Sawtooth National Forest Overview
|Sawtooth National Forest (Steve Bly/Digital Vision/Getty)|
Pick your sunsets carefully, and you may witness the serrated Sawtooth Mountains live up to their name, as they rip storm clouds into shreds of purple, orange, and vermillion. Situated in south-central Idaho, the Sawtooth extends into northern Utah, thus encompassing not only northern glacial mountain peaks like the 12,076-foot Hyndman Peak, but also the surreal salt flats of the Great Salt Lake.
It should come as no surprise that America's literary adventurer, Ernest Hemingway (around here, we call him "Papa"), was so intoxicated by this forest's raw beauty that he asked to be buried here. The Sawtooth National Forest encompasses 2.1 million acres of the most magnificent and wildest country available in the U.S. outside of Alaska.
The forest boasts some 1,100 lakes and more than 3,000 miles of rivers and streams. Annual runs of salmon and steelhead tease anglers along the riverbanks. Native trout are abundant.
And it's not just the fish that run these pristine rivers. Rafters and kayakers descend the whitewater turbulence with equal enthusiasm. In the Sawtooth Valley, the headwaters of the Salmon River converge to form what explorers Lewis and Clark aptly described as the "River of No Return."
Skiers all over the world know Sun Valley, and Baldy is considered among the best ski mountains this country has to offer.
Hike Gladiator Creek
This 2.4-mile trail starts out at an elevation of 6,850 feet and merrily follows an old logging road for its first half-mile. Then things get downright vertical, as the trail bounds upward to almost 10,000 feet. If you're a fan of easy trails, then there's a lot not to like about the Gladiator Creek Trail (#108). But if you like a challenge in your hikes, this trail's for you: It's steep and covered with scree, and a stubborn snow pack remains on the divide until mid-summer. You can turn back after the trail junctions with the Grand Prize Trail (#112) in a meadow at the Grand Prize Gulch. The trailhead can be accessed 24 miles north of Ketchum by turning north off Highway 75 onto Gladiator Creek Road. Take this dirt road (often muddy) for two miles until you reach a parking area at the trailhead. The forest recommends you use a high-clearance vehicle on this road, so if you're driving a Yugo, stay away.
Ski Sun Valley
No introduction needed—Sun Valley is world-famous and serious skiers consider Baldy the country's single best ski mountain. Did you know that Sun Valley built the world's first chairlift? The design was adapted from a machine used to load bananas onto cargo ships. Relax, these banana lifts are no longer in use—the mountain now has state-of-the-art detachable quads that zoom up the mountain faster than the speed of light. And if you include Sun Valley's beginner slope, Dollar Mountain, the ski area boasts 78 downhill runs, with the longest covering a whopping distance of three miles. Other nearby ski areas includes Soldier Mountain, Pomerelle, and Magic Mountain.
Cruise the Sawtooth Scenic Byway
State Highway 75 will take you from Shoshone—the gateway to Idaho's high desert—to the jagged glacial crags in the Sawtooth Valley area. Along the way, stop and take a guided tour at the Ice Caves—a bizarre geologic phenomenon where living glaciers persist in an arid lava desert. Pass through the skiing mecca of Sun Valley and visit the grave of Ernest Hemingway who is buried in the historic mining town of Ketchum. As you drive through the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, it doesn't get much better than this—the byway slices through the Boulder Mountains, which will be on your right, and the Smoky Mountains on your left. You might have to shift the jalopy into a low gear to get up the Galena Summit at 8,702 feet. Cruise past the haunted ruins of Sawtooth City—an 1880s mining camp that gave up the ghost a long time ago. The shimmering Redfish Lake is the last and final stop.
Kayak the Salmon
The 27-mile stretch of river between Buckhorn Rest Area and Torreys Hole Access Area averages a 15-foot drop per mile. Class I and II rapids are typical, but don't get lulled into thinking this is an easy float—expect Class III and IV during spring run-off in May and June. The forest service monitors the river's depth at a gauging station near the confluence of the Yankee Fork; at this point the river is 200 feet wide and its depth can range wildly— anywhere from 1 foot during the fall to 12 feet during spring run-off. Experienced floaters consider a depth of 6 feet to be dangerous (about 3,000 cubic feet per second)—so at 12 feet, that's a lot of surging water.
Fish with Your Head in the Clouds
The high mountain lakes of the White Cloud Peaks offer the best fishing in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Catching an eight- to ten-pound trout is not unheard of in these parts. If you prefer fish on the run, the Salmon River Canyon offers excellent opportunities at migrating passersby like steelhead and chinook. You can also expect mountain whitefish to extend the angling season, as they are active winter feeders. The wild trout waters of Silver Creek near Picabo, Idaho, lure fly fishermen from all over the world. Temperatures remain constant year-round in this spring-fed stream, never fluctuating more than five degrees. Good news for rainbows, brooks and browns; good news for you.
Tag Sawtooth Wildflowers
The Sawtooth is a natural nursery of wildflowers including fireweed, lupine, penstemon, shrubby cinquefoil, elephant head, broadfruit mariposa, and blue camas. The sub-alpine elephant head may be found around Gladiator Creek in early July. Common paintbrush can be found in May and June on Sun peak, a broad sagebrush hill that sits directly north of Ketchum. Shooting stars can be found from early summer through September on the east side of State Highway 75 near Prairie Creek.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication