HomeHikingA Full Information to Mountaineering the Grand Sawtooth Loop

A Full Information to Mountaineering the Grand Sawtooth Loop

A Full Information to Mountaineering the Grand Sawtooth Loop

Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

The Grand Sawtooth Loop is one among Idaho’s most exhilarating and burly backcountry trails. It’s a gratifying route that guarantees an enormous journey by way of 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 acquire, this path is not 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 provides all the pieces you would need in a multi-day backpacking journey.

Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Fast Info

  • Distance: 60 to 70 miles (add or subtract mileage for facet journeys and route variations) 
  • Days wanted: 5-7 days
  • Kind: Loop
  • Elevation acquire: 12,340 ft 
  • Finest 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
Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


  • Gorgeous alpine lakes and mountain vistas
  • Handy allow system with no superior reserving required
  • Quite a few facet 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
  • Nicely-maintained and largely well-marked trails
Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


  • Burn space close to the start of the route
  • Crowded alongside some sections of path and at well-liked 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 acquire/lack of round 3,000 toes or extra per day
  • There are a couple of rivers to ford alongside the route
  • Uncovered high-elevation sections of path
Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Finest 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 way of lingering snow banks and fall can imply contemporary, icy snow and chilly winds.We hiked the total loop and all facet 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, gentle rain, frost, and a dusting of snow. With the suitable gear, we stayed heat and loved the quiet, uncrowded trails.

Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


We price the Grand Sawtooth Loop as very difficult because of the vital quantity of elevation acquire and loss. Trails by way of this lovely space are established, maintained, and well-graded. However with round 3,000 toes of ascent and descent every single day, count on to be always mountain climbing up or down over the course of the loop. There are only a few flat sections.In fact, issue is dependent upon your expertise, bodily health, pack weight, and climate circumstances. In case your backpack is heavy, your hike might be tougher. Scroll to the underside of this text to see our light-weight gear suggestions that can 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.

Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


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

Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Getting There

The Grand Sawtooth Loop is positioned 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 the very 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 dust highway that’s no drawback for 2WD autos, though we suggest a car with some clearance. Like most filth Forest Service roads you’ll have to 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 shocking drive by way 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 filth. Drive 5.6 miles till the highway 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, 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. Whenever you attain the small mountain city of Stanley, flip proper onto Freeway 21 South for 37 miles. Observe the indicators for Grandjean Campground and switch left onto Grandjean Street. The highway will flip to filth. Drive 5.6 miles till the highway ends on the campground and trailhead.

From Twin Falls – In case you’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. Whenever 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. Observe the indicators for Grandjean Campground and switch left onto Grandjean Street. The highway will flip to filth. Drive 5.6 miles till the highway ends on the campground and trailhead.

Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Maps & Guidebooks


We suggest at all times carrying a paper copy of a map along with utilizing a GPS app in your cellphone. You may obtain or buy maps and guides by way 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 suggestions 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.
  • Nationwide Geographic Map – Reliably thorough, colourful, waterproof, and tear-resistant maps for the Sawtooth Nationwide Recreation Space.


Your cellphone 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 tips on how to use your cellphone as a backpacking GPS, see our The best way to Use Your Telephone as GPS System information.

  • Avenza (Android or iPhone) – Take into account downloading the Avenza cellphone 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. 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 while you’re uncertain which left you must take. Android and iPhone pleasant.
  • Gaia Maps – In case you don’t wish to pay for an app however nonetheless need highly effective monitoring options with an in depth, free offline map, Gaia is a good alternative. However you’ll have to load a pre-made route forward of time from an outdoor supply or create your personal. Android and iPhone pleasant.
  • CalTopo – CalTopo is one among our favourite sources for printing out topographical maps and designing, planning, and importing particular routes. Android and iPhone pleasant.
  • Topo Maps+ – Topo Maps+ additionally provides all kinds of path maps and wonderful on-trail navigational options. iPhone solely.
Photograph 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 Nationwide Recreation Space web site.


You’ll need a allow to backpack the Sawtooths, nevertheless it’s free and could be obtained on the trailhead.


Decreasing our influence on the pure world not solely protects us however preserves wildlife habitats and the atmosphere. Regardless of the place you’re tenting, mountain climbing, or backpacking, at all times follow Go away No Hint rules. 


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

It’s important to cater backcountry journeys round your pup to maintain each of you comfy, 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 grow to be very giant, 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 fireplace pan, hearth blanket, or in designated hearth pits. Make sure you verify the fireplace stage ranges in addition to circumstances and notices for the Sawtooth space forward of time. And, take a look at our Campfire Security Suggestions Information for hearth security suggestions.

Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


Water is plentiful alongside this route. The path follows streams and creeks nearly all the means, 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 contemporary, flowing water. However, even the cleanest Idaho snowmelt and spring-fed creeks must 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, contemplate bringing alongside an electrolyte combine from our Finest Hydration Mixes information.

Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


Tenting in Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness provides a variety of choices. Whether or not you’re on the lookout for a protected website within the treeline of a deep river valley, otherwise you’d favor to sleep below the celebrities subsequent to a peaceful alpine lake, campsites are well-used and plentiful on this route. We suggest selecting an impacted website 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 way of 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 typically crowded and well-liked. That is very true for picturesque locations like Sawtooth Lake, Bear Lakes, and Lake Edna. There are various extra non-public, 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 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 services or facilities. There aren’t any bathrooms, hearth rings, or picnic tables, so all guests needs to be ready to observe Go away No Hint rules. It’s particularly vital to handle human waste responsibly in wild locations. To brush up in your backwoods rest room abilities, take a look at our Backpacker’s Information to The best way to Poop within the Woods.


Cell service may be very restricted or nonexistent earlier than arriving on the trailhead, so remember to 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 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 sources.


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

  • Path Creek Lakes – This quick facet 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 contemplate including the quick, steep cross-country scramble to Higher Path Creek Lake.
  • Baron Lakes – The dramatic Baron Lakes provides excellent views of quite a few granite spires and cliffs. These campsites are often busy and well-liked, however we discovered a much less crowded and scenic tenting possibility 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 – Vast, roaring Smith Falls is price greater than only a facet journey. Take into account an in a single day keep close to campsites simply upstream from the vast, charming waterfalls.
Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)



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

  • Clockwise – We went clockwise. That is the extra well-liked possibility as a result of entry to very large mountain vistas and clear alpine lakes is comparatively quick for each day hikers and backpackers.e We suggest this path 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 ultimate 20 miles had been extra relaxed and degree en path to the trailhead.
  • Counter-Clockwise – Reversing the path 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 grow to be 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, might be close to the top of the journey in the event 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 practically 3,000 toes.


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

  • Path Creek Lakes – Provides 1.2 miles and 400 toes spherical journey. This can be a lovely lake basin in a burn space surrounded by jagged peaks.
  • Statement Peak – Provides 2.5 miles and 1,100 toes spherical journey. 9,151-foot Statement Peak is the one peak within the Sawtooths with a category one path that goes to the summit. It provides among the greatest views within the vary and is well worth the journey.
  • Sand Mountain Cross – Provides 3.2 miles and 800 toes spherical journey. This can be a worthwhile facet hike to a cross with unbelievable views of the encircling 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 primary circuit and supply extra solitude than different campsites on the Loop.
Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Backpacking Gear – What to Pack

We favor 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 Prime 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 had been wonderful selections because of 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 yr’s Finest Backpacking Tents.


We hiked this path throughout chilly late September days when the temperature at night time obtained right down to freezing. The light-weight Enlightened Gear Revelation quilt, Feathered Mates Flicker quilt, and Western Mountaineering AlpinLite sleeping bag saved us heat. These selections labored properly because of 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 Finest Backpacking Quilts information and our Finest Sleeping Baggage information for extra of our favourite sleeping selections for any price range.


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


For extra consolation, choose a pillow from our checklist of Finest Backpacking and Tenting Pillows.


We introduced the HMG Southwest and Zpacks Arc Haul 60. Each fashions have hung out on the high of our checklist of the Finest Backpacking Backpacks of the yr. Each Ultralight backpacks carried out properly, saved 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 “Finest Worth Built-in Range System” on our Finest Backpacking Stoves checklist. We additionally used our choose for “Finest Price range 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 high cookware suggestions, see our information to the Finest Backpacking Cookware.


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


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


Creeks, streams, and lakes are in every single place 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 assessment. When at camp, we filtered water with Platypus Gravityworks. We just like the Platypus Gravityworks when touring with a bunch. 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 simple 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 / girls’s) and the Altra Lone Peak (males’s / girls’s) for these causes.

Discover out about these footwear on our guides Finest Mountaineering Footwear for Males and Ladies. In case you’re available in the market for mountain climbing boots, see our lists of the Finest Mountaineering Boots for Males and Ladies.


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


We used one among our favorites from our Finest Headlamps Information. The rechargeable, vibrant, and dependable Black Diamond Spot 400-R made navigating middle-of-the-night rest room journeys no situation.


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 Journey Medical Equipment. Discover the very best package for you on our checklist of the Finest 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. Take into account the Ray Ban Polarized New Wayfarer, our choose for “Finest Sun shades” on our Finest Gear Record.



For all issues planning, take a look at our Final Backpacking Guidelines and get suggestions and tips from our crew of consultants.

Photograph Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)