Father & Son in the Sawtooth Mountains

July 23, 2021  |  Stanley, Idaho

After my second visit to the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, I'm passionately in love with this area of the country. The landscape is just beautiful. Rolling hills, leading to jagged mountain peaks, with alpine lakes nestled among them. The land is largely untouched, with hiking trails, hot springs, rivers, and lakes everywhere. Lots of recreation. After my first visit last year, I had decided I wanted to come back. With my son graduating high school, and my brother retiring from the military, I decided it would be a good time for a family trip. I especially wanted to spend time with son before he heads off to Boston University in the fall.

My son Matthew with Alpine Peak and Alpine Lake in the background
My son Matthew with Alpine Peak and Alpine Lake in the background.

The one thing I really wanted to do was to hike to Sawtooth Lake. The hike is about 5 miles to the lake, and 5 miles back, give or take. After a few side trips off the main trail, our total hike was about 11 miles. We also gained about 1800 feet in elevation, so it was like climbing A LOT of stairs. My brother, having been in the army, was used to a lot of walking, but I was a little worried about my son. He's done some hiking, but I wasn't sure how much and I was afraid this hike might push him a little. Thankfully, he handled it just great and wow, was it worth it! There were spectacular panoramic views around every turn, as the peaks of the Sawtooths towered over us on all sides.

Alpine Mountain and Alpine Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho.

Morning at Alpine Peak

Morning light shines on Alpine Peak as Alpine Lake lies below on a summer morning in the Sawtooth Mountains near Stanley, Idaho.

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I had decided we wanted to hit the trail early, as it's a popular trail and I wanted to be well on our way before it got crowded. Also, the temperatures were supposed to hit at least 90ºF, but only be in the 40's at sunrise, so it seemed wise to hike in the early part of the day. We arrived at the trailhead at about 5:20am, and were well up the trail by sunrise at 6 or so. The air was cool and crisp and there was no other sound except the songs of birds and the rustle of aspen leaves in the wind.

Pine trees on a mountainside as the Sawtooth Mountains stand in the background.

Sawtooth Dawn

The Sawtooth Mountains tower over a stand of pines on a summer morning in Idaho as the sky glows with the first light of the day.

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The higher we climbed on the trail, the more spectacular the views were. We came upon this view of pines in the early morning light, just as we broke through the tree line, shortly after sunrise. A bit later, we skirted Alpine Lake and Alpine Peak (two photos above), looking spectacular in the morning sun. The trail skirted the lake a couple hundred feet below, before continuing to climb.

Our ultimate goal was Sawtooth Lake, at the foot of Mount Regan. The image below is one I made when I arrived. The lake itself was stunning. Waters were still, providing a mirror-like reflection. We spent about an hour relaxing on the rocky shore. I of course took photos, and we snacked on protein bars and water and energy chews, before deciding to head back down.

Sawtooth Lake, an alpine lake in the Sawtooth Mountains, lies beneath the peak of Mount Regan.

Sawtooth Lake II

Mount Regan stands above Sawtooth Lake on a summer morning near Stanley, Idaho.

McGown Peak obscured by smoke.
McGown Peak obscured by smoke.

The one downside to the trip was all the smoke from the wildfires out west. We're even seeing some of it carry over here in Maine now. Our first day in the Sawtooths it wasn't too bad. Maybe it was the elevation we were at, but I had pretty clear views of the peaks. But as you can see below, the next few days were much worse- so much so that I didn't take any more photos. The peaks were just gray shadows behind the smoky haze. I'm glad I was able to capture what I did, but I'm a little sad and worried about how things will continue to change in the future.

This image on the left, taken with my iPhone, shows Stanley Lake and McGown Peak on July 14, 2021, covered in a heavy smoky haze. Last year I photographed one of the most stunning sunrises I'd ever photographed (below), as the alpenglow lit up McGown peak. This year, I saw that smoky haze and left the camera in the bag, apologizing to my brother and son for getting them out of bed at 4am for nothing. Such a shame. Below is a photo I took last year, without the smoke, allowing the peaks and lake to look beautifully peaceful.

Morning at Stanley Lake

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Alpenglow shines on McGown Peak on a summer morning at Stanley Lake in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains. When I arrived at Stanley Lake, the clouds were thick, but as I found the spot I wanted to photograph from, they began to break up and the alpenglow hit the peak. This light lasted only a few minutes, but they were magical.

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