Lovely hike to the lower two Bench Lakes with good views of Redfish Lake and Mount Heyburn.
Distance: 8.5 miles round trip
Type: out and back
Difficulty: moderate with 1,250′ elevation gain
Best season: summer and early fall
We awoke to another cold, clear morning in Stanley, Idaho. The temperature was 27 degrees and there was a light frost, but not a cloud in the sky. Unfortunately, we had arrived at our last day of hiking before heading home and back to work. It had been a wonderful week with day hikes to Marshall Lake and Boulder Basin as well as our three day backpack to the Boulder Chain Lakes.
We made the short drive south to the hiker’s parking lot at Redfish Lake (elevation 6,558′) and were on the trail by 7:15 a.m. Conditions were still quite chilly, but it was a beautiful sunny day and temperatures were quickly warming. We headed west out of the parking lot, crossed the road, and found the start of the trail. This is the same trailhead that took us to Marshall Lake earlier in the week.
At 0.3 miles we reached the Marshall Lake – Bench Lakes junction. We followed the sign and turned left toward Bench Lakes. The trail crossed Fishhook Creek on a nice footbridge before twisting through the forest and up onto a ridge line. Here there were nice views of Redfish Lake below and Mount Heyburn ahead. At 3.1 miles from the trailhead we reached a well marked trail junction. To the left takes you to the Redfish Lake inlet transfer camp. For the Bench Lakes, we followed the right hand trail.
The trail switchbacked another 0.6 miles to the first of the Bench Lakes. Another 0.2 miles brought us to the second lake at 7,760′ elevation and the end of the official trail. Adventurous hikers can continue cross-country to three more lakes.
We enjoyed complete solitude on our hike up and while at both lakes. On the way back, we passed a lone woman who stopped us to confirm that she was on the correct trail for Bench Lakes. Later we passed two middle aged women who also inquired if they were on the correct trail to Bench. When we were nearly back to the trailhead, we passed an older couple, likely in their mid-70s. They were from Portland and we enjoyed a nice chat with them. They were also hiking into the Bench Lakes and were the cutest little couple. After we parted their company, Jason and I talked about how inspirational it is to cross paths with people who hike well into their golden years. I sure hope to follow in their footsteps!
We finished our hike around noon after hiking 8.5 miles round trip with 1,250’ elevation gain. While enjoying a snack of fruit, cheese, and summer sausage, we chatted with a gentleman (likely late 60s) who was getting ready to go on a week long backpack into the Sawtooths with friends. He had done a week backpack the year prior and joked that he hoped this one didn’t kill him! Again, inspiring.
It was time to begin our trip home. We had discovered River’s Fork Lodge in North Fork, Idaho three weeks prior on a long weekend to the Sawtooths. The rooms overlooking the Salmon River were so peaceful that we just had to go back. Ken, the owner, greeted us and said he recognized us from before. We chatted for a while and then headed a few miles up the highway to Josephine’s for dinner.
It was another beautiful evening on the North Fork of the Salmon River. We picked our same deck seat over the river that we had three weeks prior and ordered bacon cheeseburgers. Josephine’s is known for their pizza, but they also have a killer burger. At one point, the owner/cook came over and chatted with us. He recognized us from before and welcomed us back. Our water was a later middle aged man who was also very friendly. For dessert, we split a raspberry cheesecake.
We ended the day out on the deck of our hotel room where we overlooked the Salmon River. We saw heron, osprey, 2 bald eagle, and a family of 4 deer. What a great way to wind down from six days of hiking.
Directions to Bench Lakes 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.