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A Full Information to Mountaineering the Grand Sawtooth Loop

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (

The Grand Sawtooth Loop is considered one of Idaho’s most exhilarating and burly backcountry trails. It’s a gratifying route that guarantees an enormous journey by means of a few of Idaho’s most difficult and delightful landscapes. You’ll spend day after day surrounded by excessive alpine lakes, majestic mountain passes, and craggy, towering peaks. At 60+ miles and 12,000’+ of achieve, this path isn’t any cakewalk, however the wild views of the Sawtooth Vary will exceed your highest expectations. Whether or not you’re a seasoned backpacker or an occasional adventurer, the Grand Sawtooth Loop presents every little thing you can need in a multi-day backpacking journey.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (

Fast Info

  • Distance: 60 to 70 miles (add or subtract mileage for aspect journeys and route variations) 
  • Days wanted: 5-7 days
  • Kind: Loop
  • Elevation achieve: 12,340 ft 
  • Greatest journey time: Late summer season to early fall (mid-July to mid-September relying on climate)
  • Permits: No superior permits required. Free permits obtainable at trailhead.
  • Issue: Very difficult
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (


  • Beautiful alpine lakes and mountain vistas
  • Handy allow system with no superior reserving required
  • Quite a few aspect journey alternatives and choices for shorter loops
  • Spectacular wildflower shows in spring and summer season
  • Wildlife sightings from birds and deer to elk and coyotes
  • Effectively-maintained and principally well-marked trails
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (


  • Burn space close to the start of the route
  • Crowded alongside some sections of path and at standard tenting spots – particularly throughout summer season weekends
  • Mosquitoes and flies in spring and summer season
  • A lot of climbing, together with steep ascents and descents with elevation achieve/lack of round 3,000 toes or extra per day
  • There are a number of rivers to ford alongside the route
  • Uncovered high-elevation sections of path
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (

Greatest Time to Hike

The most effective time to sort out the Grand Sawtooth Loop is within the early summer season to early fall, ideally from mid-July to mid-September. You’ll be able to backpack a bit earlier than or after these dates however plan on colder temperatures and snow. Like most excessive mountains, spring can imply postholing by means of lingering snow banks and fall can imply recent, icy snow and chilly winds.We hiked the total loop and all aspect journeys in late September. The climate was within the 30s at night time and 40s to 50s in the course of the day. The climate was an applicable fall mixture of sunny, calm days and days with low-hanging clouds, gentle rain, frost, and a dusting of snow. With the suitable gear, we stayed heat and loved the quiet, uncrowded trails.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (


We charge the Grand Sawtooth Loop as very difficult as a result of important quantity of elevation achieve and loss. Trails by means of this stunning space are established, maintained, and well-graded. However with round 3,000 toes of ascent and descent every single day, anticipate to be always mountain climbing up or down over the course of the loop. There are only a few flat sections.After all, issue is determined by your expertise, bodily health, pack weight, and climate situations. In case your backpack is heavy, your hike will likely be more difficult. Scroll to the underside of this text to see our light-weight gear suggestions that can make your hike happier. If you happen to’re trying to shed some weight out of your package, take a look at our information for Ultralight Backpacking Fundamentals.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (


A allow is required to hike the Grand Sawtooth Loop. They’re free to select up in particular person on the trailhead. You do not want to e-book upfront however do deliver the allow alongside whenever you head up the path.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (

Getting There

The Grand Sawtooth Loop is situated in central Idaho about 2.5 hours from Boise, the largest metropolis within the state. The next instructions are for attending to the Grandjean Campground Trailhead. That is one of the best place to begin for accessing the Grand Sawtooth Loop. Entry to the turnoff for Grandjean Campground is paved. The final 6 miles is a mud highway that’s no downside for 2WD autos, though we suggest a car with some clearance. Like most grime Forest Service roads you’ll must navigate rogue rocks, bumpy grading, and occasional potholes.

