Idaho, best known for being the land of potatoes, is probably one of the most underrated states in the US. With its most beautiful landscapes only accessible after trekking uphill for several miles, the Sawtooth mountains can be considered a hiker's paradise. The region is also popular for backpacking, camping, and fishing. In this post, you will find the itinerary we followed for a summer weekend hiking getaway in the Sawtooth Mountains. Given the Sawtooth Mountains are only 4-5 hours away from Yellowstone, it might be worth combining both destinations (though we flew into Boise and treated this as a standalone trip).

4 DAY ITINERARY

DAY 1

  • Spend your first day exploring the city of Boise. Things to do include walking along the riverfront and exploring Julia Davis Park (including the Boise Art Museum), visiting the Boise Farmers Market or Capital City Public Market, taking a trolley tour of the city, cycling around the famous Greenbelt, and visiting the Old Idaho Penitentiary if that's your thing. There are also plenty of hot springs within an hour and a half from the city.
  • Surprisingly, Boise has a fairly modern dining scene with many restaurants offering ethnic foods. Some restaurants that are highly rated include Fork, Wild Root Cafe, Kibrom's Ethiopean & Eritrean Food, Sunshine Spice Bakery & Cafe, Bacon, Alavita, and Nahm Thai & Burmese Cuisine.

DAY 2

  • Drive to Stanley in the morning which is roughly 2.5 hours from Boise. Be sure to grab some water and snacks for the hikes you'll go on over the weekend. We did this upon arriving in Stanley.
  • We opted to hike to Goat Lake via Iron Creek Trail. This is an 8.1 mile out and back trail with approximately 1,700 feet in elevation gain. Except for the first portion of the hike, which is completely flat through a forest, it is a mostly uphill hike. It's not super terrible until the last half mile or so where you have to climb/scramble over boulders and scree (my personal opinion is that this portion is a little harder on the way down). Once you reach the top, take a dip in the lake - note that the water is quite cold. I would classify this as a hard hike - we were exhausted by the time we got back to the trailhead!
  • We ended up eating dinner at Bridge Street Grill given its proximity to our Airbnb. The restaurant is located right next to the Salmon River and offered nice sunset views. Note that the food is simply okay, nothing spectacular. We ended up driving to the nearby Mountain Village Restaurant for late night dessert.

DAY 3

  • In the morning, grab breakfast at Stanley Baking Company & Café - a super cute and popular place to fuel up for the day.
  • Head down to Redfish Lake for some boating or other water sports such as paddle boarding or kayaking. The scenery is beautiful! There are a few hiking trails that start at the Redfish Inlet Trailhead - Bench Lake Trails and a trail to Alpine Lake. If you didn't pack lunch, you can have lunch at Redfish Lake Lodge.
  • Afterwards, head to Pettit Lake to hike to Alice Lake. The trail starts at Tin Cup Trailhead. The hike to Alice Lake can be treated as a 12 mile out-and-back hike, or a loop if combined with Twin Lake and Edith Lake (21.3 miles). Given we were doing a day hike, we did the out-and-back to Alice Lake. Overall, I would rate the trail as hard. The hike along Pettit Lake is flat and easy, once you pass the lake (about 1.2 miles in), the trail starts to ascend, but nothing too bad. There comes a point where the trail dramatically changes. As you leave the forest and get above the treeline, you will take several switchbacks up the mountain and the terrain becomes rocky. This section is the hardest part of the hike - note that there is also very little shade, so the sunlight and heat may get to you. As you approach Alice Lake, the trail becomes flat again and the forest terrain returns. Note that the first small lake you see is not Alice Lake, so don't make the mistake of turning around there! Continue hiking past it for another 5-10 minutes and you will reach Alice Lake which offers spectacular views! Soak your feet in the lake, have a picnic, and take in the amazing views of Idaho's "El Capitan" before heading back down. If you are up for it, you can hike the extra mile to Twin Lakes - but note that this section is fairly steep. Lots of people end up at Alice Lake - I would recommend if you have the time and want to do an overnight trek.

DAY 4

  • Spend the day exploring Ketchum and Sun Valley. Mountain biking, horseback riding, and golf are popular activities in the mountain resort town. The Kneadery and Konditorei are top breakfast spots. The terrace at Gretchen's offers nice lunchtime views. Enoteca, Vintage, Pioneer Saloon, Rickshaw, and Cookbook Restaurant are some well-rated lunch and dinner spots.
  • There are several music festivals that take place in this region during summer months. We were in town for Summer's End - The Dra[er Rendezvous which was a very interesting experience. The festival showcases local and national musicians in what I would call a "trancey blues" genre. It felt like a (very, very, very) small version of Burning Man.
  • Make sure to give your self enough time to drive back to Boise so that you can make your flight back home.

LOGISTICS

BEST TIME TO VISIT

My guess is that certain parts of Idaho are best to visit at different points of the year. We went on a hiking trip, best to do in the warmer months, but Sun Valley is also known for its ski resort. We travelled in August 2021 and would suggest packing in layers. While it was warm during the day, it did get a bit chilly in the evenings.

GETTING AROUND

I suggest renting a car to get around the area. We flew into Boise, which is roughly 2.5-3 hours away from Stanley and Sun Valley / Ketchum. I don't believe there are any good public transportation options. Even within the Sawtooth Mountains, the best way to get around seemed to be by car. It didn't seem like there were any shuttles for people to take between some of the attractions in the area. Note that service is not very reliable in the Sawtooths, so be sure to download offline maps you may need. 

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