Sawtooth Mountains/Traverse

  • Sawtooth Traverse - El Capitan and Alice Lake - © Copyright Flickr user David~O
  • Sawtooth Traverse - Alpine Lake - © Copyright Flickr user MiguelVieira
  • Sawtooth Traverse - Cramer Lakes basin - © Copyright Flickr user MiguelVieira
  • Sawtooth Traverse - © Copyright Flickr user jfdervin
  • Sawtooth Traverse - © Copyright Flickr user jfdervin
  • Sawtooth Traverse - © Copyright Flickr user Sharloch
  • Sawtooth Mountains reflected in Redfish Lake - © Copyright Flickr user Alaskan Dude
  • Sawtooth Traverse - pond below Alice Lake - © Copyright Flickr user David~O
  • Sawtooth Valley above Petit Lake - © Copyright Flickr user David~O
  • Sawtooth Mountains - View From Fish Hook Creek Meadow - © Copyright Flickr user MiguelVieira
  • Sawtooth Traverse - Redfish Canyon From Alpine Lake Trail - © Copyright Flickr user MiguelVieira

Key information: Sawtooth Mountains/Traverse

    • Idaho's Sawtooth Wilderness is a well-kept secret; smaller and less well-known than its neighbours, the area's veil of secrecy cloaks an adventure seeker's playground in a spectacular landscape.
    • The Sawtooths are beautifully sculpted: granite rock has yielded to the power of long ago glaciers, forming jagged, curved peaks; their deep, high cirques cradling mountain lakes. Powerful rivers and creeks rush through their valleys.
    • For those seeking to truly understand this striking wilderness, the multi-day walk Sawtooth Traverse is a remarkable experience; a challenging (yes) traverse running on the north/south backbone of the range.
    • A walk to Sawtooth Lake provides an opportunity to experience the range in less than a day. Although the intense switch-backing required on the trail's ascent can be tiring, the deep trough of Sawtooth Lake, with sheer mountainsides rising immediately from its waters, is a worthwhile reward.
    • This is a tough walk in high, remote mountains, on which you will have to be self-sufficient and where altitude can cause some problems. Streams may contain giardia and so water must be treated. Come prepared.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating82.5
  • Beauty34
  • Natural interest16.5
  • Human interest0
  • Charisma32
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating82.5

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Variable (Traverse itself: 82km, 8-10 days)
  • Maximum Altitude: 2,890m
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable
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Sawtooth Traverse - El Capitan and Alice Lake - © Copyright Flickr user David~O

WALK SUMMARY

It is easy for walkers to overlook Idaho. It is surrounded by walkers' nirvanas; Montana can boast of the wild magnificence of Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the Bitterroot Mountains, whilst Wyoming is home to Yellowstone, a vast realm of geological beguilement, and the crisp, charismatic beauty of the Tetons.

By contrast, the Sawtooth Mountains have seen little of the international attention bestowed on Glacier and Yellowstone. They are smaller, with no glaciers or thermal springs to entice the tourist trade. And yet, with the beauty and challenge of their stunningly carved granite peaks and wild mountain rivers, they have become something of a home to Idaho's adventure-seekers. To quote Lonely Planet's website, "There is more to Idaho than big potatoes, neo-Nazis, Demi Moore and Evel Knievel." (see here)

Passing under the radar slightly, the Sawtooths' are a bit mysterious - even secret. Those who revel in their wonders are reluctant to draw in other visitors, an endeavour only aided by such famous neighbours. Thus, whilst small, this wilderness is in many ways very isolated, with potentially greater opportunity for private exploration and discovery.

The landscape of the Sawtooths is superbly sculpted: granite has yielded to the power of ancient glaciers, forming jagged, curved peaks and deep, high cirques cradling mountain lakes. The weird and wonderful shapes have inspired imaginative appellations. Along the ridge to Arrowhead, one of the more spectacular, you will also pass the Sentry, the Coffin and the Birthday Cake; further along the trail expect to find Damocles and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

A 5 to 7 hour walk to Sawtooth Lake described in Lonely Planet's Hiking in the Rocky Mountains provides an opportunity to experience some of the outstanding carved landscape of the range in the space of a day; although the intense switch-backing required on the trail's ascent can be tiring, the deep trough of Sawtooth Lake, with sheer mountainsides rising immediately from its waters, is a worthwhile reward. Ice-floes can be seen here into July.

For those seeking to truly understand this striking wilderness, a multi-day walk along the Sawtooth Traverse is a spectacular experience; a challenging traverse running on the north/south backbone of the range. Ralph Storer, in The World's Great Adventure Treks, begins the walk at the Tin Cup Hiker Trailhead, beside Pettit Lake. After a fairly steep ascent, the trail remains above 2,500m for the majority of the next six days, reaching its highest point at Cramer Divide.

The initial ascent is interesting, with river crossings and waterfalls in amongst fir and pine forests and a skyline increasingly dominated by the imposing El Capitan. Several days of wonderful scenery along the trail lead to one of its highlights, the high, rugged landscape around the Cramer Divide and Temple Basin. After a night's camping here, a relatively short descent will take you back below the timberline.

Wander past waterfalls, follow the banks of rushing creeks, and ford rivers on the next few days of the trail, spending the nights camping amongst the remote Baron Lakes and beside the icy Sawtooth Lake. The last section of the trail drops out of the high country, meandering down Iron Creek Valley; the drama, though, is extravagant to the last, with an impressive final ridge saluting walkers as they exit on the Iron Creek trailhead.

Lonely Planet suggests a possible alternative in the four day long White Cloud Loop, meandering around the gorgeous string of alpine tarns known collectively as Boulder Chain Lakes as it circumnavigates the impressive 3,600m Castle Peak. See Hiking in the Rocky Mountains for a detailed description and route.

The traverse is challenging, and should really only be attempted by experienced backpackers. Snow can remain on some passes up until mid-August, and in the walkers here should expect to have to deal with both snow and the fording of some difficult rivers.

Water treatment is important on all walks, as streams may contain giardia. Although they are not often in the high country, do be aware of black bears and how to deal with them if the need arises. 

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

We have a lot of helpful practical information and tips about this walk, covering everything from the best books and maps, to timing and weather, geting there, possible problems, whether you need a guide and where to find them, and useful websites. This section is only open to members.

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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

Sawtooth Traverse - Cramer Lakes basin - ©Copyright Flickr user MiguelVieira

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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Sawtooth Traverse - ©Copyright Flickr user jfdervin...
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