A Full Information to Climbing the Grand Sawtooth Loop

A Full Information to Climbing the Grand Sawtooth Loop

A Full Information to Climbing the Grand Sawtooth Loop
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

The Grand Sawtooth Loop is considered one of Idaho’s most exhilarating and burly backcountry trails. It’s a gratifying route that guarantees a giant 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 acquire, 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 presents all the pieces you would need in a multi-day backpacking journey.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Fast Information

  • Distance: 60 to 70 miles (add or subtract mileage for aspect journeys and route variations) 
  • Days wanted: 5-7 days
  • Sort: Loop
  • Elevation acquire: 12,340 ft 
  • Finest journey time: Late summer time 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)


  • Gorgeous 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 time
  • Wildlife sightings from birds and deer to elk and coyotes
  • Effectively-maintained and principally 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 standard tenting spots – particularly throughout summer time weekends
  • Mosquitoes and flies in spring and summer time
  • A number of climbing, together with steep ascents and descents with elevation acquire/lack of round 3,000 ft or extra per day
  • There are a number of rivers to ford alongside the route
  • Uncovered high-elevation sections of path
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Finest Time to Hike

The most effective time to deal with the Grand Sawtooth Loop is within the early summer time to early fall, ideally from mid-July to mid-September. You’ll be able to 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 contemporary, icy snow and chilly winds.We hiked the total loop and all aspect journeys in late September. The climate was within the 30s at evening and 40s to 50s in the course of 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 correct gear, we stayed heat and loved the quiet, uncrowded trails.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


We charge the Grand Sawtooth Loop as very difficult as a result of important quantity of elevation acquire and loss. Trails by this lovely space are established, maintained, and well-graded. However with round 3,000 ft of ascent and descent each day, count on to be continuously mountaineering up or down over the course of the loop. There are only a few flat sections.In fact, problem relies on your expertise, bodily health, pack weight, and climate situations. In case your backpack is heavy, your hike can be tougher. Scroll to the underside of this text to see our light-weight gear suggestions that can make your hike happier. Should you’re trying to shed some weight out of your package, try 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 choose up in particular person on the trailhead. You don’t want to e book upfront however do convey the allow alongside if 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 very best 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 automobiles, though we advocate 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 get pleasure from a shocking drive by 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 street will flip to filth. Drive 5.6 miles till the street ends on the campground and trailhead.

From Missoula – From the north, you’ll get pleasure from a sluggish, winding method 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 Avenue, 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 street will flip to filth. Drive 5.6 miles till the street ends on the campground and trailhead.

From Twin Falls – Should 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 street 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 street will flip to filth. 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 cellphone. You’ll be able to 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 children.
  • Sawtooth Society Maps – The Sawtooth Society is a nonprofit group centered on preserving and enhancing recreation within the Sawtooth Nationwide Recreation Space. They provide glorious PDFs and downloadable sources, together with a path map.
  • Forest Service Topography Maps – Sturdy maps for finding out trails and the numerous 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 cellphone is without doubt one of the strongest methods to analysis a brand new outside journey, plan your mountaineering route, then observe your whereabouts on the path. For recommendations on use your cellphone as a backpacking GPS, see our Use Your Telephone as GPS System information.

  • Avenza (Android or iPhone) – Contemplate downloading the Avenza cellphone 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 prime GPS apps, Avenza lets you live-track your location. That’s tremendous useful at path intersections with complicated signage or if you’re uncertain which left it’s best to take. Android and iPhone pleasant.
  • Gaia Maps – Should 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 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 considered one of our favourite sources for printing out topographical maps and designing, planning, and importing particular routes. Android and iPhone pleasant.
  • Topo Maps+ – Topo Maps+ additionally presents all kinds of path maps and glorious on-trail navigational options. iPhone solely.
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


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


You have to a allow to backpack the Sawtooths, however it’s free and may be obtained on the trailhead.


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


Canines on a leash are allowed on the Grand Sawtooth Loop. Nevertheless, we advocate getting a pet sitter: this can be a robust route for furry friends. Large elevation good points, 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 comfy, protected, and having fun with the journey. In case your four-legged buddy is becoming a member of the pack, check out our information of 14 Suggestions for Climbing & Backpacking With a Canine.


