A Full Information to Mountaineering the Grand Sawtooth Loop

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

The Grand Sawtooth Loop is one in all Idaho’s most exhilarating and burly backcountry trails. It’s a gratifying route that guarantees an enormous journey by a few of Idaho’s most difficult and exquisite 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 affords every part you possibly can need in a multi-day backpacking journey.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Fast Details

  • 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 (CleverHiker.com)


  • 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
  • Properly-maintained and largely well-marked trails
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


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

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 may 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 lingering snow banks and fall can imply recent, icy snow and chilly winds.We hiked the complete loop and all aspect journeys in late September. The climate was within the 30s at night time and 40s to 50s throughout the day. The climate was an acceptable fall mixture of sunny, calm days and days with low-hanging clouds, mild rain, frost, and a dusting of snow. With the fitting gear, we stayed heat and loved the quiet, uncrowded trails.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


We price the Grand Sawtooth Loop as very difficult as a result of vital quantity of elevation achieve and loss. Trails by this stunning space are established, maintained, and well-graded. However with round 3,000 ft of ascent and descent day-after-day, anticipate to be consistently mountaineering up or down over the course of the loop. There are only a few flat sections.After all, issue relies on your expertise, bodily health, pack weight, and climate circumstances. In case your backpack is heavy, your hike will probably be more difficult. Scroll to the underside of this text to see our light-weight gear suggestions that may make your hike happier. In case you’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 (CleverHiker.com)


A allow is required to hike the Grand Sawtooth Loop. They’re free to select up in particular person on the trailhead. You don’t want to guide prematurely however do convey the allow alongside once you head up the path.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Getting There

The Grand Sawtooth Loop is positioned in central Idaho about 2.5 hours from Boise, the most important metropolis within the state. The next instructions are for attending to the Grandjean Campground Trailhead. That is the most effective start line for accessing the Grand Sawtooth Loop. Entry to the turnoff for Grandjean Campground is paved. The final 6 miles is a dust street that’s no drawback for 2WD autos, though we advocate a car with some clearance. Like most dust 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 take pleasure in a surprising drive by old-growth ponderosa stands and the rolling hills of Boise Nationwide Forest. Take Freeway 55 North out of Boise and comply with it for about 34 miles. Take a proper onto County Freeway 17 / Lowman Highway. Keep on County Freeway 17 for about 33 miles, then flip left onto Freeway 21 North. After about 21 miles, comply with the indicators for Grandjean Campground and switch proper onto Grandjean Highway. The street will flip to dust. Drive 5.6 miles till the street ends on the campground and trailhead.

From Missoula – From the north, you’ll take pleasure in a sluggish, winding strategy into Idaho’s central wilderness. It’s about six hours to drive south from Missoula to Grandjean Campground. From Missoula, comply with 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. Whenever 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 Highway. The street will flip to dust. Drive 5.6 miles till the street ends on the campground and trailhead.

From Twin Falls – In case you’re arriving from the south, Sawtooth Nationwide Forest is filled 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. Whenever you attain Shoshone, Idaho, Freeway 93 turns into Freeway 75, however you’ll proceed north on the identical street 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 Highway. The street will flip to dust. Drive 5.6 miles till the street ends on the campground and trailhead.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Maps & Guidebooks


We advocate all the time carrying a paper copy of a map along with utilizing a GPS app in your telephone. You may obtain or buy maps and guides by the next hyperlinks:

  • Backpacking Idaho: From Alpine Peaks to Desert Canyons – That is an indispensable guidebook for analysis on the Grand Sawtooth Loop.
  • Hiking Idaho’s Sawtooth Country – 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 centered on preserving and enhancing recreation within the Sawtooth Nationwide Recreation Space. They provide wonderful PDFs and downloadable sources, 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.
  • National Geographic Map – Reliably thorough, colourful, waterproof, and tear-resistant maps for the Sawtooth Nationwide Recreation Space.


