Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains
Baron Lake Sawtooth Mountains #66032 Purchase
Update 2/16/2021: Thanks to a blog reader I was just made aware that on 8/7/2020 the summit of Baron Spire “Old Smoothie” collapsed due to an earthquake. Look closely at the rounded pyramid-shaped peak just right of center in the fifth photo in this post, “Baron Spire reflected on Baron Lake #66029”. You’ll notice an egg-shaped rock with a slight left lean at the top of Baron Spire. This entire mass of granite is now gone. You can see a dramatic video of the collapse here.
After a successful trip to Sawtooth Lake, I was itching to get back on the trail and see more of the Sawtooth Mountains. The question was where to go next. There are plenty of tantalizing destinations in the Sawtooths. To explore them all you would need at least a full summer. Like most people with limited time, I wanted to visit the best of the best and return later for more in-depth exploration.
With about two weeks available I knew that the famous Alice-Toxaway Loop was a must-do. There were also several very attractive destinations in the Redfish Lake area. Cramer Lakes and Saddleback Lakes were two of those. However, the hike to Baron Lakes looked like it would provide several elements I was after. First and foremost was a good variety of photographic subject matter. Three lakes and one mountain pass is better than a straight hike into just one lake. Secondly, I wanted the hike in to be moderately challenging, but not exhausting. I was, after all, carrying plenty of heavy photo equipment on my back, aside from the usual camping paraphernalia. So, Baron Lakes, it was.
Redfish Creek Trail #65999 Purchase
Hiking to Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains
To get to the start of the Baron Lakes trail, or any destination along Redfish Creek Valley you have two options. On one hand, you can begin at the hiker’s parking lot near Redfish Lake Lodge. Or for a $17 roundtrip, you can take a water taxi from the lodge to the trailhead at the head of Redfish Lake. This option will save you about five miles of hiking. Like a lot of others, I opted for the water taxi. On a beautiful warm summer morning, it was tempting to just rent a canoe or kayak and leisurely explore the lake. But I was there to grunt and sweat my way up a hot and dusty trail instead.
After an initial climb, the trail levels out a bit for the first few miles. At Flatrock Junction, the trail splits. Continuing on the main trail will take you to Cramer Lakes, the right fork ascends to Alpine, and Baron Lakes. Here is where the real work begins. The trail begins to switch back up to Alpine Lake, first through meadows and then along a cliff wall partially shaded by trees.
My first night was spent at Alpine Lake, yes there are two lakes sharing this name in the Sawtooths. Although the lake is set in a picturesque bowl I was a bit disappointed in this location. This is a popular destination and most of the NE side of the lakeshore has been pounded to dust by overuse, and the open forest here doesn’t provide much opportunity for solitude.
Baron Divide Trail #65051 Purchase
The next day I awoke and packed up early. I was eager to leave the dismal campsite and reach Baron Divide before it became too hot. This climb to the divide is pleasant, passing several ponds and grassy meadows along the way. Finally, at the divide, the fabulous scene of Baron Lakes and Monte Verita Peak came into view. It was a long switchback hike down to the lakes along boulder fields and flower meadows. This is truly one of those stretches of trail that backpackers dream of.
Baron Lake #66043 Purchase
At Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains
Upper Baron Lake is a great destination with good campsites, but the middle lake has the views I was anticipating for photography. Most of the campsites are on the North side of the lake and are close to the lake outlet. Fortunately, I was there early enough to find a secluded spot further on along a small bay. For most of the morning, I had the lake all to myself, but by evening every available space that could hold a tent was occupied. Despite highly visible trailhead signs prohibiting campfires at least one group felt the need to build one and fill the area with smoke.
Baron Spire reflected on Baron Lake #66029 Purchase
There are many possibilities for exploration from the lake. A short climb behind the camps offers great views down to the lower lake, and Baron Creek Valley with the imposing bulk of Baron Peak dominating the scene. Monte Verita and Wabonnet Peaks offer exciting scrambling and climbing routes. Hiking around the shore you can also climb back to the upper lake for a pleasant loop trip. Of course, you also can just sit and enjoy the view or try your luck at fishing.
Photographing at Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains
Since this was my first visit my goal was to photograph the classic view of Baron Lake with Monte Verita in the background. It doesn’t get much better than that. I just had to scout out the best compositions and wait for some good light.
Milky Way over Baron Lake #66011 Purchase
The evening was pleasant, but there was very little light illuminating the spires of Monte Verita. It became apparent that at this time of year the best light would come in the morning. After sunset, I took the opportunity to do some night photography. The location was perfect since the Milky Way was just to the left of Monte Verita at a pleasing angle.
At sunrise, there was a very attractive sprinkling of small puffy clouds reflected on a mirror-smooth lake surface. As the sun rose the clouds were continually changing patterns, keeping me busy photographing Rorschach-like compositions.
Baron Lake #66034 Purchase
I spent another night at the lake, but since it was Sunday everyone else had Packed up and left. Therefore I had it all to myself, with plenty of time to anticipate the grueling climb back up to Baron Divide. The next morning that climb wasn’t too bad since I once again had a successful trip in the bag, and the views were still spectacular.
Like every other hike, descending Baron Divide was somewhat sad since the views were behind me and the trip was coming to a close. As a took one last look at the lakes and peaks I was hoping to return soon. Back down the trail to Redfish Lake I was all smiles, eager to speak with other hikers about the beauty they would soon see. By the time I reached the water taxi dock the day was hot, so the boat ride back was a cool relief.
Redfish Lake Marina #65995 Purchase
By then my mind was occupied by thoughts of pizza, a cold beer, and the Alice-Toxaway Loop hike.
Next up: Alice-Toxaway Loop
If You Go
Round Trip Distance: 15 Miles
Elevation: About 3500′ gain, Highpoint Baron Divide 9175′
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Red Tape: Free Permits are required, available at the trailhead
To get to Redfish Lake hikers parking lot, Redfish Lake Lodge and water taxi drive about 6 miles south of Stanley on U.S. 75 and another two miles along FR 214. There are plenty of campsites near Redfish Lake and Little Redfish Lake.
The small scenic town of Stanley Idaho makes a great base for trips into the Sawtooths. Lodging, groceries, restaurants, outdoor gear stores, and a great bakery are in town. Redfish Lake Lodge also has many similar amenities.
As mentioned earlier in this post, the Sawtooths are an extremely popular destination. Not only for hikers and backpackers, but also tourists, front country family camping, river rafters, and fishing. During the height of summer just about every campsite, both front country, and backcountry will be filled before noon. So make your plans accordingly to avoid frustration.
One of the best perks of the area is the numerous natural and wild hot springs. Soaking in one along the Salmon River is one of the greatest post-hike activities.
Leave No Trace
As I said in my previous post, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Sawtooth and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!
To learn more about the principles and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!
Seven Leave No Trace Principles
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
Photo Gear Used On This Trip
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release
Milky Way over Baron Lake #66010 Purchase
Next up: Alice-Toxaway Loop
Baron Lakes Sawtooth Mountains