From Boise – It’s about two and a half scenic hours to drive east from Boise to Grandjean Campground. You’ll get pleasure from a shocking drive by means of old-growth ponderosa stands and the rolling hills of Boise Nationwide Forest. Take Freeway 55 North out of Boise and observe it for about 34 miles. Take a proper onto County Freeway 17 / Lowman Street. Keep on County Freeway 17 for about 33 miles, then flip left onto Freeway 21 North. After about 21 miles, observe the indicators for Grandjean Campground and switch proper onto Grandjean Street. The highway will flip to grime. Drive 5.6 miles till the highway ends on the campground and trailhead.

From Missoula – From the north, you’ll get pleasure from a sluggish, winding strategy into Idaho’s central wilderness. It’s about six hours to drive south from Missoula to Grandjean Campground. From Missoula, observe US 93 South for 136 miles. At US-93 South / South Challis Road, flip proper, and proceed for 60 miles. Subsequent, flip proper onto Freeway 75 South and drive into the Idaho Rockies for 55 miles. While you attain the small mountain city of Stanley, flip proper onto Freeway 21 South for 37 miles. Comply with the indicators for Grandjean Campground and switch left onto Grandjean Street. The highway will flip to grime. Drive 5.6 miles till the highway ends on the campground and trailhead.

From Twin Falls – If you happen to’re arriving from the south, Sawtooth Nationwide Forest is stuffed with spectacular vistas and wildflower-filled meadows. It’s about 3 hours and 45 minutes to drive. From Twin Falls, take Freeway 93 North for 27 miles. While you attain Shoshone, Idaho, Freeway 93 turns into Freeway 75, however you’ll proceed north on the identical highway 116 miles to Stanley, Idaho. Take a left onto Freeway 21 South for 37 miles. Comply with the indicators for Grandjean Campground and switch left onto Grandjean Street. The highway will flip to grime. Drive 5.6 miles till the highway ends on the campground and trailhead.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (

Maps & Guidebooks


We suggest all the time carrying a paper copy of a map along with utilizing a GPS app in your telephone. You’ll be able to obtain or buy maps and guides by means of the next hyperlinks:

  • Backpacking Idaho: From Alpine Peaks to Desert Canyons – That is an indispensable guidebook for analysis on the Grand Sawtooth Loop.
  • Mountaineering Idaho’s Sawtooth Nation – One other useful guidebook for exploring trails within the Sawtooth, White Cloud, and Salmon River Mountains. Useful ideas and hikes for households and youngsters.
  • Sawtooth Society Maps – The Sawtooth Society is a nonprofit group targeted on preserving and enhancing recreation within the Sawtooth Nationwide Recreation Space. They provide glorious PDFs and downloadable assets, together with a path map.
  • Forest Service Topography Maps – Sturdy maps for learning trails and the various ups and downs of the Grand Sawtooth Loop.
  • Nationwide Geographic Map – Reliably thorough, colourful, waterproof, and tear-resistant maps for the Sawtooth Nationwide Recreation Space.


Your telephone is among the strongest methods to analysis a brand new outside journey, plan your mountain climbing route, then observe your whereabouts on the path. For tips about find out how to use your telephone as a backpacking GPS, see our How one can Use Your Telephone as GPS Machine information.

  • Avenza (Android or iPhone) – Contemplate downloading the Avenza telephone app and buying the Sawtooth & Whitecloud Mountains, Idaho Path Map. For $7, these maps cowl the Grand Sawtooth Loop and the bigger Nationwide Recreation Space. Much like different prime GPS apps, Avenza means that you can live-track your location. That’s tremendous useful at path intersections with complicated signage or whenever you’re not sure which left you must take. Android and iPhone pleasant.
  • Gaia Maps – If you happen to don’t need to pay for an app however nonetheless need highly effective monitoring options with an in depth, free offline map, Gaia is a superb alternative. However you’ll must load a pre-made route forward of time from an outdoor supply or create your individual. Android and iPhone pleasant.
  • CalTopo – CalTopo is considered one of our favourite assets for printing out topographical maps and designing, planning, and importing particular routes. Android and iPhone pleasant.
  • Topo Maps+ – Topo Maps+ additionally presents all kinds of path maps and glorious on-trail navigational options. iPhone solely.
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (


If you happen to’re heading on an journey within the Idaho Sawtooths, overview the present guidelines and restrictions on the Forest Service Sawtooth Nationwide Recreation Space web site.