Whereas campfires are allowed in particular locations, we advocate skipping them altogether. Gasoline stoves are extra environment friendly, safer, and sooner 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 fireplace pan, fireplace blanket, or in designated fireplace pits. Make sure to examine the fireplace stage ranges in addition to conditions and notices for the Sawtooth space forward of time. And, try our Campfire Security Suggestions Information for fireplace security ideas.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


Water is plentiful alongside this route. The path follows streams and creeks nearly your entire 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 contemporary, flowing water. However, even the cleanest Idaho snowmelt and spring-fed creeks have to be filtered. Try our prime picks for water filters to maintain your backpack gear weight down and your hydration ranges up. To make hydration even simpler on the path, think about bringing alongside an electrolyte combine from our Finest Hydration Mixes information.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)


Tenting in Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness presents a variety of choices. Whether or not you’re searching for a protected website within the treeline of a deep river valley, otherwise you’d desire to sleep underneath the celebs subsequent to a relaxed alpine lake, campsites are well-used and plentiful on this route. We advocate selecting an impacted website 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 straightforward to search 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 standard. That is very true for picturesque locations like Sawtooth Lake, Bear Lakes, and Lake Edna. There are lots 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 usually 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, among 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 supply amenities or facilities. There aren’t any bathrooms, fireplace 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 lavatory abilities, try our Backpacker’s Information to Poop within the Woods.


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


Should you’re a planner, guidebooks are useful for narrowing down probably 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 evening, 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 a number of 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 think about including the brief, steep cross-country scramble to Higher Path Creek Lake.
  • Baron Lakes – The dramatic Baron Lakes presents excellent views of quite a few granite spires and cliffs. These campsites are normally busy and standard, however we discovered a much less crowded and scenic tenting possibility simply earlier than the lake.
  • Ardith Lake – That is additionally a preferred lake with quite a few stellar campsites providing scenic views. Horse events are widespread right here. 
  • Smith Falls – Extensive, roaring Smith Falls is value greater than only a aspect journey. Contemplate an in a single day keep close to campsites simply upstream from the huge, charming waterfalls.
Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)



From Grandjean trailhead and campground, you’ll be able to full the loop clockwise or counterclockwise:

  • Clockwise – We went clockwise. That is the extra standard possibility 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 probably the most awe-inspiring and jagged peaks within the Sawtooths. The path climbs a steep 2800’ on day one, however the remaining 20 miles had been extra relaxed and degree en path to the trailhead.
  • Counter-Clockwise – Reversing the route of method 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 probably the most rugged elements of the path.

One of many actual highlights of the loop, Sawtooth Lake, can be close to the top of the journey for those who’re touring counter-clockwise. This lake, framed by tough, tall peaks, is without doubt one of 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 ft.


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

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

Backpacking Gear – What to Pack

We desire 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 power, particularly on multi-day adventures. For suggestions on our favourite light-weight backpacking gear, try 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 glorious selections 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 prime tent picks, try our information to this 12 months’s Finest Backpacking Tents.


We hiked this path throughout chilly late September days when the temperature at evening acquired 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 selections labored properly 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 programs labored. See our Finest Backpacking Quilts information and our Finest Sleeping Luggage information for extra of our favourite sleeping selections for any price range.


We used the Thermarest Neoair XLite NXT, which we named considered one of our Finest Backpacking Sleeping Pads. That is considered one of 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, choose a pillow from our record of Finest Backpacking and Tenting Pillows.


We introduced the HMG Southwest and Zpacks Arc Haul 60. Each fashions have frolicked on the prime of our record of the Finest Backpacking Backpacks of the 12 months. Each Ultralight backpacks carried out properly, stored us organized, and made the journey as gentle as doable.


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


5 days of snacks and meals can get heavy for those who don’t choose rigorously. 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 should not required on this space. As an alternative, 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 presents peace of thoughts within the backcountry.


Creeks, streams, and lakes are in every single 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 overview. When at camp, we filtered water with Platypus Gravityworks. We just like the Platypus Gravityworks when touring with a gaggle. It filters numerous 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 straightforward to observe 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 types 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 Finest Climbing Footwear for Males and Ladies. Should you’re out there for mountaineering boots, see our lists of the Finest Climbing Boots for Males and Ladies.


Listed here are a few of our favourite mountaineering/backpacking clothes gadgets we used on this journey. Try extra of our prime picks on our High Gear record. 


We used considered one of our favorites from our Finest Headlamps Information. The rechargeable, vivid, and dependable Black Diamond Spot 400-R made navigating middle-of-the-night lavatory 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 no small personalised first assist package. We introduced alongside the .5 Adventure Medical Kit. Discover the very best package for you on our record 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 advocate bringing sunscreen, SPF lip balm, and polarized sun shades. Contemplate the Ray Ban Polarized New Wayfarer, our choose for “Finest Sun shades” on our Finest Gear Record.



For all issues planning, try our Final Backpacking Guidelines and get ideas and methods from our group of consultants.

Picture Credit score: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)