Weekend camping in the Sawtooths

Weekend camping in the Sawtooths

Ahhhhh summer. While not my favorite season, summer weather does mean some pretty great things like rodeos, drive-ins and camping, to name a few. This post will discuss that last one, camping, since C and I recently camped out in just about my favorite place in Idaho. Read on to learn about Sawtooth Camping.

Getting there

About three hours northeast of Boise, the small town of Stanley, Idaho, sits at the bottom of the glorious Sawtooth Mountain Range. During the winter, Stanley is frequently the coldest place in the nation (that’s right people, I said nation and not just state). But during the summer months, it is a little slice of heaven. The town itself is rustic, with a year-round population of 63 hearty folk. When the weather gets warmer, this number swells as river rafters come from all around to ride the Salmon River that runs right past town.

C and I loaded up my Subaru on a Friday after work and by 9:00 p.m., we pulled into our campsite. As it is still the beginning of the season in these here parts, we had the whole site to ourselves and were spoiled with the alpenglow as the sun set on a meadow of purple shooting star wildflowers under McGowan Peak. Just to make the night a little more surreal, a herd of antelope trotted through the field in the distance. Ridiculous, right? After a roaring fire, complete with guitars and smores, we turned in for the evening and said goodnight to a star-filled sky.

McGowan Peak
McGowan Peak

Sawtooth Camping Breakfast

The next morning we had a delicious campfire breakfast of muffins and sausages. By spraying foil with PAM and wrapping sausages tightly, we cooked them in the coals of the campfire. However, the real gem was the orange blueberry muffins. To make these, we cut off the very top of a large orange and scooped out the insides (fresh squeezed oj, anyone?). Then we filled the oranges with a blueberry muffin mix C had found that only required you to add water. We even mixed the batter inside the package. After placing the tops back on, we wrapped them in foil and placed them in the coals, turning once after about 20 minutes. About 45 minutes after we started, we pulled our foil packages out and feasted. So good!

Blueberry Muffins baked over campfire in an orange
Off with their heads!
Blueberry Muffins baked over campfire in an orange
Foil at its finest
Blueberry Muffins baked over campfire in an orange
Bon appetit!

Sawtooth Camping Hiking

Our goal for the next day was to hike one of the many trails in the Sawtooth National Recreational Area. We opted for the Yellowbelly Lake trail, a 4.8 mile in and out hike, mainly because the name was cool. One of the most magical things about the Sawtooth Mountain Range is the plethora of gorgeous mountain lakes sprinkled here and there. Our trail began at Pettit Lake and at the junction of the Alice Lake trail, we headed north. The trail is well maintained and marked…well, it will be well maintained and marked once the forest service is able to get in there for the summer season. As it was, we had to climb over and around several trees that had fallen over during the winter. The hike started out at a pretty steep incline, but since it was sprinkled with yellow arrowleaf balsamroot and Indian paintbrush, it was quite pretty. Almost pretty enough to get my mind off the burning in my calves as we climbed. Almost.

Arrowleaf balsamroot hiking in the Sawtooth Mountain Range
Arrowleaf balsamroot. Say that 5 times fast.

Getting Lost

Once we made it to the top it leveled out and we plodded on, past Ponderosa Pines and McDonald Lake, a little hidden gem we weren’t expecting to be so pretty. Maybe it was because the lake was so pretty that we got a little sidetracked and didn’t notice the junction in the path. Or maybe it was the giant tree that had fallen over and blocked the right half of the trail. But either way, we missed our turn and continued on.

Hiking train paths
Left or left????

Still Lost

After a while, we reached a creek (pronounced ‘crick’ in Idaho) that looked more like a river. Thinking it was just spring runoff, we decided to ford it and continue on, climbing up the opposite ridge. After a while, C noticed that the lake that could only be Yellowbelly was off in the distance, and definitely not in the direction we were climbing. We turned around and recrossed the water (so very cold) and found where we had gone wrong. Once we were back on track, we hit the lake and then headed back to the car without further incident. Our 4.8 miler turned into a 7.2 miler, but it was a beautiful day so it didn’t much matter. We were stocked with snacks and water so all was well with the world.

Hiking train to Yellow Belly Lake
Following the trail is for amateurs.

Sawtooth Camping Bonus: Hot Springs

After our hike, we felt we had earned a sit-in at some soothing hot springs. So we popped over to the Sunbeam Hot Springs; a natural hot springs that pours into the Salmon River. Industrious individuals have collected boulders and piled them up in the river, creating a little pool where you can control the temperature by allowing more of the cold river water in. We finished up the day by grabbing some dinner and listening to some music at the local lodge. Not a bad way to spend a spring day in Idaho. After another star-filled night, we woke, packed up our camp and headed home.

Tent in the trees
Tent, sweet tent
Sawtooth Camping Site
R being sous chef


Sometimes you just need to get away to the mountains. If you are lucky enough to live close to them, do it. Do it now. And even if you don’t, remember that Robert Frost fellow really did know what he was talking about. To get where you really want to be, take the road less (and more camouflaged) traveled.

MacDonald Lake
The mountains are calling


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