You have to a allow to backpack the Sawtooths, but it surely’s free and may be obtained on the trailhead.


Decreasing our impression on the pure world not solely protects us however preserves wildlife habitats and the atmosphere. Irrespective of the place you’re tenting, mountain climbing, or backpacking, all the time apply Go away No Hint ideas. 


Canines on a leash are allowed on the Grand Sawtooth Loop. Nonetheless, we suggest getting a pet sitter: it is a robust route for furry friends. Big elevation positive factors, lengthy distances, loads of wildlife, and unpredictable climate could make an already difficult hike harder with Fido.

It’s very important to cater backcountry journeys round your pup to maintain each of you snug, protected, and having fun with the journey. In case your four-legged pal is becoming a member of the pack, check out our information of 14 Suggestions for Mountaineering & Backpacking With a Canine.


Whereas campfires are allowed in particular locations, we suggest skipping them altogether. Fuel stoves are extra environment friendly, safer, and quicker for cooking. As a result of this space is so closely forested and distant, wildfires can begin simply and turn out to be very massive, very quick. Fires are banned off-trail from July 1 till Labor Day, and there are year-round bans that apply to particular areas and drainages.Per the Forest Service, there are no floor fires allowed wherever within the Sawtooth Wilderness. Campfires within the Sawtooths are solely allowed on a hearth pan, fireplace blanket, or in designated fireplace pits. Make sure to test the fireplace stage ranges in addition to situations and notices for the Sawtooth space forward of time. And, take a look at our Campfire Security Suggestions Information for fireplace security ideas.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (


Water is plentiful alongside this route. The path follows streams and creeks nearly all the method, and most nights you’ll camp close to excessive alpine lakes. We discovered there have been only a few stretches over our 5-day hike the place there wasn’t entry to recent, flowing water. However, even the cleanest Idaho snowmelt and spring-fed creeks should be filtered. Try our prime picks for water filters to maintain your backpack gear weight down and your hydration ranges up. To make hydration even simpler on the path, take into account bringing alongside an electrolyte combine from our Greatest Hydration Mixes information.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (


Tenting in Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness presents a variety of choices. Whether or not you’re on the lookout for a protected web site within the treeline of a deep river valley, otherwise you’d choose to sleep beneath the celebs subsequent to a relaxed alpine lake, campsites are well-used and plentiful on this route. We suggest selecting an impacted web site 100 toes away from lakes, rivers, and trails.


Dispersed tenting is permitted all through the backcountry. No tenting reservations are wanted, however you’ll want a wilderness use allow for touring by means of the Sawtooth Wilderness.


Campsites are straightforward to seek out on the Grand Sawtooth Loop. They’re first come, first served. Most lakes are lined with attractive spots for pitching a tent, however these areas are usually crowded and standard. That is very true for picturesque locations like Sawtooth Lake, Bear Lakes, and Lake Edna. There are various extra personal, protected, and equally scenic spots all through the river valleys, alongside streams, and close to path intersections.


The standard of those campsites is usually good, and lots of are clear and well-maintained. We had no hassle discovering flat, quiet campsites with spectacular views close to water and out of the wind. Sadly, among the most developed websites weren’t solely lower than 100 toes from our bodies of water however had broken vegetation and eroded soil from overuse. 


The Sawtooth Wilderness doesn’t supply amenities or facilities. There are not any bogs, fireplace rings, or picnic tables, so all guests must be ready to observe Go away No Hint ideas. It’s particularly essential to handle human waste responsibly in wild locations. To brush up in your backwoods toilet abilities, take a look at our Backpacker’s Information to How one can Poop within the Woods.


Cell service could be very restricted or nonexistent earlier than arriving on the trailhead, so you should definitely obtain all maps forward of time.


If you happen to’re a planner, guidebooks are useful for narrowing down probably the most attractive locations to pitch a tent, and there are some maps on-line to find particular campsites. We suggest utilizing topographic instruments like Gaia or CalTopo to decide on a lake or an space the place you’ll spend the night time, then staying versatile when you arrive: a few of our favourite campsites weren’t well-marked on assets.


