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You could scour every crevice, canyon, and mountainside in Idaho and you may never find a better rock to climb than Elephant’s Perch. Here, solid slabs of granite and sublime lines combine to make a climber’s utopia. The Perch has become famous across the nation, and tales of the sharp Sawtooth Mountains and whispers of the untamed wild have found their way to folks all the way in New Hampshire and beyond.

Recently, my friends and I made the trip to Stanley in search of the ultimate outdoor experience. During our hike we bumped into several families from the east coast in search of the legendary Perch heard about only in rumors. We could tell they had found what they were looking for by the grins on their faces. So what are you waiting for? Netflix isn’t going anywhere. Get off the grid, head to Elephant’s Perch, and sleep out under the stars.

Getting There

Rising up to 9,870-feet, Elephant’s Perch (originally called Saddleback Peak) towers above the trees in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Many folks who venture to this area choose to rest up in the conveniently located Stanley, Idaho. From there, the common starting point is Redfish Lake.

Elephants Perch landscape
Enjoying the scenery at Elephant’s Perch

Once you’ve arrived in Stanley, take highway 75 south for roughly 5.5 miles to the Redfish Lake turnoff. From there, you will continue on for 4 more miles until you reach the Redfish Lake Lodge.

By a long shot, the easiest route to Elephant’s Perch is via the boat shuttle. The shuttle costs only $16 round trip, and from my experience, it is money well spent. By traveling across Redfish Lake’s picturesque blue surface, you avoid a 4-mile ascent on a hiking trail that wraps around the lake. The shuttle is especially convenient if you are packing in tents, coolers, gear, and the kiddos.

Once you have made it across the lake you will hike along the main drainage for roughly 2 miles until you come upon a smaller trail. Follow it to the base of the perch (the smaller trail can be hard to spot, be on the lookout). You will travel over three footbridges in close proximity to one another. Once you have crossed the third and final footbridge, look for the creek to your left. Leave the trail where it comes closest to the creek in order to cross over on a few logs (it’s much easier than it sounds). The rest of the trail is somewhat of a straight shot, bringing you right up into the valley beneath Elephant’s Perch.

Unique Views

Long, vertical fractures stretch across the granite face of the Perch as it reaches towards the sky. If you look closely during your approach of the rock face, you will see fellow climbers attempting to scale one of the thirty routes to the top.

The beauty of the camp is difficult to put into words. It would be nearly impossible to overstate the perfection and solitude of this area. Once you complete the trail, you find yourself between the edge of the hanging valley and the first of the Saddleback Lakes. Look to your left to see the Elephant’s Perch jutting into the skyline. Look to your right and witness the Goat’s Perch stretching across the horizon. There is so much amazing scenery that it’s hard to capture with just one picture, so here’s a few…

Elephant's Perch
Elephant’s Perch

Crazy, right?

Elephant's Perch
Relaxing at Elephant’s Perch

The hike up to the Perch only takes about 3 hours. So if you leave early in the morning you can set up camp around lunchtime. Make sure you have a license and your fishing rod. Schools of trout live in the Saddleback Lakes.

If you are making your visit a day trip, be sure to leave the Perch with ample time to reach the shuttle on your way home.

Elephant's Perch
Camping at Elephant’s Perch

Camping is allowed in the Sawtooth Wilderness, and if you are planning on staying overnight, please be mindful of backcountry camping regulations.

When to Make the Climb

The typical climbing season is from July to September. This time frame offers the best window of opportunity in regards to weather. Thunderstorms can be a concern in June and July. If you’re attempting the climb in the winter, be sure to check the conditions before you set out. The Sawtooth National Recreational Area office is located in Stanley, Idaho and can be reached at (208) 727-5000.

Trip Tips:

  • Protect your feet during your hike. My friend learned the hard way. He wore loose shoes that didn’t fit him properly, resulting in blisters and other foot woes. I recommend lightweight boots with wool hiking socks.
  • Pack and apply sunscreen generously. Don’t let the cooler temperatures fool you, higher elevation and exposure are a recipe for a nasty sunburn.
  • Bring extra food. Having extra food is a safe way to ensure you have energy for whatever Mother Nature may throw your way.
This author is a paid content writer for Idaho Tourism.

Published on November 3, 2015