Going out with friends looks a little different this year. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Instead of heading to the local bar for outdoor hangs playing lawn games and drinking some cocktails, we decided to get together for a 17 mile long backpacking trip through the Sawtooths.
Nothing like sore feet, hungry stomachs, no service, and chilly mountain air to bond people together.
While we did see some people (casually) running this loop in one day, we decided to use 3 days and 2 nights to complete the hike and take in the scenery.
Friday, we left Salt Lake City around 2:30 PM, and after getting through traffic and picking up a friend in Ogden, we were able to arrive into Ketchum, Idaho later in the evening.
Since we had some of our group arriving later, we all decided to pitch in for an Air BnB so we could all crash indoors instead of having to hike into a campsite under the stars.
I highly suggest this method if driving longer distances later in the day. We were able to not only rest up, but also cut down on backpacking materials.
Saturday morning, we headed to Pettit Lake Trailhead, which was around an hour and a half towards Stanley from our Air BnB. We meandered along the mountain bases and over a pass, and we slowly started driving closer and closer to the iconic Sawtooth peaks.
The trailhead had lots of parking, as it is in a popular campground and trailhead. We were able to find a spot very close to the start of the hike despite most of the parking spots being full, but there is plenty of overflow parking that may add a half or mile or so to your hike.
We decided to hike the loop in a counterclockwise direction. According to trail reports, we would still gain elevation, but it was more gradual. The fork for the loop comes up around 1/4 mile into the hike with Pettit Lake on the left. At first, it didn’t seem more gradual, because we gained a lot of elevation within the first 1/2 mile, but after this, the 8 mile hike to Toxaway Lake has gradual grades both up and down.
We wandered through the Sawtooth Forest, along creeks, and past lakes and springs. We stopped halfway at Farley Lake to hope in for a swim, grab lunch, and then headed one towards Toxaway, which was our stop for the first night.
Once we got to the lake, our mileage was around 7.5 miles, but after finding out campsite, we hiked closer to 8.5. And boy, were we all ready to jump in the lake and relax. We had camp set up by 4pm, and it was perfect. We still had sun light to swim, cook, and explore the beach close to us.
The spot we snagged was a grassy spot with a short walk to the beach, so it was windy, but there were plenty of spots on rocks near the water, and tucked away in trees.
Smoke rolled in around 7 pm, so stars were hard to see, but planets like Jupiter and Saturn, as well as the close-to -full moon shone bright. Temperatures dropped once the sun went down, but we were warm in our 0 Degree bags with the rain fly on our tent.
The three day weekend was great for making this trip a little easier to do. Sunday was a 7 mile day to Alice Lake, and I think it was the hardest. We not only had to hike around the rest of Toxaway Lake, but we had to hike alot of elevation to get over the pass to get to Alice Lake. It was strenuous, but it was well worth it.
We had to wander through the forest and lakes at the bottom of the pass, then headed up some steep switch backs through a rock field. Because none of us had ever done the loop before, we didn’t quite know what the elevation would exactly be or where exactly we would gain it. But like I said, the hike up to the pass was well worth it.
After a false summit or two, we were spit out at the top of a saddle in between two jagged Sawtooth peaks. and an absolutely gorgeous view of where we were headed. We snagged a snack and some pictures and took a small rest after the short strenuous hike up the rock field.
And it was all downhill for the day after that.
There is a trail cut off that leads you to Twin Lakes, which look like some beautiful high alpine lakes, but we were ready to head to camp. Because the trails were so busy due to the holiday, we wanted to ensure a good camp spot for our whole group.
While we gained and lost alot of elevation throughout the day, we did the hike in 3 short hours in order to set up camp by 1:30ish. We found a little peninsula that had plenty of areas for all our tents, as well as views of water and Sawtooth peaks on 3 sides.
And once again, we were able to chill by the water, eat some food, swim in the lake, hang in the hammocks, and enjoy the gorgeous alpine views for the rest of the afternoon. It was honestly the perfect backpacking schedule. Get up and hike in the morning. And then have several hours to just chill while the sun was hot.
Once the shadows started to get longer, we all made food, and settled for a couple rounds of pirates’ dice before the sun set.
We were all pretty tired by the time it was completely dark, so it was back to our cozy little tent. Luckily, the stars were able to shine bright that night because the smoke had dissipated, and I was able to star gaze on my bathroom trips in the middle of the night.
Monday was our last day of hiking, and our last day of our weekend, so we were up early, and left the campsite by 10 to get back to our car. We had about 6 miles to hike, but luckily, it was all downhill.
Gravity was carrying our sore feet and legs all the way. It was awesome scenery as we hiked down, and it seemed to change every five minutes.
One minute were were shaded by large pine trees, next we were hiking at the bottom of large cliffs through rock fields. Then hiking in a meadow next to a small creek. The Sawtooth landscape has crazy amounts of biodiversity. It was fun to look up around you and see that Mother Earth had done a complete scenery change. We even saw a beautiful black and orange fox, a couple deer and a fat chipmunk.
Going down counterclockwise, I can vouch that if we were going clockwise, this trail would have had a lot more steep switchbacks in contrast to the smaller grade that we went up on the other side.
The only thing I did notice is that once we were to Pettit Lake, the hike seemed to drag on because we knew we were close, but the lake is almost a mile long.
Back at the car, we had a good catch up about how awesome of a weekend we just had, and decided to stop at a deli with outdoor seating in Ketchum to grab a well-deserved late lunch. We scarfed it down, exchanged our goodbyes, and headed back home to Utah.
We came home through a crazy wind storm, but other than that, we had no problems getting home easily.
I can’t think of a better way to spend a three day weekend.
We laughed. We hiked. We drank whiskey. Ate some delicious backpacker’s meals.
I was able to swim to my heart’s content. I got some sun. But I was also able to feel the chilly mountain air underneath a puffy, leggings, and a beanie.
We got endless pictures (seriously, this will be my Instagram feed for the next week or so).
Everyone got to explore a new spot.
And lastly, I learned that if you have a big group, people think that you are an organization of some sort.
But seriously… so many individuals or smaller groups hiking made comments how we were a big crew.
When in reality, we just are lucky to have a lot of friends who like to do rad things like hike 17+ miles over a weekend in the wilderness. We’re just a big time hike squad.
Where: Toxaway and Alice Lakes, Sawtooths, Idaho, USA
Distance from Salt Lake: 338 miles (~5 hr 45 m)
Type of camping: backpacking to primitive campsites
Trail length: 17 miles +/- for finding campsites
Permit required: Free wilderness permit at Wilderness boundry, free parking at Pettit Lake
Bathrooms at trail head?: Yes
Popularity: Heavily tracked in and out, both backpackers and day hikers
Activities: hiking, backpacking, swimming, camping
Your nacforadventurer, and hiker thankful for great friends and a beautiful Mother Earth,