The Sawtooth mountains rival many of the more popular mountain ranges in the U.S. in both size and beauty, but outside of Idaho, they’re still relatively unknown. With hundreds of miles of hiking trails, fast-flowing rivers, and over 400 alpine lakes, there are countless adventures for those who want to explore. Find out the best things to do in Idaho’s Sawtooth mountains!
I first connected with Christina McEvoy on Instagram back in 2016, a few months after I started my own travel Instagram account. I followed her family’s travels throughout the western United States and in their home state of Idaho. While I’d never been particularly interested in visiting Idaho (I’d crossed over into the southern part as a kid, but going back didn’t really cross my mind), the way they showcased the state with hikes through beautiful forests, camping and fishing trips to crystal clear lakes, and the occasional soak in a natural hot spring moved Idaho way up on my bucket list.
We took a trip to Boise this winter to visit family that recently moved there and loved our time skiing and snowshoeing, and of course, we had to spend some time in a steaming hot spring. Next time, we’re hoping to make a summer trip up to the Sawtooth mountains, where Christina and her family have spent plenty of time exploring.
↡ Save on Pinterest to Read Later ↡
Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means if you click on one of them, we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, read our full disclosure. Thank you for supporting brands that make No Man Before possible.
I asked Christina to share her favorite things to do in Idaho’s Sawtooth mountains in the summer. I’ll let her take it from here!
When you think of Idaho, the first thing that comes to mind is probably potatoes, but did you know that Idaho has more wilderness than any other state in the lower 48? In fact, 60% of the state is covered in forestland! Idaho is a hidden gem by many standards, especially compared to its more popular neighboring states of Washington and Oregon. Idaho is stunningly beautiful, filled with alpine peaks, jewel-colored lakes, untouched forest, and sparkling rivers.
If you love outdoor recreation and beautiful landscapes in every season, Idaho won’t disappoint. Here, you can escape the crowds of other more popular destinations nearby like Yellowstone and find solace in the outdoors.
Summer is one of the most popular times to visit Idaho, so if you’re looking for an epic trip into one of the most beautiful national forests, look no further than the Sawtooth mountains. Compared to other more well-known mountain ranges nearby such as the Teton Range, it is just as breathtaking and dramatic. The dense green forests of the Sawtooth Wilderness are set to a backdrop of snow-tipped rocky crags during the warm summers. Some even call it Idaho’s best-kept secret because it doesn’t take much to discover an empty hiking trail, quiet lake, or solitude in the backcountry.
If you’ve got a few days to spend in these mountains, we’ve got you covered with some of the best outdoor activities you can find in the Sawtooths. This will be an adventure you’ll never forget!
Getting to the Sawtooth Mountains
First of all, how to get here? The closest major airport is located in Boise, Idaho, a short 3-hour drive from the Sawtooth mountains. You can also fly into the smaller airport in Hailey, which is just outside Sun Valley, Idaho and only an hour from the Sawtooths.
Where to stay when visiting the Sawtooth Mountains
The small town of Stanley (population 68) serves as the gateway to the Sawtooths. For hotels in Stanley, Idaho we recommend Mountain Village Resort and Stanley Town Square. Our very favorite place to stay when exploring the Sawtooth mountains is Redfish Lake Lodge, right next to Redfish Lake. Also check Airbnb in the area for a cozy cabin or a larger home if you’re coming with a bigger crew (and if you’re new to Airbnb, sign up using our link here and get $40 off your first stay). For more hotel options, check availability in Sun Valley, a ski resort town located on the edge of the Sawtooth National Forest.
There are also plenty of camping options if you’re more adventurous and want a taste of some of the most coveted and beautiful camping sites in the state. Camping around Redfish Lake is very popular, so if make sure to reserve 6 months in advance. Other great camping spots include Stanley Lake (our personal favorite), Pettit Lake, or Iron Creek.
There are endless recreational opportunities in the Sawtooth mountains, however, these are our top 5 must-do activities.
Paddleboard or Kayak at Redfish Lake
One glance at Redfish Lake, and you’ll instantly want to dive in. (FYI: it’s cold though!) Redfish Lake is one of the main attractions in the Sawtooth mountain range and for good reason. It’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The water is as pristine and clear as you can get, and it’s the perfect alpine lake to spend a lazy summer day on. There are several beaches where you can hang out for the day and let the kids play in the sand. You can also rent a paddleboard or kayak over at the dock at Redfish Lake Lodge. In my opinion, this is the best way to get around the lake and take in the beauty of the majestic mountains around you.
Take a hike
If you want something more challenging with epic scenery as the reward, don’t miss Bench Lakes, Bridal Veil Falls, Iron Creek to Sawtooth Lake, Alice Lake, and our very favorite, Goat Lake. The hikes to Alice Lake and Goat Lake are both great options for backpacking since the trails are somewhat long and difficult. Spending the night at the lake gives you a bit more time rest your feet and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Fly fish on the Salmon River
You can’t come to Idaho without fly fishing. If you’re an experienced fly fisherman, there are plenty of great spots to cast your fly. If you’re new to the sport, there are some great guides that can teach you everything you need to know about fly fishing. We recommend Sawtooth Adventures. They are super professional, know all the best spots and will teach you all the ins and outs of fly fishing. You’ll feel like a pro (ok, almost) by the end of the day!
Soak in natural hot springs
Idaho has more natural hot springs than any other state in the U.S., with 130 of over the 300 hot springs safe to soak. There are several hot springs located in the Sawtooths, so you’ll have to visit at least one while you’re here.
Boat Box Hot Springs is about 3.5 miles up the 75 from Stanley–look for steam and a small pull out that fits 2 to 3 cars. Hot water is piped into an old mining cauldron, so you and three of your friends can stew in here while enjoying the view of the Salmon River (see photo below).
Sunbeam Hot Springs is a bit further up the 75, also along the Salmon River with a few rock pools that catch the hot water.
Kirkham Hot Springs is located on the way to Stanley if you’re coming from Boise, right off the 21 and along the Payette River. These are possibly the most popular hot springs in the state due to their proximity to Boise (a little under two hours) and the nearby campground, but there are quite a few pools to accommodate anyone looking for a relaxing soak after a long hike.
Go whitewater rafting
If there is one thing you should do on a summer trip to the Sawtooth mountains, it’s go whitewater rafting! Idaho has world-class whitewater and it’s a great family adventure that everyone will love! There are plenty of whitewater rafting day trips in the Sawtooths, but if you want something a little more adventurous, take a multi-day trip down the Salmon River. We had a great experience The River Company and highly recommend them.
Map of things to do in the Sawtooth Mountains
About Christina McEvoy
Christina McEvoy is a photographer and outdoor travel blogger at Adventure Together. She can also be found on Instagram where she documents her family’s travels and adventures. Her goal is to inspire others to get outside and explore. She and her family are from Boise, Idaho but are currently traveling full-time through Central and South America.