Hiking to Alice lake, hidden among the beautiful Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, is a perfect alpine adventure! With sparkling, teal-colored waters and the jagged peak of Idaho’s El Capitan in the background, this serene alpine lake is an outdoor lover’s paradise. The hike to Alice Lake is a moderate 12-mile round trip journey with fairly mild elevation gain, making it quite accessible despite the longer distance. In the early mornings, the mountains cast a crystal clear reflection over the perfectly still waters of Alice Lake, creating a stunning and serene picture opportunity. If you are traveling to central Idaho, visiting the Sawtooth National Forest and hiking to Alice Lake is a can’t miss! In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to plan the perfect Idaho adventure to Alice Lake.
- Alice Lake, Idaho Hike Details
- How difficult is the hike to Alice Lake?
- Parking and getting to the trailhead
- Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains
- When to hike to Alice Lake
- Where to stay
- Tips for a great hike
- What to pack for hiking to Alice Lake
Hike details | Alice Lake in Idaho
- Hiking distance | 12 miles
- Elevation gain | 1600 feet
- Total time | 6 – 9 hours
- Epic-ness rating | 8
- Difficulty | moderate
Find this hike on AllTrails: Alice Lake, Twin Lakes, Edith Lake Loop
Please note: AllTrails does not have a designated page for Alice Lake. The above AllTrails link refers to a longer loop trail, which includes Alice Lake. To hike just to Alice Lake, you’ll start out going clockwise on this loop, hike about 6 miles to Alice Lake and then retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains
Alice Lake is located in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest. With distinctly jagged peaks, these unique mountains certainly live up to their namesake! There are countless other incredible hikes and beautiful alpine lakes in the surrounding area, making a trip to the Sawtooth Mountains well worth a weekend or week long (or longer!) visit.
The Sawtooth Mountains are located in central Idaho, about 3.5 hours from Idaho Falls and 3 hours from Boise.
Always remember to leave no trace!
The Alice Lake hike has become increasingly popular in recent years, meaning it’s especially important to do your part to help preserve this fragile ecosystem for generations to come. A few key things to remember include:
- Always stay on the trail. This area features beautiful wildflowers during the spring. Going off-trail damages the plants and accelerates erosion around the lake.
- Store your food properly – this is black bear country! Never leave food unattended and avoid leaving behind crumbs or food waste. If staying overnight, be sure to bring a bear can or bear bag to hang your food. Additionally, never feed the animals (no matter how cute!).
- Pack out all trash and waste. If you are backpacking, you must bury human waste at least 6-8 inches deep OR use a WAG bag. Toilet paper should always be carried out, not buried or left behind.
- Be considerate of others. That means keeping your dog on leash during peak season and your noise levels low.
- Fires are not permitted in the backcountry at Alice Lake.
Remember to Leave No Trace. Pack out what you pack in, stay on trail, be well-prepared, leave nothing behind, take only photos and memories with you, treat the area with respect and help preserve this beautiful spot for generations to come.
How difficult is the hike to Alice Lake?
While the hike to Alice Lake is long, it is not particularly strenuous gaining only about 1600 feet over the 6 mile climb up to the lake. The rocky switchbacks as you approach the lake will get your heart rate up, but the majority of the hike is fairly gradual.
The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the hike is the five stream crossings you will need to complete.
Tin Cup Trailhead
The hike begins from the Tin Cup Trailhead in Sawtooth National Forest, located just past the Petit Lake campground. The Alice Lake trailhead is about 30 minutes from Stanley, Idaho and an hour from Ketchum and Sun Valley.
This trailhead is shared with several popular hiking and backpacking routes. Parking is limited and fills up quickly. Make sure you get an early start to ensure that you are able to secure a parking spot.
The first mile of the hike follows along the shore of the beautiful Petit Lake, starting off at water level and gradually gaining elevation for views looking down over the lake. In the morning, still air leaves the water perfectly calm and, if you’re are lucky, you will be able to see a mirror image of the mountains reflected in the pristine water. Even more reason to get an early start!
At just over a mile into the hike, the trail diverges from the lake and you enter a forested section with minimal views over the next few miles.
After leaving Petit Lake behind, this is where the fun begins! The trail meanders through the forest, following Petit Creek the entire way from Petit Lake to Alice Lake. You will cross the stream a total of five times before reaching your final destination.
The depth of the water will vary by time of year and recent precipitation, but expect to wade through calf to ankle deep water. At some of the stream crossings, there are strategically placed logs that allow you to cross without getting your feet wet. However, at others you’ll likely need to get your feet wet to cross safely.
