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Sawtooth – Goat & Sawtooth Lakes Loop

Location Sawtooth National Forest, ID
Iron Creek trailhead
Distance 13 miles
Total Elevation Gain 4800-5000 ft
Topographic Map

Note that this route should only be utilized by those very comfortable both with backcountry navigation and class 3-4 rock scrambling.


So… you want to visit these lakes you’ve heard so much about, but they’re crowded and you’re a backcountry misanthrope. What’s a gal to do? Be sneaky–connect them cross country.

Take the fairly obvious and mostly gentle use path up to Goat Lake. Note that the trail is not marked to Goat Lake–look for a cairn and trail a mile up Iron Creek.

After that, your trail ends until Sawtooth Lake. Get to the most southerly end of Goat Lake–I found hopping up on to the ridge east of the lake easier than following the shoreline. Once at the end, I dipped back down to the shore, crossed, and found a decent scramble up in to the snowy valley. That valley leads up to the extremely scenic Lake 8865 and friends.

Here is where it gets a bit dicey. You need to get up to the pass southwest of Merritt Peak. I tested several ways in and found that following chute of the cascade coming out of the snowfield the easiest to scramble–and the easiest to avoid any exposure.

At at the snowfield around 9500 ft, take the more gentle path to the left to get up and over to Bluebox Lake. I aimed for the trees to the left of this notch. After that, your way is clear. The pass to upper Alpine Lake basin is mostly grassy–and the basin itself is beautiful. A quick scramble up to the saddle of Alpine Peak will present you with fantastic views of the famous Sawtooth Lake.

Once you scree ski down to the highway around Sawtooth Lake, you’re home free. An excellent little loop that makes for a fun off trail challenge.


  • I would recommend doing this loop clockwise for two reasons
    • Going down scrambly terrain is infinitely more difficult than going up it
    • You can rocket down more crowded Sawtooth Lake trail
  • Get Alpine Peak while you’re there, it’s an easy snag with a neat view of all the surrounding peaks.
  • If you want to take this a little slower, upper Alpine Lake basin is beautiful and nobody is up there. I’ve also heard Bluebox is great for fishing.
  • If you’re feeling ambitious, you could do this as a monster day hike.

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