RV Adventures in the Sawtooth Mountains
When your home rests on four wheels, there’s only one way to hit the road: in style. And if that home on wheels happens to be 23 feet long and gets about 6-8 mpg, you might want to consider how far you’ll be traveling, even if you are turning heads and staying cozy. I don’t know why hybrid gas/electric RVs haven’t been invented yet, but I hope someone out there is tinkering around with the idea; us adventuremobilers could save some serious pennies. Terry, as I like to call my beloved, is a 1976 classic that’s put substantial miles behind him on the open road. Despite the fact that he drains my wallet just to get out of the driveway, I’ll never let him go. He’s the sort of well-salted wanderer that always has a story to tell. Nevermind the mileage, I say, and charge the mountains head-on, lugging his clunky weight up switchbacks and over narrow passes on the only mission that makes sense this time of year – chasing autumn.
As September dips into October, the timing is perfect to visit the Sawtooths for shoulder season. The roasting temperatures of summer have given way to cool, crisp mountain air. The Sawtooth mountain range, located in the Rocky Mountains of central Idaho, boasts over 600 square miles of jagged peaks that resemble the teeth of a saw. With 57 peaks at over 10,000 feet of elevation and another 77 peaks between 9-10,000 feet, the climbs available to adventurous ramblers range from class 1 hikes (well-defined path, little to no exposure to cliffs) to class 5.10 rock route (advanced rock climbing route requiring sustained climbing and belayed rope systems for safety) in these parts. Home to hundreds of alpine lakes from vanished glaciers, there are nearly 400 lakes in the Sawtooths and 350 miles of trails for hiking, backpacking, horseback riding and trail running. Talk about recreation paradise!
Redfish and Stanley Lake are both classic alpine lakes that you can drive up to and don’t require a lot of effort. Stanley Lake, located at the base of the Sawtooths, stands at an elevation of 6,513 feet above sea level and feeds into the Salmon River. Surrounded by campgrounds, boat launches and hiking trails, it’s a great starting point to your explorations of the Sawtooth range. Venture towards Redfish Lake where the water is so perfectly clear you can see straight to the bottom!
Fall is the preferred season to make your ascent: on your way up, breaks in the trees reveal glimpses of autumn hues and the expansive view from the summit gives you an incredible look at the fleeting beauty of fall.
If you’re really looking for that alpine reward that only unfolds at the summit, hike up to stunning Goat Lake and behold the glaciated canyon, with gorgeous views all the way up. Fall is the preferred season to make your ascent: on your way up, breaks in the trees reveal glimpses of autumn hues and the expansive view from the summit gives you an incredible look at the fleeting beauty of fall. At just under 8 miles round trip and 2,000 feet up, Goat Lake is the perfect there-and-back day hike for those looking to get up and above the valley in a flash. The trail begins at Iron Creek Trailhead, with decent traverses and switchbacks on the way up. Reaching the lake, perched on a north-facing alpine basin tucked behind peaks rising nearly 2,000 feet above the shore, you can’t help but be awe-stricken.
Home is Where You Park It
Camping in the Sawtooths RV-style is both fun and convenient. Throughout the Sawtooth wilderness there are plenty of Bureau of Land Management areas and forest roads with free camping and places to park your trusty adventure rig. Just 15 minutes passed the main drag, Stanley Street, is a series of turnoffs labeled as forest or fire roads – take your pick and you’ll find a place to call home for the night, at no cost.
Just northwest of Stanley Lake is Bear Valley, a great place to pull out the rods and get some fly fishing in on the middle fork of the Salmon River. The waters are open for fishing year-round, with the caveat of catch-and-release policy, and barbless hooks strictly required. The middle fork is home to great holes and a variety of migratory fish including steelhead, cutthroat, Chinook salmon, and bull trout. The Salmon River brings in anglers from all over, baiting and casting in search of the perfect ocean-run rainbow trout, healthy and heavy from years of feeding in the bountiful Pacific.
Soak Until You’re Pruney
The way I see it, there’s no better way to end a day of hiking than soaking your aching muscles in a hot spring. Off-the-grid hot springs are a particular treat and Idaho is chock full of them. If you’re looking for a list of some fun hot spots, both the kind you hike into and swing by, check out this gem and this one for all the steamy details.
For the lazy soaker, the Boat Box Hot Spring just east of Stanley, a trailhead of a town in the foothills of the Sawtooths, and right off the river requires little to no effort. Just climb down some rocks, and you’re in the tub. It fits about four adults comfortably. There are cooling buckets available, so if you’re getting too toasty, dump fresh river water into the basin for a refreshing cool-off. Just south are yet more relaxing hot springs – easy to find, and with plenty of room for you and your friends to enjoy a sweet soak often enough to give you permanent wrinkles.
Chasing autumn is one of those things every road-tripper should try at least once. There’s something about the changing of seasons and the hibernation that comes before rebirth that calls us to action. It’s an opportunity to choose your own adventure. Get out there and go somewhere new! Find what you didn’t even know you were looking for – even if that means you’ve got to mount up in a rolling house with terrible gas mileage, the journey is just as satisfying as the destination. [H]