I have had my eye on a trip to the Sawtooth Mountains for a while. I don't quite remember where I originally heard about them, but I definitely started to fantasize trips over the past two years. Living in Salt Lake City, this stunning mountain range was just a small commitment away (5.5 hour drive and some moderate planning).
A few weeks back that commitment came to life. I was running through my upcoming weekends and realized I had one weekend free before it started to get cold! I wanted to get at least one backpacking trip in this year to help prepare me for another backpacking trip in September. More to come on that 😁
I picked the weekend, and I now needed the destination. I thought back to conversations I had with a former colleague about how he had loved his time in the Sawtooths. I did a quick Google of "best backpacking trips in the sawtooth mountains". Browsed a few blogs. Admired a few pictures. I was in. A solo backpacking trip to the Sawtooth Mountains awaited.
The specific trail I decided to embark upon on was a backpacking trail starting from the Tin Cup Trailhead. It is an 18.7 mile trail that gains about 3,139ft. of elevation.
I planned to bring enough food for two nights, but I knew I could do this in just an overnight trip if I wanted. I took some time off work and set aside a few days to complete this adventure.
Day 1 - A quick and kinda crappy camping spot
Friday evening I took off after wrapping up work at my full-time job. I knew I wasn't going to get the full 5.5 hour drive done before sunset so I found a few free campsites on dispersed land I could stop at just over halfway there. I ended up settling at some BLM land by the Ice Caves just south of Ketchum, Idaho.
Day 2 - Let's get it
I woke up bright and early to my 6am alarm to pack up camp as quick as possible. Although this trail sets you out into the backcountry, I had heard it was very popular from the various AllTrails reviews. Boy was I glad I got going when I did because I ended up scoring one of the very last parking spots in the lot. Being a Saturday morning, it was full.
My excitement began to build and I started overcoming some of my initial nerves about backpacking alone. I was finally at the trailhead and heading out on my first backpacking trip of the year!
Based on many suggestions in the AllTrails reviews, I hiked this loop counter-clockwise. My destination for the day was either Toxaway Lake, or the Twin Lakes. The trail immediately started to climb which had me questioning my decisions 😅
"Should I be doing this? Do I even like backpacking? I thought I was in shape." -Me
After I pounded out the initial 600 ft. of elevation gain and worked up quite the sweat, I really started to settle into the feeling of my backpack. My body got over the initial shock and calmed down, and I was really starting to enjoy myself.
"I know what it's like being on the trail. I do enjoy backpacking. I can't wait to see some of these lakes. 🎵 You want me. I want you baby. My sugarboo. I'm levitating 🎵 (Sidenote does anyone else sing the exact same song over and over again while hiking? Because I do. Dua Lipa sponsored this hike)" -Me again
I found myself flying through the downhill portion. The trail was working through a forested area that was surrounded by some smaller mountains.
I eventually came across Farley Lake after about 5 miles of hiking. This was the first major landmark along the trail. I stopped to enjoy some snacks and took in the peaceful views at the lake.
After a short rest, I continued along the trail and came across lake after lake after lake. Some were small and quite shallow. Others dropped off quick and were much more expansive with deep blue waters. The Sawtooths were beginning to live up to the reputation I had built up in my head.
Overall, this day was quite incredible after the initial climb. It was a gradual descent for most of the hike to Toxaway Lake. The weather was pleasant, the mountains views were getting better and better, and I was really getting my fill of alpine lakes.
Upon reaching Toxaway Lake, it was about 2:30pm, and I was a little wore out from my hike thus far. I stripped off my pack and dove into the clear mountain water. It was expectedly cold, but so worth the plunge. I quickly followed that up with a nice hot meal. I cannot stress enough how much better food tastes when you are backpacking. That $1.25 instant pasta and chicken might have been a top 5 meal for me this year.
After wrapping up my meal, it was only 3:30pm. I was feeling strong, confident, and ambitious. I had plenty of time to get over the pass and settle into camp at the Twin Lakes which would have made for a super easy hike out the next day. That was until the storm clouds rolled in...
The rain quickly picked up. I watched lightning strike multiple times across the lake (where I was supposed to hike). Each cracking thunder boom drove down my enthusiasm farther. I was indecisive at this point. Did I want to push through the bad weather or set up camp for the night? I really wanted to make this a one night trip and not stay past Sunday because I knew there was worse weather on the forecast Monday.
