Peaceful mountain stream and meadows with jagged Sawtooth peaks
Distance: 4.5 miles roundtrip
Type: out and back
Difficulty: easy with little elevation change
Best season: summer and fall
In September 2018, we returned to Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains for a week of day hiking and backpacking. The big ticket item for this trip was a four day backpack to Alpine, Baron, and Crammer Lakes. These lakes are at significantly higher elevation than what we’re used to, so we decided to start the trip with an easy day hike to acclimate. With fall colors just starting to pop, a hike with some aspen trees seemed in order. Fishhook Creek is notorious for lovely fall colors making it a great choice.
Arriving in the Stanley area, we headed south along the Salmon looking for a place to tent camp for the night. My first choice was somewhere around the Hell Roaring Trailhead. We passed the trailhead parking area and turned down a steep and rocky side road. The Jeep had no trouble navigating the road and we found ourselves at a stunning site on the banks of the Salmon River with no one else around. We were just a few feet from the river with great views east of the White Cloud Wilderness. Yes, this site would do nicely.
Immediately after setting up camp, a storm moved through dumping rain for a couple hours. Conditions cleared as darkness approached and temperatures started to plummet. Staring up at the White Cloud Mountains, a fresh layer of snow was visible in the last moments of daylight. It was going to be really cold overnight! We added our sleeping bag liners and an extra layer of clothes and hunkered down for the night. We drifted off to sleep with the sound of a bull elk bugling in the distance. There’s nothing better than fall in the mountains.
We awoke just before dawn. Shining a flashlight on the tent walls, we could see a layer of frost on the inside of the tent walls. It was rough leaving our warm cocoons, but we dragged ourselves out of bed and went outside for coffee—it was just 16 degrees and everything was covered in frost and ice.
We set our chairs up on the banks of the Salmon River and watched the stars fade to the first hints of dawn while we slowly sipped our hot coffee. Through the fog, I could see movement on the other side of the river. At first I thought it was deer but as they lingered and dawn advanced, we could tell it was a herd of about a dozen elk. Settling in for a second cup of coffee, large bald eagle flew just feet above our heads. Despite the freezing cold, the Salmon River Valley and surrounding mountains are magical.
Leaving camp, we drove through alternating areas of dense fog and sunny blue skies to arrive at the hiker’s parking lot at Redfish Lake (elevation 6,558′). We crossed the road to the north and caught the Redfish Lake Trail. The trail ran just above Fishhook Creek, traveling through a mix of sagebrush, pine, and aspen with some subtle fall colors beginning. At 0.3 miles we reached our first trail junction. The trail toward Redfish Lake turned to the left, we continued to the right.
Half a mile later, we reached the trail junction with trail 039 which climbs up to the Alpine Way Trail. We hiked this trail back in 2014 on our way to Marshall Lake.
We continued to the left along Fishhook Creek. It hadn’t taken long for the fog to burn off and for me to realize the fall colors were a bit dull. I couldn’t tell if we were too early or if the colors just weren’t going to be very good with the dry year (turns out we were a bit too early). This was disappointing, but it was a beautiful day and we continued up Fishhook making the best of it.
Our hike was now primarily through forest with some nice views west of Williams and Thompson peaks. The hiking was very easy and we never did more than the occasional slight roll up and then downhill.
We came to the wilderness boundary and the end of the maintained trail at 2.2 miles (elevation 6,820’). Fishhook Creek meandered peacefully through a beautiful meadow as massive Sawtooth Mountains rose in the distance. This was a very scenic location and was well worth the hike.
On our hike out, we made a detour and hiked up part of the Alpine Way Trail to extend our conditioning a bit. We enjoyed fine views of Little Redfish Lake, Fishhook Creek, and towering Sawtooth peaks.
Directions to trailhead: from Stanley, Idaho, travel 4.3 miles south on ID-75 then turn right at the signs for Redfish Lake. Follow Forest Road 214 to the signed hiker’s parking lot.
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