We opted to swap out our boots for Chacos whenever the crossing required submerging our feet to keep our boots and socks dry for the rest of the hike, which certainly added extra time. If it’s a warm day and soggy socks don’t bother you, you can save some time by leaving your shoes on.
We highly recommend trekking poles for extra stability to help you through the stream crossings. If you prefer to keep your boots dry, sturdy water shoes are also a must!
“Mini lakes” before Alice Lake
At 5.2 miles into the hike, after navigating the five stream crossings and tackling a few series of switchbacks, you’ll catch your first glimpse of two small lakes. Your initial reaction may be to feel disappointed. Certainly you didn’t hike all this way for these “lakes” hardly bigger than a pond?
Fear not! These “mini lakes” are just a precursor to the much larger Alice Lake awaiting you about half a mile ahead.
After passing the “mini lakes” continue for about half a mile until you reach your final destination, Alice Lake!
The lake is huge, with a few small islands dotting it’s waters. While Alice Lake is a popular destination, there is plenty of room to spread out along it’s shores. You can even hike all the way around the perimeter of Alice Lake to find the perfect slice of solitude to relax and enjoy the breathtaking views.
The beauty of Alice Lake’s crystal clear waters is rivaled only by the impressive jagged peak behind it, known as El Capitan of Idaho. El Capitan rises to an altitude of 9,900 feet, and its steep face is a popular destination for climbers.
Optional Add-on: Twin Lakes
If have the time and you’re up for an extra challenge, you can continue your hike approximately 1 mile from Alice Lake to nearby Twin Lakes. As the name implies, Twin Lakes is a pair of side by side alpine lakes, whose beauty gives Alice Lake a run for its money.
These lakes are harder to reach and thus likely to be less crowded than Alice Lake, so if you’re looking for some solitude be sure to add Twin Lakes to your itinerary.
Hiking to Twin Lakes will add about 2 miles and 300 feet of elevation gain roundtrip to your hike. There is also an incredible viewpoint from the pass overlooking the lakes, that you can reach with a strenuous 1 mile hike gaining 900 feet of elevation beyond Twin Lakes.
Reaching the pass as a day hike would be challenging, so plan ahead and start early if you intend to do so.
Once you’ve spent sufficient time enjoying the beauty of Alice Lake, return the way you came to get back to the Tin Cup Trailhead. Remember you’ve still got a 6 mile return hike, with several stream crossings, so be sure to leave yourself enough time to get back before dark.
Planning your Alice Lake Hike
Where to stay nearby
The charming little mountain town of Stanley, Idaho makes for a great place to stay before or after hiking to Alice Lake. Here you’ll find a few hotel and cabin options, quaint restaurants and coffee shops and convenience stores to fuel up on essentials.
Stanley is located just minutes from several trailheads, and about 30 mins from the Tin Cup Trailhead for Alice Lake.
The Tin Cup Trailhead is located just past the Petit Lake campground, making it a very convenient spot to pitch your tent before embarking on your hike to Alice Lake the next morning.
The campground offers 9 single and 3 double sites, which are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Due to the limited number of spots, the campground typically fills up early in the day, particularly on weekends.
If you aren’t lucky enough to snag a site at Petit Lake campground, dispersed camping is available on several side roads off Forest Road 250 (the road leading from I75 to Tin Cup trailhead). Please note that fires are not permitted in dispersed camping zones.
Camping is permitted along the shores of Alice Lake, making it a an incredible spot for a backpacking trip! There are many beautiful camping spots with views of the lake. However, keep in mind this is a very popular spot so as usual, arrive early to secure a prime spot.
Advance permits are not required for backpacking – just a fill out a Wilderness Permit on the trail.
When to hike Idaho’s Alice Lake
As with most trails in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, the best time to hike Alice Lake is summer through early fall (June through October).
During the spring and early summer months, the trail may still be snow-covered. In the spring, runoff from snow melt causes water levels to rise, meaning the stream crossings may become dangerous.
In the Sawtooth Mountains, the first snow typically falls in mid-October, but obviously this can vary by year. Keep an eye on recent precipitation and weather conditions to decide whether to take on the hike to Alice Lake.
Alice Lake is located in the Sawtooth Wilderness, meaning that Wilderness permits are required for both overnight trips and day use. There is a box with permits located along the trail, so be sure to fill one out on your way.
Are dogs allowed?
Dogs are allowed on the trail to Alice Lake, but must be kept on a leash during the peak summer months (July 1 through Labor Day).
Tips for great hike
Lastly, we will leave you with a few tips to make you hike to Alice Lake go smoothly!
- Don’t forget to fill out a Wilderness Permit, even if you aren’t backpacking – they are required for both day use and overnight. Rangers do patrol the trails and you may be asked to show your permit.
