Nice ridgeline hike with good Sawtooth and White Cloud views and a lovely high mountain lake.
Distance: 10.25 miles round trip
Type: out and back
Difficulty: moderately difficult with total elevation gain of 1,942 feet (1,542’ climb followed by 400’ drop).
Best season: summer and early fall
We enjoyed our mid-August trip to Hell Roaring and Alice Lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho so much that we decided to go back for Labor Day week. We’d start with a day hike into Marshall Lake, followed by a three day backpack into the nearby White Cloud Mountains, then finishing with day hikes into Boulder Basin and Bench Lakes. A storm was predicted to push through on Saturday (our travel day), but then the forecast was for beautiful weather starting Sunday—our first day of hiking.
Saturday night we camped in an unofficial site near the old Sunbeam Dam. We’d spend two nights here without any neighbors—not too shabby for Labor Day Weekend!
Sunday morning, after a rainy night, we awoke to temperatures in the mid-40s and clearing skies.
We grabbed our gear and drove back through Stanley to the large parking lot at Redfish Lake Trailhead at 6,558 feet. The lot was nearly full, not surprising for a holiday weekend. We headed west out of the parking lot, crossed the road, and found the start of the trail.
At 0.3 miles we took a right at the first trail junction (left goes to Bench Lakes). After another 0.5 miles we again took a right at a second junction (left goes to Fishook Creek). Both junctions are well signed making for easy navigation.
The trail began to climb in earnest after the second split. We quickly passed out of pine trees through a zone of sagebrush and up to a beautiful stand of aspens. I could see the first few hints of fall colors.
After about half a mile of climbing, we broke out of the aspens and onto the ridgeline where we found great views of Mount Heyburn and Horstmann Peak. From here it was a gentle climb for approximately 2.5 miles before the drop into Marshall.
By now, the clouds were burning off and we’d be treated to blue skies the rest of the day with temperatures in the mid-60s. We leapfrogged a couple times with a nice gentleman on a mule. We chatted for a while- I got a kick out of his comment that he sent his “mule to summer camp” and had just gotten him back. At the wilderness boundary, we also saw a gentleman with a golden lab. These were the only people we saw on the hike in.
Past the wilderness boundary, we began trending north and our views shifted to another stretch of the Sawtooths.
Looking back, we noticed we were getting good views behind us into the White Clouds where we’d be backpacking the following day.
At times we got some great views north toward Stanley and some interesting looking peaks in the distance.
After climbing to an elevation of 8,100’, the last stretch to Marshall Lake was a 400’ descent over about 0.75 miles on a well-graded side trail. The best views of the lake were through the trees on the descent down in, but it was pretty from the shoreline as well.
Overall we saw less than 10 people on the trail total. Not bad at all for Labor Day Weekend.
Directions to trailhead: From Stanley, Idaho travel south on highway 75 to the Redfish Lake turnoff (Forest Service Road #205). Proceed 1.7 miles and turn right into the well signed Redfish Trailhead parking lot. The trail begins at the west corner of the parking lot.