Alice Lake is one of the classic, iconic places to hike to in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. The lake is large and reflective, giving perfect reflection views of the mountain called El Capitan. It is a unique area of the United States and is unlike anywhere we have been in the lower 48. If you have to choose one long hike to do in the Sawtooth Mountains, Alice Lake is a great choice. Read further to learn all the information you need to know to hike to Alice Lake.
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*****Everything in this article is my personal opinion and experiences. Check your own resources and choose to do anything I discuss at your own risk. Some of the things in this post may be dangerous and not recommended for every body.
How to Get to Alice Lake
The main trail that heads to Alice Lake starts from Pettit Lake. Pettit Lake is south of Stanley and north of Sun Valley. From the main road, you will need to drive a few miles on well-maintained gravel roads. Please keep this in mind, especially if you are using a rental vehicle (some rental companies technically don’t allow for driving on gravel roads). The road is well and well-maintained for a forest road, so most (if not all) cars should be able to make it.
- From Stanley, Idaho to Pettit Lake: around 21 miles, 30 minutes
- From Ketchum, Idaho to Pettit Lake: 46 minutes, 1 hour
The Most Popular Trail to Alice Lake
The trail to Alice Lake starts from the Tin Cup Trailhead located at Pettit Lake. Pettit Lake is south of Stanley and north of Sun Valley. To get to the trailhead, you will need to drive several miles on a flat, well-maintained gravel road. There are bathrooms at the trailhead.
The first mile or so of the hike is along Pettit Lake and is technically in the Sawtooth National Forest. The trail is relatively flat at least until you get to the Sawtooth Wilderness border at around 1.2 miles. Once you cross into the Sawtooth Wilderness, you will start heading deeper into the forest. For the whole trail up to Alice Lake, you will be following a creek that leads up to Alice Lake.
At some point on the trail, you will encounter your first stream crossing. The official trail crosses the stream multiple times. However, there is a high water route that avoids crossing the stream the entire way (except once when you are almost to the lake).
On our hike, the water was deep and moving very fast, so it was unsafe for us to cross. We took the high water route. To do this, make sure you have a good map and possible a GPS device. We were constantly using the AllTrails GPS tracking, our map, and cairns people had left, to find the way.
At the beginning of the season, there was a lot of bush-whacking through this area and we got off-trail multiple times. Be careful on the high water route, but it is definitely preferable to risking major safety crossing a dangerous stream. If on the high water route, you will again meet up with the main trail.
The main trail then continues up through the valley and begins to have switchbacks up scree. The trail is pretty good through the scree area, but be careful as the rocks are super slick if wet. There was a dead mountain goat on the trail that had slipped on a rock and died. Also, I slipped and fell on a super slick rock on the way down and had to go to the hospital after our hike.
There is another river crossing at the top of a waterfall or you can continue on the second high water route (this high water route is better than the first one). This part of the trail is mainly through rock fields.
When the trails meet up again, you will cross a wooden bridge over the stream. In June, this is where the major snow started for us. From here on, I do not know what the non-snow trail is like as we hiked the last mile or so on several feet of rotten snow. Right before Alice Lake, you will have to cross a stream (and there is no way around this). It was really cold, so we made the decision to cross a bunch of logs rather than get soaked up to our knees in icy water. The small lake you can see from here is NOT Alice Lake.
Once you cross this last stream, you will continue on the trail until you reach Alice Lake. If you plan on camping here, there are campsites around the lake.
Depending on your plans, you can either turn around and return to the trailhead, backcountry camp, or continue on the trail.
Loop Trails Including Alice Lake
- The Tin Cup Hiker which is 20.6 miles with 3,100 feet of elevation gain.
- Alice Lake, Twin Lake, and Edith Lake Loop which is 21.3 miles with 4,100 feet of elevation gain.
- Imogene Lake to Toxaway Lake to Alice Lake Loop which is 27.6 miles with 5,600 feet of elevation gain.
Frequently Asked Questions about Alice Lake
Where is the Alice Lake Trailhead?
The main Alice Lake Trailhead is from Tin Cup Trailhead at Pettit Lake.
How long is the hike to Alice Lake Idaho?
If hiking to Alice Lake from Pettit Lake, it is about 6.5 miles one way or 13 miles out-and-back.
Can you drive to Alice Lake Idaho?
You cannot drive to Alice Lake Idaho. The closest you can drive to Alice Lake is to drive to Pettit Lake, which is about a 6.5 mile hike away. No motor vehicles can get to Alice Lake.
Do I need bear spray in the Sawtooth Mountains?
It is not necessary to have bear spray when hiking in the Sawtooth Mountains, but check with local national forest rangers for if you have specific concerns regarding bears.
How long is the Alice Toxaway Loop?
The Toxaway Loop is 27.6 miles and it starts from the Tin Cup Trailhead at Pettit Lake.
Do you need a permit to backpack in Idaho?
Whether or not you need a permit to hike in Idaho depends on the area that you’re in. To hike in the Sawtooth Wilderness, you will need a self-issued permit which you can register for at the trailhead. If you have more questions regarding wilderness permits of the Sawtooth Wilderness, check out my Sawtooth Wilderness blog post.
Gear that You Should Have Hiking to Alice Lake
The weather changes so rapidly in the mountains, especially in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Even in the summer months, temperatures can dip down very low. I recommend always having a puffy coat with you, even if it is stuffed into the bottom of your backpack. Staying warm is an essential part of keeping safe. While this isn’t the exact coat that I have, this coat would work the same and is very lightweight.
It is really important to have a medical kit with you. You never know when you or someone in your group may become injured and you need to have basic medical supplies. I prefer to make my own with supplies that are important to me, but if you prefer to purchase a premade medical kit, this one has all the absolute essentials you’ll need.
Whether you’re hiking an out-and-back to Alice Lake or doing a loop trail, you will need a lot of water to stay hydrated. While you could maybe carry all of the water you need for the hike, it is likely that you will not have either enough room or be willing to carry the heavy weight of all the water you would require. I recommend bringing a water filter so that you can have essentially limitless water. The water filter that we use is the Sawyer Squeeze water filter.
Alice Lake is a great hike to tackle while in the Sawtooth Mountains. If you’re interested in other things to do in the Sawtooth Mountains during your visit, check out my Guide to Visiting the Sawtooth Mountains.
I hope this helps you plan your trip to the Sawtooth Wilderness. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments!
Thanks for reading!