Your telephone is likely one of the strongest methods to analysis a brand new out of doors journey, plan your mountaineering route, then monitor your whereabouts on the path. For tips about how one can use your telephone as a backpacking GPS, see our Methods to Use Your Cellphone as GPS System information.

  • Avenza (Android or iPhone) – Think about downloading the Avenza telephone app and buying the Sawtooth & Whitecloud Mountains, Idaho Trail Map. For $7, these maps cowl the Grand Sawtooth Loop and the bigger Nationwide Recreation Space. Just like different high GPS apps, Avenza means that you can live-track your location. That’s tremendous useful at path intersections with complicated signage or once you’re uncertain which left it is best to take. Android and iPhone pleasant.
  • Gaia Maps – In case you 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 selection. However you’ll must load a pre-made route forward of time from an outdoor supply or create your personal. Android and iPhone pleasant.
  • CalTopo – CalTopo is one in all our favourite sources for printing out topographical maps and designing, planning, and importing particular routes. Android and iPhone pleasant.
  • Topo Maps+ – Topo Maps+ additionally affords all kinds of path maps and wonderful on-trail navigational options. iPhone solely.
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


In case you’re heading on an journey within the Idaho Sawtooths, assessment the present guidelines and restrictions on the Forest Service Sawtooth National Recreation Area web site.


You will want a allow to backpack the Sawtooths, however it’s free and could be obtained on the trailhead.


Lowering our influence on the pure world not solely protects us however preserves wildlife habitats and the atmosphere. Irrespective of the place you’re tenting, mountaineering, or backpacking, all the time apply Depart No Hint ideas. 


Canine on a leash are allowed on the Grand Sawtooth Loop. Nevertheless, we advocate getting a pet sitter: it is a powerful route for furry buddies. Big elevation features, lengthy distances, loads of wildlife, and unpredictable climate could make an already difficult hike tougher 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 good friend is becoming a member of the pack, check out our information of 14 Ideas for Mountaineering & Backpacking With a Canine.


Whereas campfires are allowed in particular locations, we advocate skipping them altogether. Gasoline 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 become very large, 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 ground fires allowed anyplace within the Sawtooth Wilderness. Campfires within the Sawtooths are solely allowed on a hearth pan, hearth blanket, or in designated hearth pits. Make sure to examine the hearth stage ranges in addition to conditions and notices for the Sawtooth space forward of time. And, take a look at our Campfire Security Ideas Information for hearth security ideas.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


Water is plentiful alongside this route. The path follows streams and creeks nearly all the approach, 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 high 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 (CleverHiker.com)


Tenting in Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness affords a variety of choices. Whether or not you’re searching for a protected web site within the treeline of a deep river valley, otherwise you’d choose to sleep underneath the celebs subsequent to a peaceful alpine lake, campsites are well-used and plentiful on this route. We advocate selecting an impacted web site 100 ft 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 the Sawtooth Wilderness.


Campsites are simple 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 fashionable. That is very true for picturesque locations like Sawtooth Lake, Bear Lakes, and Lake Edna. There are a lot of 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 mostly good, and plenty of are clear and well-maintained. We had no bother discovering flat, quiet campsites with spectacular views close to water and out of the wind. Sadly, a few of the most developed websites weren’t solely lower than 100 ft from our bodies of water however had broken vegetation and eroded soil from overuse. 


The Sawtooth Wilderness doesn’t provide amenities or facilities. There aren’t any bogs, hearth rings, or picnic tables, so all guests must be ready to comply with Depart No Hint ideas. It’s particularly vital to handle human waste responsibly in wild locations. To brush up in your backwoods rest room expertise, take a look at our Backpacker’s Information to Methods to Poop within the Woods.


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


In case you’re a planner, guidebooks are useful for narrowing down essentially the most attractive locations to pitch a tent, and there are some maps online to find particular campsites. We advocate 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 sources.


