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Find your own Shangri-la in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains

By Judy Zimmerman

North of Sun Valley, Idaho, the beautiful Sawtooth National Recreation Area is the largest protected wilderness areas in the West, minus the crowds of national parks. Nearly the size of Rhode Island, it is home to majestic craggy peaks, dense forests and more than 300 crystal blue alpine lakes. It is truly a “Little Switzerland” hidden in the Rockies.

My husband and I first discovered the Sawtooths more than 40 years ago when we took a year off work to see all the western states in our new, completely self-contained RV. Driving north from Ketchum, anywhere there was a little brown sign posted as a “Fishermen’s Access”, we turned onto the gravel road to find a remote, free campsite in our own Shangri-la. Anyone interested in escaping life’s frenzy can do the same today.

In the Sawtooth Mountains National Recreation Area you’ll find some of the world’s best outdoor adventures: hundreds of miles of trails for hikers, white water rafting, fishing, horseback riding, and a social life that centers around the serenity of a campfire.

In addition to the many campsites on Redfish Lake, (no reservations required) , other lodging and fine dining options include one of my favorites, the rustic Redfish Lake Lodge which often has live music. At the Lodge’s marina, there are a variety of boats to rent as well as a boat shuttle that takes hikers to popular trailheads at the far end of the lake.

Just six miles north of Redfish Lake is Stanley, population 160, where you can arrange a Class IV white water rafting trip along the Salmon River. (We opted for a three-day white water camping trip on the Snake River instead.)

Since my husband’s passing, I continue to experience new adventures in the Sawtooths. In 1992, I “took it to the limit” of my endurance by joining a six-day mountain biking tour that ended at Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch. That evening, our tired, but jovial group sprawled lazily on the ranch’s grassy slopes for a down-home barbecue and cowboy serenade while viewing the setting sun beyond the snow-caked spires.

To celebrate my 70th birthday, I again headed to the Sawtooths with fellow travel writers to add a new adventure – a perfect day of fly-fishing in one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite creeks near Sun Valley.

Just this summer, my 18-year old “grandson” and I enjoyed boating on Redfish Lake followed by a delicious dinner at the nearby 900-acre Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch, where the living history of the Old West continues to mingle with the freedom and serenity of its breathtaking natural beauty.

If You Go



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