Perfect for a one-night backpacking trip, the hike to Baron Lakes shows off the iconic jagged peaks and crystal clear alpine lakes that Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains are known for! If you’re looking to spend a quiet night under the stars in the Sawtooth Wilderness, put Baron Lakes at the top of your adventure bucket list. In this article, we’ll help you plan an unforgettable backpacking trip and show why we love the Baron Lakes in Idaho!
- Baron Lakes Overview
- How difficult is backpacking Baron Lakes
- Where to camp
- Itinerary options
- When is the best time to backpack Baron Lakes
- Backpacking permits
- Sawtooth Wilderness backcountry rules
- Baron Lakes backpacking trip details
- Redfish Lake shuttle
- Baron Lakes Loop packing list
Backpacking Baron Lakes in Idaho
- Hiking distance | 16.8 miles
- Elevation gain | 3,600 feet
- Epic-ness rating | 7.5
- Difficulty | Moderate (for a backpacking trip, would be a hard day hike)
- Permits Required? | Yes (available on trail)
- Permit Fees | Free
- Designated campsites? | No
- Trip length | 1 night/2 days or 2 nights/3 days
- Dogs allowed? | Yes
- Fires permitted? | Yes (must use fire pan or blanket, not permitted within 200 feet of Alpine Lake)
Find this hike on AllTrails: Redfish Lake to Baron Lake
Nestled among the aptly-named jagged peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains, the Baron Lakes are the perfect spot to set up camp for a one or two-night backpacking trip! This out-and-back hike is fairly challenging, gaining about 3,600 feet of elevation over 16.8 miles round trip.
To start the hike, you’ll need to take a shuttle boat across Redfish Lake. While it’s also possible to hike all the way around Redfish Lake, this will add about 10 miles roundtrip.
Advanced reservations are not required, but wilderness permits must be filled out at the trailhead for overnight trips. The hike to Baron Lakes could also be completed as a long day hike for the more ambitious hiker!
Significantly less crowded than other popular backpacking routes in the Sawtooths (like the Alice-Toxaway Loop), you can expect to encounter a few other backpackers but relatively few day hikers on the trail to Baron Lakes.
Before we get into the details, it’s important to note that there are four lakes we’ll be talking about throughout the article.
- Redfish Lake: The trailhead for the hike is located at Redfish Lake.
- Alpine Lake: The first lake you’ll come across (not including Redfish) on the hike. You can camp here if you’re doing a two-night trip.
- Upper Baron Lake: Once you get over the final pass, Upper Baron Lake is the first lake you’ll see. It’s a little smaller than Baron Lake but nearly just as beautiful.
- Baron Lake: The nestled below Upper Baron Lake, Baron Lake is the most final destination of this hike and the best place to camp along the route.
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.
Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains
The Baron Lakes are located in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest. With distinctly jagged peaks, these unique mountains certainly live up to their name!
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.
How difficult is the hike to Baron Lakes?
Completed as a one-night trip, Baron Lakes is a moderate to challenging backpacking trip. With several series of relentless switchbacks, your legs will certainly be burning by the time you drop your pack at Baron Lake! That being said, the trail is well maintained, easy to follow, and never terribly steep.
We found that the most challenging part of the hike was actually on day two, as hiking back up the the far side of Baron Pass is the steepest part of the journey. With your legs already sore from the previous day’s trek, starting your second morning with a climb up Baron Pass feels daunting!
For a more leisurely backpacking trip, you can stretch the hike out over three days and two nights, camping one night at Alpine Lake and one night at Baron Lakes.
Baron Lakes could also be visited as a long day hike using the Redfish Lake shuttle, but it would certainly be a challenging endeavor.
Where to camp at Baron Lakes
There are no designated campsites at Baron Lakes or Alpine Lake. That being said, you should look for a previously used, flat piece of ground that is at least 100 feet from any trails or water sources to pitch your tent and avoid disturbing the plant life.