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

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



From Grandjean trailhead and campground, you possibly can full the loop clockwise or counterclockwise:

  • Clockwise – We went clockwise. That is the extra fashionable choice as a result of entry to very large mountain vistas and clear alpine lakes is comparatively brief for each day hikers and backpackers.e We advocate this route as a result of we had been instantly immersed in essentially the most awe-inspiring and jagged peaks within the Sawtooths. The path climbs a steep 2800’ on day one, however the closing 20 miles had 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 develop into extra dramatic and beautiful day after day as you head to essentially the most rugged components of the path.

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


These are non-obligatory, extremely really useful mountains and lakes to think about including to your hike.

  • Path Creek Lakes – Provides 1.2 miles and 400 ft 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 ft 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 affords a few of the greatest views within the vary and is definitely worth the journey.
  • Sand Mountain Move – Provides 3.2 miles and 800 ft spherical journey. This can be a worthwhile aspect hike to a go with unimaginable views of the encircling excessive ridges, blue lakes, and thick evergreen forests.
  • Three Island Lake – Provides 1 mile and 300 ft 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 ft spherical journey. These clear blue lakes are actual gems within the Sawtooth. They’re smaller, distant, and farther from the primary circuit and provide extra solitude than different campsites on the Loop.
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

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 tools, 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 Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Solution-Dyed – a few of our favourite backpacking tents of the 12 months. These had been wonderful decisions 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 high tent picks, take a look at our information to this 12 months’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 Equipment Revelation quilt, Feathered Friends Flicker quilt, and Western Mountaineering AlpinLite sleeping bag stored us heat. These decisions 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 methods labored. See our Greatest Backpacking Quilts information and our Greatest Sleeping Baggage information for extra of our favourite sleeping decisions for any price range.


We used the Thermarest Neoair XLite NXT, which we named one in all our Greatest Backpacking Sleeping Pads. That is one in all 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 listing of Greatest Backpacking and Tenting Pillows.


We introduced the HMG Southwest and Zpacks Arc Haul 60. Each fashions have hung out on the high of our listing of the Greatest Backpacking Backpacks of the 12 months. Each Ultralight backpacks carried out nicely, stored us organized, and made the journey as mild as attainable.


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 listing. We additionally used our decide for “Greatest Price range Ultralight Range” from that listing, the BRS 3000T, for its simplicity. We boiled water within the sturdy, light-weight Toaks Titanium 750mL pot. For extra of our high cookware suggestions, see our information to the Greatest Backpacking Cookware.


5 days of snacks and meals can get heavy should you don’t choose fastidiously. 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 usually are 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 affords peace of thoughts within the backcountry.


Creeks, streams, and lakes are all over the place within the Sawtooths, so we had no bother staying hydrated. Whereas mountaineering we used Katadyn Micropur Tabs (chlorine dioxide tabs), and we’ve written up a full assessment. When at camp, we filtered water with Platypus Gravityworks. We just like the Platypus Gravityworks when touring with a gaggle. It filters lots 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 simple to comply with and well-traveled, however nonetheless have loads of rocks, roots, and obstacles. We advocate mountaineering sneakers 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 (men’s / women’s) and the Altra Lone Peak (men’s / women’s) for these causes.

Discover out about these sneakers on our guides Greatest Mountaineering Footwear for Males and Girls. In case you’re out there for mountaineering boots, see our lists of the Greatest Mountaineering Boots for Males and Girls.


Listed here are a few of our favourite mountaineering/backpacking clothes objects we used on this journey. Try extra of our high picks on our High Gear listing. 


We used one in all our favorites from our Greatest Headlamps Information. The rechargeable, brilliant, and dependable Black Diamond Spot 400-R made navigating middle-of-the-night rest room journeys no challenge.


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 help package. We introduced alongside the .5 Adventure Medical Kit. Discover the most effective package for you on our listing of the Greatest First Support 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 advocate bringing sunscreen, SPF lip balm, and polarized sun shades. Think about 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 methods from our group of specialists.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)