Saturday, August 6, 2016

Sawtooths through the Smoke


We are now just south of Stanley, Idaho, in Sunny Gulch Campground in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. It was a lovely 135 mile drive from Boise along the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway, passing through Lowman, where there is a wildfire just a couple miles from town.

Our scenic lunch spot along the South Fork of the Payette River.


Unfortunately smoke from the Pioneer Fire between Lowman and Idaho City has been moving our way and obscuring the mountains. It was hazy when we arrived, cleared by Thursday morning, then came back with a vengeance Thursday night and Friday morning. We considered leaving but are not sure where to go to get out of the smoke, so after clearing again yesterday we are hanging around to see what happens.

Sunny Gulch is a very nice forest service campground just north of the turnoff for Redfish Lake. There is dispersed camping in the area but after stopping at a couple places and finding the good spots taken, we pulled in here and found a great site. With Jim’s senior pass it’s $9/night. No hookups but there is water, trash, and vault toilets. A dump station is just up the road at the ranger station, or at nearby Redfish Lake.

The Salmon River runs right behind our site but it’s down a ravine so we have no view, although we can hear the rushing water.



So far we’ve taken a couple of hikes, the first starting at the Redfish Lake trailhead. Instead of taking the easy and popular Fishhook Creek trail, we turned off and climbed up to the Alpine Way trail, where we walked along a ridge for about three miles with great views of the hazy Sawtooths.






After the hike we drove over to check out the Redfish Lodge area. There were way too many people around there, so we didn’t stay long.

Redfish Lake, not very appealing with the smoke, but the masses didn’t seem to care.



Yesterday we did another 6 mile hike, this time driving about 20 miles, 10 of which were on a rough dirt road, to Fourth of July Creek Trailhead. From there we hiked to Fourth of July Lake, and continued on another mile or so to Washington Lake. We didn’t have the smoky haze as the location was farther east, but it was an overcast day so the lakes were not as photogenic as I imagine they would be in the sunlight. Still a nice hike, and although not a huge change in elevation, from 8,800’ to 9,500’, we could definitely feel the effects of being that high on the steeper uphill parts of the trail.



These are actually the White Cloud Mountains on the east side of the Sawtooth Valley.






Heading to Washington Lake we came upon a small pond under this hill of rocks. You can barely make out the couple on the left scrambling up to the snow. Jim tried to talk me onto going up there on our way back but I declined.


First glimpse of Washington Lake.


My favorite spot on the entire hike. The camera didn’t capture all of the flowers along the stream heading into the lake, but it was just beautiful.




It’s very clear this morning so we’ll stay around here a couple more days before moving on to parts unknown.


  1. Looks wonderful. We are out of Montana now.... Wait for the Grizzly story. Will be heading over to the ocean. Looks like you are staying cool. The smoke is Nothing like last year. Hopefully it stays that way.

  2. Gorgeous photos.

    We have been following the fire on the news. How terrible! Please be safe. The winds can change any time and get very strong.

  3. I love tagging along on your adventures. The only thing better would be to gas up our little motor-home and be camping along side you. My husband is a great campfire cook. There are so many fires this year, take care. Happy Summer!
    Connie :)

    1. Thanks, Connie. Nice to have you tagging along!

  4. I visit the area every year...I usually stay at Mormon Bend Campground...Site #10..It's a pull-thru with access to the river steps away...I think you would enjoy staying there..Sunny Gulch would be my 2nd choice...
    The backroad to Challis and the gold mining ghost towns are close by and fun!!
    Hope the smoke blows away.

    1. It was clear yesterday and looks good so far this morning. Mormon Bend was one we heard about but it looked like no internet there, so we were happy to find this great site at Sunny Gulch.

  5. Looks like some amazing hiking! Our paths are not too far apart, we are currently just outside Belevue, ID. Tomorrow we are heading to just north of Sun Valley in either a a at campground or boondocking. Hope to stay for a few days and ride the amazing paved urban bike trails, do some mountain biking and also a hike or two as well. Kurt with

    1. We will be moving down to a boondock site off Prairie Creek Rd either Monday or Tuesday to join some friends. Let us know where you'll be and maybe we can meet up somewhere for a beer. We'll be about 20 miles from Ketchum and will need to hit a grocery store in the next few days. Unfortunately we won't have an internet connection there.

    2. I heard the Sawtooth Brewery is the best in the area. We would love to meetup either Monday or Tuesday anytime. Let us know what works for you before you lose your internet connectivity and we will be there!

    3. Sounds good. We may not move until Tuesday morning so how about Sawtooth at 4:30 on Tuesday for happy hour? Email us at

  6. What a great area you are in. Your pictures are beautiful. Love the one of the bridge from above and of Jim crossing on the makeshift bridge just after it. The views of the mountains are wonderful. The little stream with the wildflowers is probably my favorite. If it were mine, I'd make it my desktop. Just gorgeous. I hope you can have your windows open to hear the rushing water below you. What a perfect spot if you can.

  7. That's some beautiful country. It's too bad about the fires, I hope you have more clear days than smokey for the rest of your stay!

  8. Such great photos! I am a new follower and am so enjoy following along with you. Thanks!!

    1. Thanks, Lori. Happy to have you following along!

  9. I love hiking to mountain lakes. Your lakes were beautiful even without the sun:) The Sawtooths are gorgeous! How nice that the smoke gives you a few clear days:)

  10. Hope the smoke continues to dissipate and the temps stay hike-able. Such a gorgeous area - love how clear the water looks even in the reduced sunlight.

  11. Glad you're getting some clear days despite the smoke. It's so pretty there!

  12. I am happy to hear that the smoke is not keeping you off the trails. Wish we could have joined you.

  13. Loved your "favorite spot" has a magical feel like fairies or leprechauns could live there.

  14. Seems there's a caravan of RVers traveling separately through the northern states. Like you, finding gorgeous landscapes. Bummer about the smoke.

  15. Ah, so that's what we missed by not driving up that road.