Forum Index > Trip Reports > Sawtooth Mountains Loop: Alice Lake, Toxaway Lake, Farley Lake
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lcometto
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PostWed Sep 02, 2020 7:22 am 
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For years, I yearned to hike and explore the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, partially because the pictures that I had seen of them look so spectacular and partially because as a landscape photographer (www.lucascometto.com), this mountain range is far less photographed than other areas around the Rocky Mountain corridor, like Glacier National Park, for example.

I decided to hike the Alice Lake Ė Tuxaway Lake loop trail, which is about 22 miles of beautiful alpine backcountry. Myself and three friends elected to take four days to complete the loop so that we could take it slowly and enjoy as much time as possible, camping by the numerous lakes along this trail. The whole trail can be done in as little as two days (or one for the trail runner) but why travel to these places just to rush by it? Four days would be plenty. We spent the night prior to the hike near Stanley Lake where I captured a lovely sunset above McGown Peak.

Stanley Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
Stanley Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho

The loop begins at the Tin Cup Hiker Trailhead near the east end of Pettit Lake. From here hikers may take the loop clockwise or counterclockwise. We opted for the former because that would put us at Alice Lake by late afternoon and in time for sunset. It begins by climbing up to a pass between two walls of mountains. Several small ponds and lagoons are located along the path, including one in front of El Capitan, one of the more recognizable peaks. Arriving at Alice Lake in the afternoon, we found it to be fairly crowded but the land around it has so many nooks and hills that it felt sparce. The lake is surrounded by jagged mountains. Some of my favorite photos were shot here during peaceful sunset and sunrise sessions.

Alice Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
Alice Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
Alice Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
Alice Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
Alice Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
Alice Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho

After the lake, the trail climbs to Twin Lakes, a set of two adjoined bodies of water that feed into Alice Lake below. The peaks around them were bare and striking. Further on, the loop reaches its highest point straddling a pass and a series of small lakes that flow into the large Toxaway Lake below. Here one is deep in Sawtooth Wilderness. The lake is so huge that good compositions are hard to come by. Far fewer people camped here compared to Alice Lake so it had a wonderful remote feeling to it.

Toxaway Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
Toxaway Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho

Originally my group had planned to spend night three past another pass north at Imogene Lake but we opted to shorten the trip a bit by moving on to Farley Lake. Although often passed over by most hikers, Farley Lake is stunning and surrounded by huge mountains. Itís campsites near the eastern end are secluded and offer access to the water. That night we noticed a haze lingering in the area, obscuring the mountains further by the hour. The following morning, we woke to a red sun, now completely obscured by the smoke. Not knowing where it originated from, we hightailed the easy last five miles to the trailhead where we learned that the smoke originated from Oregon and northern California.

Toxaway Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
Toxaway Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho

This backcountry loop, complete with all its stunning lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and passes is an excellent introduction to the beauty of the Sawtooths. The trail is packed with highlights and views; and moves between alpine environments as it climbs and falls in elevation. Itís a new favorite of mine and I hope to return in the near future to see more of it.

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awilsondc
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PostWed Sep 02, 2020 8:31 am 
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Yeah!!! This is just what I needed this morning!  I did this loop with my Dad a long time ago, it was memorable.  I wish I would have climbed Snowyside while I was there.  Twin Lakes was my favorite part, what a beautiful area.  Awesome website by the way, please post more often! I love your photos!  up.gif  up.gif
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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostWed Sep 02, 2020 12:13 pm 
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up.gif  Beautiful photos.  I did this loop once a bit early in the year, not many snow free campsites around the lakes.  I ended up going all the way to Toxaway on the first day, going CW.  Certainly somewhere I'd like to return to.
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lcometto
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PostWed Sep 02, 2020 12:24 pm 
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awilsondc - thank you for the kind words! Twin Lakes is such a great spot. It was definitely less crowded than Alice Lake.

olderthanIusedtobe - I guess tradeoff for snow is no wildfires because when I went it started to smoke as I finished the loop. I think late July is probably the optimal time.

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Brushbuffalo
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PostThu Sep 03, 2020 8:45 am 
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lcometto wrote:
Stanley Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
Stanley Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho

What amazing color!  Your photographs are always stunning.
But I must admit I miss it....no giant trees in the Sawtooths!

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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neek
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PostThu Sep 03, 2020 9:15 am 
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I love the Sawtooths, even though a (small) falling tree tried to kill me there once.  Beautiful photos.
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lcometto
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PostThu Sep 03, 2020 12:05 pm 
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neek  - yikes, glad you escaped. That almost happened to me also on Vancouver Island.

Brushbuffalo - haha you're right no giant trees in this place but I'll be back in the forests when the rain returns!

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lemArts
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PostMon Sep 07, 2020 5:15 pm 
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Great report!

In 2018 we scored an Enchantments Core Permit (after many years of trying), but as it was socked in with smoke from many fires, we drove east to the Sawtooth instead (one of the only smoke free areas within driving distance that we could find on short notice).

Your report took me back.  The third picture in the 2nd row, we camped in the dirt on that little peninsula at Alice Lake and sat on that big rock as the sun went down on our last night, drinking a couple of almost cold enough Rainier tall boys that I had hoofed around for 4 days.

Good times!
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lcometto
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PostTue Sep 08, 2020 6:57 am 
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lemArts - good times for sure! Glad you were able to make it out to the Sawtooths. That little peninsula on Alice Lake is definitely one of the best spots.

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OwenT
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PostTue Sep 08, 2020 10:11 am 
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My dad grew up in Idaho and had good memories of the Sawtooths with the Scouts. Him and I did one of my favorite trips ever there a few years ago. It was a loop beginning with Sawtooth then Baron Lakes and then cross-country to Thompson Peak and Goat lake and back to the car. I hope to go back soon.
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > Sawtooth Mountains Loop: Alice Lake, Toxaway Lake, Farley Lake
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