The best campsites are located at the northern end of Baron Lake. There are also a handful of spots between Baron Lake and Upper Baron Lake. There are plenty of campsites around the two lakes, but this is a popular backpacking destination, so if you want to get the best spot, you’ll need to arrive early.
Barons Lakes can be backpacked as a quick one night/two day trip (this is what we did) or stretched out over multiple nights for a more relaxing experience.
Option 1 | One night at Baron Lake
Day 1 | hike from Redfish Lake to Baron Lakes
Night 1 | camp at Baron Lake or Upper Baron Lake
Day 2 | return to Redfish Lake
If you have just one night, complete the trip as a simple one-night out and back hike to Baron Lakes. We’d recommend camping at Baron Lake, but it’s also possible to camp between the two lakes or closer to Upper Baron Lake.
Backpacking Baron Lakes in one night makes for a challenging, but quite manageable, two-day trip. We started our hike early the first morning and arrived at Baron Lake by 1:00pm giving us the entire afternoon to hang out by the water. The next morning we woke up for sunrise, explored the lakes a bit more, and then made our way back over Baron Pass and returned to Redfish Lake by early afternoon.
Option 2 | Two nights
Day 1 | hike to Alpine Lake
Night 1 | camp at Alpine Lake
Day 2 | hike from Alpine Lake to Baron Lake
Night 2 | camp at Baron Lake
Day 3 | return to Redfish Lake
If you are looking for a more leisurely backpacking trip, you can stretch the hike out over two nights and three days. On the first night, camp at Alpine Lake. On the second day, make your way over Baron Pass and camp at Baron Lake. Then return to Redfish Lake on the third day.
When to backpack Baron Lakes in Idaho
Like most hikes in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, the best time to backpack Baron Lakes is summer through early fall (typically late June through September).
During the spring and early summer months, the trail may still be snow-covered and Baron Pass could be a bit dangerous. Typically most trails in the Sawtooths are passable by late June, but this can vary a ton each year depending on winter weather conditions. Always keep an eye on recent precipitation and weather conditions to decide whether to take on this backpacking trip.
Remember that even during the summer months, nights in the Sawtooths get cold, so be sure to pack a warm sleeping bag and extra layers.
Advance permits are not required for backpacking at Baron Lakes – just fill out a Wilderness Permit at the trailhead. The wilderness permit station is found at Redfish Inlet, just past the campground.
Sawtooth Wilderness backcountry rules
Please abide by the following guidelines while backpacking in the Sawtooth Wilderness to help keep the area clean and wild for everyone:
- Ground fires are NOT permitted in the Sawtooth Wilderness. You must use a fire blanket or pan if you wish to have a campfire. Fires of any kind are also prohibited within 200 feet of Alpine Lake. Please check current fire restrictions, as bans are often in place during the summer to help prevent wildfires.
- There are no designated campsites at Baron Lakes but look for spots that have obviously been used previously. Never pitch your tent on green vegetation.
- There are black bears in the Sawtooth Wilderness, so be prepared to store your food and any scented items appropriately (ie. toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, etc) – either in a bear can or rope to hang a bear bag.
- Bathe and wash dishes and laundry at least 150 feet from streams and lakes.
- All human waste must be buried at least 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet from any water sources. In popular areas like Baron Lakes, it’s recommended that you carry a WAG bag and pack out your waste instead of burying it to help preserve the area.
- Pack out all toilet paper and other trash. Contrary to popular belief, toilet paper does NOT decompose quickly! It can between 1 to 3 years to decompose completely. Leaving your toilet paper behind damages this fragile ecosystem, poses a danger to the animals who live here, and impairs the experience for other hikers.
- During the winter through early summer, the ground is often frozen making it impossible to dig a hole, so you must carry a WAG bag and pack out human waste.
- Dogs are allowed on the trail to Baron Lakes, but must be kept on a leash during the peak summer months (July 1 through Labor Day).
Please follow these wilderness rules and do your part to help keep this beautiful area clean for everyone!
