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The Alice Lake hike in Idaho was one of the best day hikes that I did last year – in fact, it was one of the best day hikes I have probably ever done.
This hike to Alice Lake in Idaho has it all. Stunning Rocky Mountain scenery, gorgeous lakes with crystal clear water of vivid shades of blue and green, lots of mountain wildlife, delicious wild berries, and it was enough of a challenge that I felt pleasantly exhausted afterward, but not shattered.
If you are planning on doing one big day hike in Idaho, I highly recommend that it be the Alice Lake trail in Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness.
I was meant to visit Alice Lake, Idaho as part of the three-day Alice-Toxaway-Edith Lakes loop, but unfortunately, Toby wasn’t feeling well so we didn’t make it to Alice Lake on that backpacking trip.
I had heard that Alice Lake was the most beautiful of all three lakes and I didn’t want to miss it, so I decided to do the Alice Lake hike by itself a few days after our backpacking trip – and I am so glad I did!
Hiking the Alice Lake Trail in Idaho
We drove from Ketchum and I hate getting up super early so I started the trail at around 9.30 am on a beautiful sunny day in September.
The first part of the trail is mostly flat through a conifer forest and follows the shoreline of Pettit Lake. Very soon after starting the hike, you will come to a trail junction – make sure to take the trail to the left that is marked Alice Lake – the other trail goes to Toxaway Lake.
After hiking for 1.2 miles, you will reach the wilderness boundary and you’ll need to fill in a permit form, attach one part to your bag, and put the other section in the box. There is no fee but it is important to complete this form.
From this point, you will start slowly ascending through the forest, hiking beside a river.
This Alice Lake hike has four river crossings, most of them being in this first section of the hike. I had no problem crossing on rocks and tree trunks but I did the hike in September and I expect the water level will be higher in late spring/early summer, so keep that in mind and take some river shoes.
After hiking through the forest for a couple of miles, you will start to get above the treeline and that is when the views of the surrounding mountains really get good.
Over the next couple of miles, it gets steeper, but never excessively so. There are switchbacks that will take you through rock piles where pikas live – I saw a few scrambling among the rocks when I was hiking through, with epic views of the jagged Sawtooth Mountains.
The last mile or so of the Alice Lake trail enters the forest again, and before you know it, you will get your first glimpses of Alice Lake!
Arriving at Alice Lake, Idaho
I really liked the first part of the lake that you will come to for its tree-covered islands. But as you continue following the lake around, it gets even more spectacular.
Alice Lake is a stunning sight. With translucent blue-green waters, and an imposing peak, known as Idaho’s “El Capitan” rising above the lake, it really is an impressive place.
I found a rocky perch overlooking the lake and spent an hour just resting and eating my lunch – marveling at the beauty before me.
It got a little chilly so I didn’t swim but I would have if the day was hotter – I swam in Edith Lake, Toxaway Lake, and Farley Lake on our backpacking trip a couple of days previous and loved it. It is chilly but very doable and super refreshing on a hot day.
Continuing on To Twin Lakes
I was feeling pretty good so I decided to hike the extra mile each way to Twin Lakes. It was uphill all the way on a pretty trail that overlooks Alice Lake, before reaching the turn-off to Twin Lakes.
I explored part of the foreshore of both lakes and dipped my toes in the water. Like Alice Lake, Twins Lakes are also beautiful and definitely worth the extra short hike to get here.
There are a lot fewer people around Twin Lakes too – I only saw one other person during my time there.
If seeing Twin Lakes and the gorgeous views over Alice Lake weren’t worth it enough, I had one of my best wildlife spots ever on the way back down to Alice Lake.
As I was hiking along, I noticed a fox just sitting there looking at me off to the side of the trail.
And it wasn’t just any fox, it was a cross fox – a mix of red and silver fox. This beautiful fox must have been curious because it just sat there, only about ten feet away from me, and just watched me. I wish I got a better photo but I was just spellbound and didn’t want to ruin the moment.
This was a definite highlight of this beautiful hike for me, although there were so many highlights!
The Hike Back From Alice Lake in Idaho
The hike back to the trailhead from Alice Lake was pretty uneventful, and the forest section of the hike definitely felt longer (that’ll happen after you have hiked over ten miles!)
Despite a bit of soreness in my legs and feet, I finished the hike feeling energized and happy. I got to experience three stunning lakes, I saw pikas, lots of squirrels and chipmunks, and a cross fox, and I had a great workout – I couldn’t have asked for more in a day hike.
