Scott Kranz worked in partnership with Visit Idaho to create this Travel Tip.
It was my first ever visit to Idaho’s Stanley area, and within only a few days we were diving headfirst into the area’s wealth of sights and attractions. We kicked off the trip by soaking in some of the state’s hidden hot springs along emerald green rivers. We also reached the Redfish Lake and paddled canoes across the length of the lake, taking in the many Sawtooth peaks along the lake’s southwestern shores. We even enjoyed a golden sunset from the iconic Stanley Lake area, and then camped in the nearby national forest. Attempting to experience it all, I was blown away by the area’s diverse beauty.
Following all these activities, we decided to mix things up once again and tackle a classic backpacking trip into the Sawtooth Range. My friends – Marcello, Hannah, and Sam (along with Poppy, Sam’s happy-go-lucky golden retriever) – and I were standing outside Stanley’s local mercantile, pouring over trail maps and weather forecasts, debating whether we should continue with our backpacking plans into the mountains, despite what appeared to be some incoming clouds. Weighing the pros and cons, we decided as a group to give it a go.
Hours later, we were marching up the 5.5 miles of trail from Pettit Lake to Alice Lake, a pristine alpine lake that we’d call home for the night. Despite some clouds behind us, the horizon straight ahead – near our destination – showed a promising pocket of blue sky. We all pressed on, eager to experience what was ahead.
After a boots-off river crossing and many stops to admire the wildflowers blooming along the trail, we started to switch back up through talus, gaining the bulk of the hike’s elevation. The views of the area’s remote granite peaks improved upon every step.
By early afternoon, we finally reached the high lake basin where Alice Lake sits, our home for the night. Walking up to the shore with wide eyes and dropped jaws, we soaked up our first views of the shimmering blue waters and the jagged ridgelines surrounding the lake.
The bulk of the clouds had stayed behind us, and only some clouds hung over the lake. It appeared as if we were going to luck out with the weather!
After many miles on the trail, we were set on a quick refresh by jumping into the lake’s cool blue waters. Poppy led the way, determined to retrieve the precious stick she had found earlier.
Mesmerized by the breathtaking summit of 9,900-foot El Capitan, the iconic spire hovering over the lake, we set up camp not too far from its base. With our tents pitched and hammocks hung, we sat, ate, and laughed, soaking up the exceptional beauty of our surroundings.
After another soak in the lake and a quick snooze in the hammock, the daylight slowly started to fade. The weather had improved immensely!
We watched the sunlight creep up the west face of El Capitan, as a beautiful display of colors unfolded above the range of peaks to the southwest.
Following sunset, dusk turned to twilight, and we started to see the brightest stars pop up in the night sky. Minutes later the entire sky was filled with stars, vibrant as ever due to zero light pollution in the area.
Grabbing our headlamps, we did a short night hike along the lake’s shore and spotted a stunning view of the Milky Way’s core hovering over El Capitan.
Returning to our camp, we each found a comfortable spot around our campsite, laid back, and soaked up the stars and galaxies overhead. To our pleasant surprise, a meteor shower was on display that same night. Sure enough, we started to spot shooting meteors overhead, one after another. Having front row seats to the celestial event, we all slowly drifted asleep.
Before shutting my eyes for the night, I reflected on all of the amazing things we had already tackled on our Idaho trip. And with the addition of our backpacking trip to Alice Lake, the trip was wrapping up on a perfect note. We all agreed, our outing turned into the perfect trip into the Sawtooths – the crown jewel of the Gem State.
If you plan to visit the Stanley area or anywhere in Idaho’s Sawtooth Range, there are countless things to do and see, in addition to backpacking. As we did, check out Redfish Lake for an unforgettable paddle. Whether you prefer to canoe, kayak, or paddleboard, you’ll get your fix exploring this pristine lake’s waters and shorelines.
Feature image credited to Scott Kranz.
Scott Kranz (@scott_kranz) is a full-time photographer based in Seattle, Washington, specializing in outdoor sports, lifestyle, landscapes, and travel photography and storytelling. Partnering with the world’s leading outdoor brands and destinations, Scott’s professional work includes hiking and alpine climbing in the Cascade, Sierra, Sawtooth, and Rocky mountain ranges; trekking in both the European and New Zealand Alps; canyoneering and mountain bike expeditions in the Southwest desert; and backcountry skiing among the active volcanoes of Japan.
Published on May 22, 2018