequently checked Avenza PDF Maps on our iPhones to make sure we weren't straying off course.  Avenza is great because it let's you download 1:24,000 scale USGS quads and plot your real-time position on the map using GPS coordinates from your phone.  Although we had a paper map for backup, we mostly relied on Avenza for the added benefits of being able to drop pins, set way-points, and know our exact location at all times.

We arrived at Toxaway Lake fairly early in the day and had plenty of time to explore and play.  My kids picked wild huckleberries and we all marveled at the beauty that surrounded us.  It is perhaps the most memorable day of our trip.  From Toxaway Lake, we hiked over one more pass (stopping for lunch at the top to make bean and cheese burritos!) and dropped into Twin Lakes for our last night in the wilderness.

On the last day, we spent a few hours at Alice Lake enjoying views of 9,901' El Capitan and the other peaks that enclose the lake basin.  We then hiked out the remaining 6 miles back to our car at Pettit Lake.  My kids weren't ready to leave the woods yet.  They both asked if we could stay another night, which made me happy.

But we had plans back in the real world, so we returned to Stanley Mountain Village to get cleaned up and relax before making the long drive home the following day.  We took a long soak in the hot springs at the resort and savored the wonder of the week we'd just spent together.