In the end, it took me about seven hours including stops to complete the Alice Lake hike. I am not a super-fast hiker and I stopped a lot to take photos so this is very doable as a day hike, even if you are a slow hiker.
Now it was time for pizza and beer at Papa Brunee’s in Stanley to celebrate a successful day hiking the Alice Lake trail!
Logistics For the Alice Lake Hike
Getting to the Alice Lake Trail
The Alice Lake Trail starts at the Tin Cup Hiker Trailhead. It’s a large car park but it fills up quickly on weekends in fall and summer so make sure to get there early.
The Tin Cup Hiker Trailhead is located two miles off Highway 75, the turnoff is 18.5 miles south of Stanley. You can find it on Google Maps.
Difficulty of the Alice Lake Hike
Moderate. It is a long and gradual ascent so it’s not super challenging, but it is long.
Length of the Alice Lake Hike
12 miles/19.3km or 14 miles/22.5km if you add on Twin Lakes (you should!)
Elevation Gain of the Alice Lake Trail
1,600 feet/488 meters to Alice Lake and 1,850 feet/564 meters to Twin Lakes.
Tips For the Alice Lake Trail
- If you are traveling with a group of more than eight people, you will need to get a permit by contacting a Forest Service Office. Groups of less than eight people can just get the permit at the Wilderness boundary as described above.
- If you have the time, camp at Alice Lake – either as part of the Alice-Toxaway loop, or just for a night before heading back down. There are no designated spots but make sure you are 100 feet from the trail, the lake, and streams/rivers.
- Pack out all your trash – leave no trace.
- Black bears have been spotted in the area so make sure to not leave any food or scented items in your tent if you do stay overnight – hang a food bag up and out from a tree branch so a bear can’t reach it from the ground or by climbing the tree.
- If you are into fishing, you can do so at Alice Lake but if you are over 14 you will need to pre-arrange an Idaho fishing license. Brook trout are the most common fish you will find there.
- Hike on a weekday if you can, to avoid crowds and parking issues.
- The best time to hike would be from mid-June to mid-September – I hiked to Alice Lake at the beginning of September and had perfect weather.
- I highly recommend soaking in one of the natural hot springs in Idaho after your Alice Lake hike – Boat Box and Sunbeam are both just outside of Stanley.
What to Take For the Alice Lake Hike
The Cotopaxi Luzon is an awesome backpack choice for day hikes, and is lightweight and will pack down easily when you’re not using it.
Pack a CamelBak to make it easier to hydrate while you are hiking and to store lots of water in a lightweight way. There are also numerous water sources on the Alice Lake hike so you can take a water filter and just filter as you go to keep the weight down – I love my GRAYL Geopress Water Purifier.
Take some trekking poles to help with the downhill and river crossings – your knees will thank you! And make sure to wear hiking boots rather than regular trainers for this hike.
Pack a raincoat in case it rains – which is common on summer afternoons, and a thermal base layer, because you never know when the weather will turn cold in the mountains – even in summer!
Where to Stay Near the Alice Lake Hike
If you have a tent or vehicle to sleep in, you can free camp off the road that leads up to the trailhead (not at the trailhead car park) – that’s what we did.
Otherwise, there is a campground right by the trailhead, the Pettit Lake Campground, but it is first-come-first-served and there aren’t a lot of spots.
If you don’t want to camp, stay in nearby Stanley where there are numerous accommodation options.
We stayed at the historic Sawtooth Hotel after the Alice Lake hike and I really liked the log cabin vibe – it’s also one of the cheapest places to stay that is right in town. The room was small but comfortable, with homey decor and shared bathrooms. There is also a restaurant onsite.
Mountain Village Resort is probably the most well-known place to stay in Stanley and it has numerous room types and its own hot spring onsite that has spectacular mountain views. Stanley High County Inn is another popular option in town.
If you want to rent your own cabin, Triangle C Cabins is a fantastic option, with cute and rustic-looking log cabins with modern amenities like private bathrooms, fridges, and flatscreen TVs.
There are also a lot of vacation rentals in the Stanley area. These are the most affordable options in Stanley that are also highly rated:
- Studio Apartment on Valley Creek with Amazing Sawtooth Views
- Updated Small Rustic Cabin With Views of the Sawtooth Mountains
- Clean and Cozy Two-Bedroom
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