- Pack bear spray. Although the trail to Alice Lake is well-trafficked, there are black bears in the area. Do not leave food unattended and bring bear spray to be safe. The are no brown/grizzly bears.
- Get an early start. The trailhead parking fills up and the lake gets crowded, so it’s best to get an early start to avoid the hassle of searching for parking and find a little solitude at Alice Lake.
- Take a detour to Twin Lakes, if you are up for a 14 mile round trip hike – it’s less crowded and totally worth it!
- Bring a pair of water shoes to change into for stream crossings. Hiking poles will also make crossing the streams safer and easier.
What to pack for hiking Alice Lake in Idaho
Good gear can make all the difference hiking in the Sawtooths. Below we’ve compiled a list of our absolute must haves for day hiking – we use these items every time we hike and couldn’t live without them.
Essentials for everyone
GPS | Garmin InReach Mini
The one piece of gear you hope you never need to use, but is worth its weight in peace of mind. We always carry our Garmin In-reach Mini in case of emergency in areas without cell service and it gives us (and our parents) peace of mind. It can also be used to simply let a loved one know you’ve arrived at your destination.
Bear Spray | Counter Assault
Since there are bears in the area, carrying bear spray with you is a must. Each person in the group should have their own can and carry it within arm’s reach (ie. attached to your hip – it’s nearly worthless packed away in your backpack)
Water Filter | Katadyn BeFree 1.0L Water Filter
There is plenty of water along the trail so we highly recommend packing a water filter to save some water weight. The Katadyn BeFree is small and couldn’t be easier to use.
Bathing suit | Is there anything better than laying in the sun on a warm summer day beside a beautiful alpine lake? The water is cold, but taking a plunge feels great after long day of hiking!
Compact towel | PackTowl lightweight towel
This compact lightweight towel packs down small, making it great for carrying on backpacking trips and perfect for drying off after taking a dip in the lake!
His + Hers
HERS | Danner Women’s Mountain 600 Waterproof Hiking Boot
Comfortable, durable, lightweight and even a little bit stylish, I love my Danner boots! From long distance backpacking trips to quick day hikes, these have never let me down.
HIS | Salomon Ultra 4 Mid GTX
These are more like trail running shoes with additional ankle support, than the clunky, heavy hiking boots of days past. These are super light, uber functional, water resistant, and breathable.
HERS | CamelBak Women’s Helena 20 with Hydration Pack
Comfortable, lightweight and just big enough to hold the essentials without weighing you down. I used to wear a universal backpack and always had bad back pain while hiking – having a women’s pack that actually fits is a serious gamechanger!
HIS | CamelBak Rim Runner 22 with Hydration Pack
Simple, straight forward design without the bells and whistles to weigh you down. With a dedicated water reservoir pocket, there is plenty of room for your hiking essentials and no risk of leaking water damage.
HIS | Cotopaxi Fuego Men’s Down Jacket
While not as technical as some other down jackets, you can’t beat the combination of price, style, and function. This jacket is very similar to the super popular Patagonia Down sweater, but comes in at a cheaper price point and is about one ounce lighter.
HERS | Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody Women’s Down Hoodie
Lightweight and incredibly warm with 850 fill down, if you hate being cold (like me) this is the jacket for you! The quality is top notch and totally worth the extra warmth. It’s my all-time favorite women’s hiking jacket.
HERS: Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles
I had always thought trekking poles were silly until one very steep, exposed, slippery hike in Death Valley left me feeling quite insecure even with solid tread on my boots. Immediately after I bought my Black diamonds and haven’t hiked without them since.
HIS: Black Diamond Distance FLZ Trekking Poles
I was a late convert to the trekking-pole life, but have not regretted my decision after taking the plunge with these Black Diamond’s. I bought the adjustable poles because I was between sizes, but I almost always have them set to 120 cm.
Other useful resources
If you enjoyed this article, we think you may also be interested in these:
- Sawtooth | How to Backpack the Stunning Alice Toxaway Loop
- Southern Idaho | How to Visit Blue Heart Springs: Idaho’s Blue Lagoon
- Southern Idaho | How to Find Perrine Coulee Falls
- Southern Idaho | How to Kayak to Shoshone Falls in Southern Idaho
- Grand Teton | Complete Guide to Hiking Delta Lake in Grand Teton
- Grand Teton | 18 Best Hikes in Grand Teton National Park
- Montana | Complete Guide to Hiking Cracker Lake Trail in Glacier
We hope you love the hike to Alice Lake as much as we do! Have you visited Alice Lake or the Sawtooths in Idaho? Let us know what you think in the comments below!