By Marc Bowen
Yesterday my son Seth and I left eastern Idaho about 4:00am to make the 234 mile, four-hour drive to the trailhead. Our plan was to hike into Alice Lake, spend two nights there, do a little fishing, get some photos and maybe hike up into the Twin Lakes area. We have been trying for several years now to go on a hike or backpacking trip together. It was finally happening and we were stoked to get out and start up the trail.
The Alice Lake trailhead is located at Pettit Lake near Stanley Idaho and is on the edge of the Sawtooth Wilderness. Depending upon where you live in eastern Idaho you can enter the Stanley Basin by several different routes. We chose the quickest route from Idaho Falls by taking Hwy 20 to Hwy 26 through Arco, Craters of the Moon. In the small town of Carey we turned right onto Hwy 20 again, drove through Picabo and the Silver Creek area, then north on Hwy 75 through Ketchum and over Galena Summit into the Stanley Basin. It was a beautiful morning with a little smoky haze in the distance from a fire northwest of the valley. Once past the turnoff to Alturas Lake we started looking for the sign for Pettit Lake on our left. We turned left on to Forest Rd 208. There are two miles of well maintained gravel road to the Tin Cup Hiker Trailhead. Best to get there early. This is a very busy area in the summer and the main parking area fills up fast. There was a sign saying ‘Parking Lot Full’ when we got there that redirected us back to the horse corral trailhead which would add about 1.5 miles to our hike. So instead we drove through the main parking lot hoping someone had just left and were lucky to find a parking space near the trailhead.
Tin Cup Hiker Trailhead
From this trailhead are several options for hikes. The Alice-Toxaway loop is an 18 mile walk with views of Pettit Lake, Alice Lake, Twin Lakes, Toxaway Lake and Farley Lake. This is a heavily trafficked trail, very scenic and a top destination for hikers.
- Distance (Alice Lake out and back) – 11.2 miles
- Trailhead elevation – 7000 ft
- Highest elevation – 8600 ft
- Elevation gain – 1600 ft
- Difficulty – strenuous
About a half mile into the hike is a fork in the trail. The right fork goes to Toxaway Lake and a counter-clockwise direction along the loop trail. The left fork continues along the Pettit Lake shore and on to Alice Lake.
The first mile or two of trail is pretty level and easy walking along the edge of Pettit Lake.
At this point on the edge of Pettit Lake, we could see McDonald Peak (elev. 10,068 ft). The trail to Alice Lake goes up the canyon to the right of that mountain.
Just past the wilderness boundary sign is a place to sign-in and pickup a free permit to attach to your backpack so that it’s visible. There were so many people on the trail that we missed seeing the sign-in box and therefore didn’t have a permit on us during our stay in the wilderness. Bummer because I heard later that the Forest service gets funding depending upon the amount of permits filled out.
Seth and I carry smaller mountaineering style backpacks that are very comfortable and functional. Seth’s is a Teton Sports Summit 1500 cubic inches (25 Liter) pack. Mine is a Teton Sports Talus 2700 ci (44 Liter) pack. Both great for day-hikes, through-hikes or weekend backpacking trips. Any equipment we couldn’t fit in our packs we hung on the outside. Each backpack weighed about 40-45lbs full of gear and of course seemed to get heavier the more we climbed.
The smoke from the fires could be seen in the distant hills but the air where we were was clear and cool during the morning.
There were four creek crossings along the way which we crossed without getting our feet wet. During the first 2.8 miles of our hike the elevation gain wasn’t much, maybe 200 feet. The most difficult part of the 1600 foot elevation gain was in the latter half of the hike and is a steep 1000 foot climb.
At the top of that steep climb the trail began to level out and we crossed the stream one last time over a nice bridge (above photo – looking downstream from the bridge).
There are two small lakes or ponds off to the left side of the trail just before Alice Lake with a peak named El Capitan (elev. 9901 ft) towering over them.
Alice Lake is a beautiful sight. It’s a large lake with rugged and rocky ridges and peaks on three sides.
We set up camp on a point of land that juts out into the lake about halfway up the north shore. The view of El Capitan to the southeast was spectacular from our campsite. The weather was perfect! About 75 degrees mid-day. A little cloudy but no rain.
The view from camp (above photo) looking to the west of the point of land we were camped on.
Towards evening Seth fished for some of the brook trout that are predominant in this lake. The whole scene was such a beautiful backdrop that I couldn’t resist trying to capture it on camera. I had to bother Seth a few times and ask him to ‘freeze’ while I took some shots.
Dinner time!! We cooked our meals on our stoves and it’s true…food tastes better in the mountains!
It was so peaceful as we watched the shadows gather and the sunlight fade before we climbed into our tents and sleeping bags for the night (above photo).
Sunrise this morning was beautiful. The surface of the lake was like glass. The smell of Alpines strong in the cool, still air.
As the morning sunlight began hitting the east slopes of the mountains Seth did some more fishing before breakfast. I, on the other-hand, continued to try to capture the amazing beauty of this area with my camera.
Two things happened to change our minds about staying here two nights. I made a rookie mistake and forgot to pack my second camera battery so I couldn’t shoot anymore pics with my dslr camera and…the fish weren’t biting.
So…this morning we said goodbye to this awesome lake vowing to come back and spend more time on our next trip to this area.
Thanks to my son Seth for choosing to hike with me. Out of all the possible things a father and son can do together, spending time together in the splendor of the Sawtooth mountains is definitely time well spent!
Those who follow my blog know how much I love to hike. I am 58 years old and hiking has been very good for me in so many ways. I have benefited physically, emotionally and spiritually. Hiking is a great motivator for staying in good physical condition. As long as I’m strong enough and healthy enough I plan on hiking for as long as I’m allowed to walk on this earth. And after that…endless possibilities!
2 thoughts on “Alice Lake Sawtooth Wilderness”
El Capitan and the third and fourth pictures thereafter are my favorites. Totally serene – calm, untroubled, peaceful, tranquil. I’ve reviewed this series several times. These scenes are some distance from my home and, at my age, are not easily accessible. Thank you for sharing.
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