There are a plethora of campsites alongside the Grand Sawtooth Loop. Listed here are a number of of our favorites:

  • Path Creek Lakes – This quick aspect journey provides about .6 miles and round 400 toes of climbing for a number of good-to-excellent campsites close to the spectacular Path Creek Lakes. Additionally take into account including the quick, steep cross-country scramble to Higher Path Creek Lake.
  • Baron Lakes – The dramatic Baron Lakes presents excellent views of quite a few granite spires and cliffs. These campsites are often busy and standard, however we discovered a much less crowded and scenic tenting choice simply earlier than the lake.
  • Ardith Lake – That is additionally a preferred lake with quite a few stellar campsites providing scenic views. Horse events are frequent right here. 
  • Smith Falls – Broad, roaring Smith Falls is price greater than only a aspect journey. Contemplate an in a single day keep close to campsites simply upstream from the vast, charming waterfalls.
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (



From Grandjean trailhead and campground, you’ll be able to full the loop clockwise or counterclockwise:

  • Clockwise – We went clockwise. That is the extra standard choice as a result of entry to large mountain vistas and clear alpine lakes is comparatively quick for each day hikers and backpackers.e We suggest this route as a result of we have been instantly immersed in probably the most awe-inspiring and jagged peaks within the Sawtooths. The path climbs a steep 2800’ on day one, however the ultimate 20 miles have been extra relaxed and stage en path to the trailhead.
  • Counter-Clockwise – Reversing the route of strategy means a better begin with an extended and gradual ascent over the primary 20 miles. Because you begin off on extra mellow terrain, the surroundings will turn out to be extra dramatic and beautiful day after day as you head to probably the most rugged components of the path.

One of many actual highlights of the loop, Sawtooth Lake, will likely be close to the top of the journey should you’re touring counter-clockwise. This lake, framed by tough, tall peaks, is among the most jaw-dropping views within the space. The path would additionally finish with one of many greatest descents of the journey again to the trailhead at almost 3,000 toes.


These are elective, extremely really useful mountains and lakes to contemplate including to your hike.

  • Path Creek Lakes – Provides 1.2 miles and 400 toes spherical journey. This can be a stunning lake basin in a burn space surrounded by jagged peaks.
  • Commentary Peak – Provides 2.5 miles and 1,100 toes spherical journey. 9,151-foot Commentary Peak is the one peak within the Sawtooths with a category one path that goes to the summit. It presents among the greatest views within the vary and is definitely worth the journey.
  • Sand Mountain Go – Provides 3.2 miles and 800 toes spherical journey. This can be a worthwhile aspect hike to a cross with unimaginable views of the encompassing excessive ridges, blue lakes, and thick evergreen forests.
  • Three Island Lake – Provides 1 mile and 300 toes spherical journey. Three Island Lake is a deep, wealthy blue lake framed by sensational Peak 9785, named for its elevation.
  • Everly & Plummer Lakes – Provides 4 miles and 850 toes spherical journey. These clear blue lakes are actual gems within the Sawtooth. They’re smaller, distant, and farther from the principle circuit and supply extra solitude than different campsites on the Loop.
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (

Backpacking Gear – What to Pack

We choose light-weight backpacking as a result of we are able to cowl extra floor with much less effort. Extra gear and weight can sluggish you down and expend your vitality, particularly on multi-day adventures. For suggestions on our favourite light-weight backpacking gear, take a look at the CleverHiker Gear Information and our High Picks web page. 


Flat, hard-packed campsites are as plentiful alongside the Sawtooth Loop Path as bumpy, root-filled ones. Our group used the MSR Freelite 2P, NEMO Hornet OSMO 2P, and Large Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Answer-Dyed – a few of our favourite backpacking tents of the yr. These have been glorious selections due to their low weight, sturdiness, and ease of use, and all three simply dealt with precipitation and icy fall mornings. For extra of our prime tent picks, take a look at our information to this yr’s Greatest Backpacking Tents.


We hiked this path throughout chilly late September days when the temperature at night time received right down to freezing. The light-weight Enlightened Gear Revelation quilt, Feathered Mates Flicker quilt, and Western Mountaineering AlpinLite sleeping bag stored us heat. These selections labored nicely due to their efficient down filling, low weight, and fast-drying supplies. Whether or not we camped subsequent to frigid lakes or in frosty forests, these sleep programs labored. See our Greatest Backpacking Quilts information and our Greatest Sleeping Baggage information for extra of our favourite sleeping selections for any funds.


