on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains

Tim Peterson

Tim Peterson

I have been retired for 7 years, living in a 5th wheel RV and moving about the western USA. Skiing and photography are my 2 hobbies and I am slowly getting better at both.


Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains are a small cluster of rugged granite peaks and crystal clear lakes, linked together by forests of pine. They are a favourite of outdoor enthusiasts of many kinds; day hikers, backpackers, paddle boarders and kayakers. mountain bikers, horseback riders, fishermen, photographers, etc. The mountains’ snowmelt feeds the rivers of central Idaho; the area’s main and only town, Stanley, is a mecca for rafters and kayakers. And for those seeking serene mountain panoramas, and the ambience of a small mountain town, there is that too.


The Sawtooths are located in south central Idaho, in the Sawtooth National Forest. They are about the junction of Hwy 21 and Hwy 75. near the town of Stanley. ( population 68 in 2017 ) Twin Falls, Idaho lies 143 miles south of the Sawtooths, and Boise is located 132 miles to the southwest.


As you would expect from a high mountain locale, the temperatures are cooler than average. Summer highs average 79 degrees with a nighttime low of 36 degrees on average. During the winter months, Stanley is consistently one of the coldest places in Idaho. Keep your light coat or sweater handy, and you should be comfortable from May to October. It is a dry climate, the average rainfall is only 12.2 inches per year and snowfall averages 76 inches.

Photo Experiences

There are abundant photo ops in a relatively small area. The views begin about 5 miles west of Stanley, at Stanley Lake. This large ( for the area ) mountain lake is overlooked by McGown Peak, a large pointed buttress of granite rock. Several miles closer to town is a pull off that gives access a tremendous panorama of pole fence and sagebrush stretching out to a wide expanse of granite peaks topped much of the year with snow. Just across the road is a wide view looking down on a small tree-lined creek meandering thru a grassy valley. This creek is lined with the pole fencing characteristic of the area to keep the cattle out of the stream. About a mile west of Stanley is another paved pull off. A large open meadow area with a pole fence meandering back and forth leads your eye to another beautiful group of peaks. At dusk, the light on these mountains makes for a striking photo.

In town, a short drive up a small hill to the school and airport leads to another great panorama. Here is the Sawtooth Valley Meditation Chapel, a log cabin with large windows facing a scene that is fittingly peaceful and serene.

From the highway junction south, it is just a continuum of photo worthy views. My favourite is at Little Redfish Lake. An early morning stop yielded a still lake view with an impressive line of mountain peaks reflected in the water. Further down this same well marked side road, you can walk down to the waterline and photograph Redfish Lake with an impressive pine covered rock ridge on the other side of the water.

Back out on Hwy 75 headed south, it is difficult to drive because your eyes are drawn to the views you are driving by. By carefully pulling over to the side of the road or using access roads, I took picture after picture in the first 20 or so miles. My Canon 24-105L was set from 24mm to 70mm for most of these moderate distance photos. When you have travelled 25 miles, a road heads west to Alturas Lake. Alturas is another photogenic mountain lake with a large granite ridge backdrop. Out on the highway again, just a few miles further south is another lake, Pettit Lake. It sits in a similar setting as Alturas Lake. Past Pettit Lake, the road climbs and winds up a hill to Galena Summit. You’ll find a large overlook there, named for Frank and Bethine Church. (Frank Church was a well liked Senator from Idaho; the Frank Church Wilderness area is also named after him ) Here you can take in the quintessential view of the Sawtooths. You see them extend west into unroaded areas, and north all the way to Stanley. This view shows you clearly how rugged these bare granite peaks are, and the limited area they cover. It is 32 miles from Stanley to this panoramic opportunity.

Best Time To Visit

Summer can be quite busy in the Stanley area, with trucks and trailers stacked tall with river rafts parked along the roads; the parking lot of the gas station/convenience store can get quite congested. I was visiting during the 3rd week of June. I would suggest a little earlier or wait till after Labor Day if crowds turn you off. ( the area starts shutting down in mid-September when the temperatures drop ) For more information about the area, I would suggest the Chamber of Commerce’s website. It is very well done and full of the knowledge you will need to plan a visit.

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