Alice Lake — The Best of the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho

The Tin Cup Trailhead to Alice Lake, Idaho

If you’ve read some of our most recent posts, you probably realize how much we loved Idaho. From mountain hikes to hot springs, it is truly paradise. We especially loved the hike to Alice Lake and thought it offered the best of the Sawtooth Mountains! Through Fall colors and sleet, hiking this beautiful path took us along verdant forest, awe-inspiring cliffsides overlooking expansive views, and up to a crisp alpine lake surrounded by the prettiest stretch of mountains we’d seen in the state.

The Practical Vagabonds enjoying views of Alice Lake in Idaho
The Practical Vagabonds enjoying views of Alice Lake in Idaho

Our hike from Tin Cup Trailhead to Alice Lake and back was about 11 miles long with 1600 feet elevation gain. Alice Lake is actually the first of several lakes on the 18-mile Alice-Toxaway loop.

PRO TIP: This hike is so beautiful, you may regret not packing camping gear and completing the entire 18-mile loop!

If you even think you might like to spend a night or two backpacking, do it! We did not and wish we had!

The Hike to Alice Lake

The Tin Cup Trailhead is located in front of Petit Lake, which we hiked alongside in the beginning. After about 1.2 miles or so, we got to the wilderness area boundary, filled out our (free) permits, and turned left toward the Alice Lake section of the loop.

The beginning of the wilderness area was covered in lush, green forest. Much of the ground was comprised of old, decayed wood with ferns, moss, trees, and grasses growing from it. This made the ground soft and springy as hiked on and off the trail.

The forest soon turned into an open cliffside of granite, rocks, and switchbacks. As we hiked upward, views of the valley below took our breath away. Amazingly, we passed only a couple of people along this part of the trail. It felt like we had the entire world at our fingertips, and to ourselves. We trekked upward with huge, silly grins on our face, savoring every moment.

After the cliffside switchbacks, we hiked through more forest and noticed that the sun was hidden behind ominous gray clouds over the horizon. We continued toward the clouds, and as we finally saw Alice Lake in our midst, a colossal pink lightning bolt cracked over the water. Shocked by the loud crash and our proximity to the electrical storm, we hid below the trees to wait out the storm.

Tranquility at Alice Lake

After the electrical storm moved north, we walked out toward Alice Lake. El Capitan mountain loomed over the lake, which was a clear and beautiful blue. The surrounding mountains framed the lake perfectly. Sleet fell and a slight breeze nipped at our cheeks as we strolled amongst the vibrant Fall colors along the lake.

Even though it was cold, I didn’t want to leave and wished we could have stayed to complete the entire loop. Since we did not pack our camping gear, we headed back the same way, our cell phone filled with beautiful photos and hearts filled with joy from exploring this beautiful area.

PRO TIP: Throughout our trip, I was relieved to have a great rain jacket.

Whether through sleet, snow, or rain, or even to stay warm in sunny but cool weather, I took this Columbia-brand jacket with me everywhere. Even though my jacket is an older version of this one, it’s kept me dry in absolute downpours over the years!

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14 thoughts on “Alice Lake — The Best of the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho”

  1. You got some great shots! Too bad that you didn’t realize how great this hike would be and that it would be worth spending the night to do the entire loop. Guess that there is always next time!

    1. Thank you! It is too bad, but I’m sure we’ll be back someday. We have a lot more exploring to do in such a beautiful range. 🙂

  2. Sawtooth is definitely an appropriate name for that mountain range. Beautiful! An 18-mile loop would be spectacular, but good gear would have to be mandatory for such an excursion.

  3. Love your photos! But it would be easy to notice how much you loved it there even without them, it’s just irradiating from your words. 🙂 And you are so right, I have to say. I would also be amazed by the Alice Lake, El Capitan mountains framing it and those autumn colors. Such beautiful serene surroundings!

    1. Thank you, Danijela! We were pleased how they turned out. The area is just so beautiful, we really wanted to do it justice in this post. And autumn is a great time to hike here, the colors were so vivid!

    1. Yes, most people complete that whole loop in 2-3 days, depending on how much downtime they want for camping in the area. I’m sure you could do the entire trek in 1 day, but it would be pretty rushed. You wouldn’t be able to relax and fully enjoy the experience.

  4. I’ve always wanted to visit Idaho! Although the weather was cold, the scenery still looks stunning! The 11 mile hike also seems to cover such a beautiful area!

    1. Idaho may not be the very top of many people’s bucket lists, but we as avid hikers REALLY recommend it! I hope you get a chance to go and explore sometime. 🙂

    1. We love LOTR! Although I believe these movies were filmed in New Zealand, Idaho’s terrain is beautiful and rugged like you would expect in NZ. We will be going to New Zealand in a little over a year so I guess we’ll find out then!

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