We used the Thermarest Neoair XLite NXT, which we named considered one of our Greatest Backpacking Sleeping Pads. That is considered one of our favourite three-season sleeping pads as a result of it’s insulated and heat due to its excessive R-value. We discovered the Xlite was sufficient to maintain us insulated on even the coldest mornings. 


For extra consolation, decide a pillow from our checklist of Greatest Backpacking and Tenting Pillows.


We introduced the HMG Southwest and Zpacks Arc Haul 60. Each fashions have hung out on the prime of our checklist of the Greatest Backpacking Backpacks of the yr. Each Ultralight backpacks carried out nicely, stored us organized, and made the journey as gentle as potential.


For a range, we used the quick and environment friendly Jetboil Flash. The Flash was named the “Greatest Worth Built-in Range System” on our Greatest Backpacking Stoves checklist. We additionally used our decide for “Greatest Finances Ultralight Range” from that checklist, the BRS 3000T, for its simplicity. We boiled water within the sturdy, light-weight Toaks Titanium 750mL pot. For extra of our prime cookware suggestions, see our information to the Greatest Backpacking Cookware.


5 days of snacks and meals can get heavy should you don’t choose rigorously. This isn’t a very long time, so we introduced alongside our favourite premade choices. To seek out inspiration in your new favourite backcountry meals, see our guides on the Greatest Light-weight Backpacking Meals, Greatest Freeze Dried Backpacking Meals, and Greatest Power Bars.


Bear canisters are usually not required on this space. As a substitute, we introduced alongside bear-proof and critter-resistant Ursacks for the Grand Sawtooth Loop. There was all the time wildlife current and correct meals storage presents peace of thoughts within the backcountry.


Creeks, streams, and lakes are in all places within the Sawtooths, so we had no hassle staying hydrated. Whereas mountain climbing we used Katadyn Micropur Tabs (chlorine dioxide tabs), and we’ve written up a full overview. When at camp, we filtered water with Platypus Gravityworks. We just like the Platypus Gravityworks when touring with a gaggle. It filters a whole lot of water rapidly and couldn’t be simpler to make use of. For extra choices, discover our different favourite Backpacking Water Filters.


The paths that make up the Sawtooth Loop are straightforward to observe and well-traveled, however nonetheless have loads of rocks, roots, and obstacles. We suggest mountain climbing footwear with versatile however supportive soles, a grippy lug sample, and breathable uppers to deal with all kinds of terrain, moisture, and climate. We used the Saucony Peregrines (males’s / ladies’s) and the Altra Lone Peak (males’s / ladies’s) for these causes.

Discover out about these footwear on our guides Greatest Mountaineering Sneakers for Males and Ladies. If you happen to’re out there for mountain climbing boots, see our lists of the Greatest Mountaineering Boots for Males and Ladies.


Listed here are a few of our favourite mountain climbing/backpacking clothes objects we used on this journey. Try extra of our prime picks on our High Gear checklist


We used considered one of our favorites from our Greatest Headlamps Information. The rechargeable, brilliant, and dependable Black Diamond Spot 400-R made navigating middle-of-the-night toilet journeys no difficulty.


For this journey, we used the guidebook Backpacking Idaho: From Alpine Peaks to Desert Canyons to plan, CalTopo to print off maps, and the Topo Maps + app to navigate on path.


By no means head into the backcountry with out a small personalised first assist package. We introduced alongside the .5 Journey Medical Package. Discover one of the best package for you on our checklist of the Greatest First Help Kits.


The Grand Sawtooth Loop has little or no shade from the solar on mountain passes, burn areas, and prolonged above-treeline sections. Even throughout shoulder season, we suggest bringing sunscreen, SPF lip balm, and polarized sun shades. Contemplate the Ray Ban Polarized New Wayfarer, our decide for “Greatest Sun shades” on our Greatest Gear Checklist.



For all issues planning, take a look at our Final Backpacking Guidelines and get ideas and tips from our group of specialists.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (

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