The rain lessened for a short moment and I decided to hike to the base of the pass and evaluate my options there. As I got around the lake, the rain picked back up as yet another storm cloud rolled in. I watched a lightning bolt strike right where I was supposed to hike. I glanced back at my metal tripod strapped to my backpack, and decided that I did not want to become a Benjamin Franklin.
In the backcountry, safety is the number one priority. While mulling over my decision my family, mainly my outdoors-loving parents, as well as my amazing girlfriend came to mind. I wanted to be safe not only for myself, but for them so I could come back home to share my stories with them! Although it sucked to not get more milage out of the way, I was content to back-track until I found a suitable clearing to settle in for the night.
I had a lot of day left, but the weather was not ideal so the rest of the day was pretty boring. I messed around with my camera a bit, made dinner, read on my Kindle, and eventually turned in early.
Day 3 - Rain, rain, go away
I awoke the next morning to the slight pitter patter of rain on my tent. I was slightly annoyed that it had continued, but it wasn't unexpected. I knew Sunday was set to be a pretty rainy day which is why I had been hoping to push to the Twin Lakes the previous day. Oh well, things happen and you have to be prepared to adapt.
Thankfully, there was zero sign of lightning or thunder. Although it was wet, I felt much more comfortable doing the pass, and was glad I didn't have to turn around. I set off just after 7am to push through the remaining 1000ft of elevation gain. I was honestly not super excited for this portion because I figured it would be steep. I turned out to be incorrect which was a pleasant surprise. The hike continued to climb in elevation but at a steady and comfortable pace. There were even more lakes, and the fog made for some interesting pictures.
Then, I approached the ridge. I had remembered reading from others' reviews that the overlook of the Twin Lakes from the ridge pass were one of the main reasons to hike counter-clockwise. Well someone needs to buy those reviewers a beer because this was the pinnacle of the entire trip.
The blue lakes were gorgeous. The jagged mountains jutted proudly into the sky. The fog wrapped around the peaks creating such an interesting effect. It was beautiful 😍 I spent a good amount of time soaking in every single angle of the stunning landscape.
From that point on it was all downhill both figuratively and literally. I had 8 miles left to reach the trailhead, and it was all descending. But man... it sucked. Like it really sucked. The steady slow rain continued throughout the entire day. It made for some really peaceful sounds in the forest that I would have enjoyed if I wasn't feeling like a wet sponge. It was unique to hike alongside Alice Lake, but that was one of the only bright spots. The fog took away most of the mountains views, and again, the rain was not fun. Not even Dua Lipa on repeat in my head was lifting my mood.
I trudged on and on checking my watch praying for the mileage numbers to go down quicker. It wasn't even enjoyable to take breaks because I was just sitting in the wet rain. My feet and ankles were sore, and I was ready to be done when I had 6.5 miles to go. Still I pushed on.
After crossing flowing streams, walking through waterlogged trails, and complaining to myself about my feet hurting, I started to hit recognizable locations. Pettit Lake came back into view after what felt like an eternity. Then the wilderness boundary. And finally, the trailhead.
I made it 😓 Although it wasn't the best day, I love that sense of accomplishment at completing a trail. I took my first non-cathole poop in two days (it's the little things), I absolutely housed a cinnamon bagel, and I departed the trailhead feeling wore out, but fulfilled. As the days have gone on since the trip, the feelings of hurt feet have faded, and the stunning moments like the initial view from the ridge pass shine more. Backpacking can be tough at times, but it's those shining moments that make it so worth it.
Overall, it was the weather that made the second day less pleasurable and not the trail itself. This is a really beautiful area of wilderness that I recommend for everyone. The trail does climb 3000+ ft., but I would say it is not incredibly difficult. This specific hike can be made into a one or two night backpacking trip, and you can add adventures to other areas like Imogene Lake or Edith Lake. This is a great quick trip for experienced backpackers, and a good adventure for those brand new to the hobby. I can confidently give this recommendation to anyone. I know I would 100% go back (with favorable weather).
If you are curious, here are my stats on Strava from the adventure:
Hope you enjoyed reading about my adventure! I think videos capture the experience more than anything so I highly encourage you to checkout the YouTube video I made of the trip too!!!
Thanks for reading and catch you in the next blog 😎