As some of you may know, Liz and I love to get outside and explore our beautiful state parks and national parks. Being that we have been mainly stationed in the southeast part of the country, we are limited in the elevation and landscapes that we can hike. On a recent camping trip with Liz’s family to the beautiful small town of Stanley, Idaho and Red Fish Lake, we had the opportunity to put our bodies to the test by hiking 8 miles up into the Sawtooth Mountains, overlooking the beautiful Red Fish Lake to some very remote lakes called Bench Lakes.
Let’s Go For a Hike – Stanley, Idaho
Yeah I know what you are thinking, that 8 miles doesn’t sound that bad. Normally I would agree with you. But this area is above 7,000 feet in elevation, and to this southern boy, 8 miles uphill might as well have been 15 miles! Overall it was not too bad of a hike, but it was very different than an 8 mile hike in our home state of Georgia.
We loaded up our Adventure Bags with lunch, snacks, cameras, and water and headed into the Sawtooth Mountains. Liz’s Dad, Kelley, joined us for this trek up the mountain, a hike that he had done several times over many years. Our destination was Bench Lakes, which were secluded lakes high above the main attraction of Red Fish Lake near Stanley, Idaho. These lakes are among many other alpine lakes in the area, and are a great backpacking and camping spot for outdoor enthusiasts from all over the country.
Ahhh the Views in the Sawtooth Mountains
As we make our way along the trail, we walk steadily with a slight incline. We are surrounded by beautiful scenery and cross of Fish Hook Creek, that was flowing with freshly melted glacier water from the mountains into Red Fish Lake. This part of the hike was quiet and peaceful.
About an hour into the hike, we start feeling the burn of the steeper incline up the mountain. We had to take a few breaks to catch our breath, but the rest breaks were worth it because of the changing scenery and even better views! As we climbed higher and higher up to the mountain ridge, the views became even more breathtaking.
After making it to the ridge of the mountain, the hike became a bit more fun. The steep incline leveled out just a bit, and we had great views on both sides of us. To our right was the dense wilderness that looked up toward the jagged Sawtooth Mountains, and down to the left was the crystal clear lake of Red Fish Lake. Growing up in Georgia and being a foreigner to these types of landscapes, it reminded me of Lord of Rings and pictures that I had seen of New Zealand mountains. The views were to die for, I had never seen anything quite like it before.
Finally, we come to a fork in the trail. To the left we would could hike down to the inlet of Redfish lake. This is where a lot of hikers go to begin multi-day treks deep into the Sawtooth Wilderness. There is a remote campground there, and you could actually hop on a boat back to the main Redfish Lake Lodge. But we take the trail to the right, toward Bench Lakes. It was hard to believe, but the views got even better.
We crossed over a small valley, then went up yet another steep trail, with switchbacks that went all the way up. Here we are, perched high up on another ridge looking across to some of the most amazing rocky mountains that I have ever seen, I was in awe! Finally, we pop up and over the last ridge to where the Bench Lakes sit, high in peaceful serenity of the mountains.
Made it to our Destination, Bench Lakes
Arriving at our destination of Bench Lakes, we are exhausted. We have been hiking for hours, mostly uphill. The first lake was the smaller of the two. I was impressed with the view and wanted to have a seat, but Liz recommended that we hike just a bit further to the upper lake. When we arrived at the upper lake I couldn’t believe how still and clear the water was. It was like a mirror that reflected the incredible mountain landscapes, yet it was also clear and you could see deep into the water.
I was just amazed at the peacefulness of the lake and it made the 3.5 hour hike all worth it. We noticed only a few fisherman on the lake, and one group of campers nearby, lounging in their hammocks. I could easily see why the campers in the hammock nearby choose this spot for the weekend. You can’t get more peaceful than this place!
After arriving at Upper Bench Lake, we took some time admire the views before sitting down to enjoy our packed lunches. We rested for a good half hour to replenish our energy. Picnics with views like these it can make anything taste great, even a plain ol’ sandwich.
Our trek up through the Sawtooth Mountains is one that I will never forget. For us it was a little challenging, just because we were not use to the elevation and climbing up the mountain, but I can honestly say that I think we could get use to rewarding views like these. Cheers!