Updated: Sep 9
Gorgeous 12 mile out and back hike to Alice Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho
When I started researching Idaho and what hikes to do I kept coming across the Alice Lake hike and the views it provided. So I knew that’s the one I wanted to do. The plan was to hike it the first day but unfortunately I got Covid the week before so we had to postpone it to later in the week which was probably better as we got used to the elevation.
Coming from Minnesota where it’s less than 1,000 ft it was a bit of a transition. I knew it would take us a while to hike 12 miles because I was still recovering from Covid. So here was our experience with the Alice Lake hike.
The start of the hike at Pettit Lake
The hike starts by walking the length of Pettit Lake which is crystal clear and gorgeous. If you just want to enjoy Pettit Lake you can park right by the lake and bring your water toys.
There are mountains in the background and the water is a bit cool. If you are doing the trail, take the road to the right towards the campsite. If you want to just enjoy the lake and not got hiking, you can go straight to access the beach.
The hike next to the lake is pretty level and easy walking. We saw mule deer and the view of the lake in the early morning was perfection.
Shortly after passing the lake, you stop to fill out a permit. Everyone needs to fill out a permit regardless if you are there for the day or multiple days.
Then you walk through a quiet and serene forest that is so green and also pretty level. Then you start seeing the mountain views and the trail starts to head uphill.
There are a few switchbacks to help with the steeper climb areas. It continually climbs uphill and the views are amazing the whole way.
The trail gets rocky and rooty and can be challenging in some areas. You are going to want to wear good hiking boots. The trail is well marked and you won't get lost.
There are 4 river crossings. We ended up taking our shoes off for 2 of the crossings but we could have made it through all the crossings with keeping our hiking boots on because you can climb across the rocks and logs.
This may be different depending on what time of year you are there. We were there at the end of July at the water was freezing. On the way back it felt good to walk my sore feet through the cold water at one of the crossings.
The trailhead starts at the Tin Cup Trailhead which is just over 7,000 ft. and you climb to 8,602 ft. The first 2 miles are fairly flat with not a lot of elevation gain. Then the next 4 miles are continually uphill.
We went slow because I knew I needed to adjust to the elevation and we drank a ton of water at every break. Make sure you bring a water filter to get enough water. Water is heavy and it would be a lot to carry all that water with you.
Once you get to the lake there are views everywhere and plenty of camping spots. There is a lake before you reach Alice Lake which you may think is the lake but keep going and then you reach Alice lake. The first lake has an island and a great view of El Capitan.
We were so tired by the time we got to Alice lake so we didn’t do a ton of exploring. You can also walk 1 more mile to get to Twin Lakes but we knew if we did that we would never have the energy to get back.
I ended up going a little further up on Alice Lake until I reached a point and then I headed back because my feet were already hurting. I could also feel my breathing was more difficult at the higher elevation.
When we checked the forecast prior to our hike there was no rain in the forecast so I left my raincoat in the car because I wanted to carry the bare minimum. So the weather in Idaho can change in an instant especially in the mountains. Thunderstorms are very common in the mountains every afternoon so I should have known better.
We only had a little over a mile left to go and my feet were so sore and my knee was not in good shape. I was barely getting by and it was 85 degrees so I had a cooling towel around my head which was perfect. It started to sprinkle and the thunder was roaring. Luckily, we did not see lightning. As we kept walking it started raining a bit harder and we would stop under some trees during the really heavy rain.
Then it started hailing and the hail got up to pea size. It hailed for about 10 minutes and the temperature dropped to about 40-45 degrees! We were freezing, soaking wet and the hail hurt as it hit us. We knew we were close because we were walking along Petitt Lake so we mustered every bit of energy we had left and kept going. It was one of the most challenging and crazy weather conditions I’ve experienced and I still can’t believe we made it to the car. We had to dodge huge puddles but we didn’t care at that point. I’ve never been so happy to get to the car. We didn’t have any extra clothes but luckily we brought extra shoes and I had my rain jacket to wear which kept me warm and we blasted the heat on the 1 hour drive back to our airbnb.
Tips and what I would do differently
Camp One or more nights
To fully enjoy the views at Alice Lake I would recommend camping one night. By the time we got to Alice Lake we didn’t have a lot of energy and it was the middle of the day so the lighting didn’t showcase the beauty of the lake to its fullest. Sunset and sunrise would have been nice to see over the lake.
If we had more time we could have hiked to Twin Lakes too which I heard is beautiful. There is a loop trail that covers other lakes and is 18 miles total. We chose to only do the one day hike to Alice.
Use Filtered Water instead of carrying so much water
We brought quite a bit of water which added a lot of weight to our packs. I probably would have carried less water and filtered it along the way because there was plenty of water at numerous spots on the trail.
Prepare and train better
My feet were really sore and my knee was in bad shape so I wish I would have done more walking and hiking prior to the hike because 12 miles is a long way to hike in one day if you aren’t used to it.
Pack a lunch
We had plenty of snacks with us but I would have loved to have something with more substance on a long hike as you use a ton of energy. We started the hike at 6 am and didn’t finish until 4 pm. That’s a long time to only have snacks to eat. We anticipated 8 hours, not 10 hours. My knee and the weather conditions slowed us down quite a bit.
Prepare for any weather conditions
Even though rain wasn’t in the forecast it ended up raining and hailing on us and we were not prepared for it. My raincoat was in the car which did not help in the situation. I would have also brought a rain cover for my backpack or a waterproof pack. Not only was I wet but everything in my backpack got wet. Luckily I had a dry bag in my pack for my camera so while it was hailing I was moving things I didn’t want wet into my dry bag. It also got very cold so we were soaked and freezing by the time we got to the car.
Pack extra shoes and clothes in the car for after the hike
Luckily we had other shoes in the car but we didn’t have a dry set of clothes to change into. It never hurts to have extra stuff in your car because you aren’t carrying it.
When hiking in the mountains I would recommend starting early because it will be cooler and you will hopefully be done early afternoon in case of storms and afternoon heat. A good part of the trail is exposed to weather and as we were going down we ran into some people that looked like they were struggling because it was hot and uphill for them.
Know your limits
Although this hike wasn’t extremely difficult in terms of terrain, it is a long hike and 4 of the 6 miles to Alice Lake are uphill. Take breaks when you need them and drink plenty of water even before you are thirsty. Originally my mom and youngest son were going to come along but they knew their limits and decided not to come. After completing the hike, I knew they made a good decision! If you aren’t used to the elevation, take it slow and know your limits.
Let your body adjust to the high elevation prior to hiking
Look for signs of altitude sickness like dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath and a headache. If you aren’t used to the elevation make sure you are drinking lots of water and do not do this hike on your first day of being in high elevation. Let your body acclimate and do something more relaxing the first day.
Overall, I would highly recommend this hike as it was challenging and rewarding. The views were amazing along the entire trail. I'd love to hear any of your tips!