Baron Lakes Idaho trip details
In this section, we’ll go into detail on each section of the Baron Lakes backpacking trip so you know what to expect from the hike.
Parking and getting to the trailhead
The hike to Baron Lakes begins from Redfish Lake, a busy area with a lodge, several campgrounds, a marina and small beach.
If you are backpacking Baron Lakes, you must park in the designated overnight parking area, also called the Redfish Lake Trailhead parking. The overnight parking lot is about a quarter-mile walk to the Redfish Marina.
If you’re visiting Baron Lakes as a day hike, there is a smaller parking area closer to the lodge that you can use instead.
Keep in mind that there are several popular trails that leave from the area, so parking in both lots tends to fill up. Arrive early to ensure that you are able to easily get a parking spot!
Redfish Lake shuttle
To start the hike up to Baron Lakes, you’ll have to make it to the opposite end of Redfish Lake. To get there you have two options:
- Hike about 5 miles around the shore of Redfish Lake
- Take a boat shuttle across Redfish Lake from Redfish Marina
Since it’s already a long hike and we only had one day, we opted to take the shuttle to save some time and energy. The shuttle costs $16 per person one way, or $22 per person round trip. Dogs cost an extra $3. Cash or credit card are accepted.
The ride across the lake took about 10 minutes. The first shuttle of the day leaves at 7am and runs through 7pm. We arrived around 7:30am and hopped right on a shuttle with no problem. However, when we returned the next day around noon, people were lined up on the dock waiting for the shuttle.
The shuttle will depart anytime there are at least two people ready to go, so if you are traveling solo you may have to wait a few minutes for another person or group to arrive.
For the return trip, you’ll be asked to schedule time for pickup from the far side of the lake: either 7am, 9am, noon, 3pm or 7pm.
After hiking or taking the shuttle across Redfish Lake, you’ll arrive at Redfish Inlet, where there is a small primitive campground. Make your way through the campground until you reach the permit station.
Don’t forget to fill out a wilderness permit, brush up on the Sawtooth Wilderness regulations, and drop the white slip in the box before you set off.
Starting the hike
After filling out a permit, the trail starts out at a very gradual incline over the first 3.5 miles, gaining just 1,000 feet of elevation. During this section of the journey, you’ll mostly be hiking through the forest, but you’ll pass through a few open meadows with views of the jagged Sawtooth peaks above.
3.5 miles into the hike is where the real work begins! The trail takes a sharp right turn and begins switchbacking up the side of the mountain as you head towards Alpine Lake.
After about 2 miles and another 1,000 feet of elevation gain, you’ll arrive at the shores of Alpine Lake!
While not the most beautiful alpine lake you’ll see on this trip, Alpine Lake is a beauty nonetheless! With crystal clear teal waters and a jagged mountain backdrop, Alpine Lake makes the perfect spot to take a lunch break or pitch your tent for the night.
There are plenty of spots to camp near the lake. We noticed a lot of dead trees in the area, so perhaps think twice about where you setup camp.
From Alpine Lake, return to the main trail and head towards Baron Pass. From Alpine Lake, it’s a total of about 1.5 miles and 700 more feet of elevation gain until you reach the top of Baron Pass.
Along the way, you’ll pass by a few smaller lakes and the views of the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance will start to open up as you make your way above the trees.
The trail heading up the eastern side of Baron Pass is well-maintained and never gets too steep. Before you know it, you’ll be standing at the top of Baron Pass soaking in stunning Sawtooth views! From the western side of the pass, you’ll be treated to an amazing view of Baron Lakes below – your home for the night!
Take a moment to soak in the view and celebrate the fact that you are finished with elevation gain for the day! We found that the best views overlooking Baron Lakes are actually from the trail on the way down the other side of the pass, rather than the top of the pass which is obscured by trees.
Upper Baron Lake
From Baron Pass, continue along the trail heading down towards the lakes. This is the steepest section of the hike, so take your time as you wind through the many switchbacks enjoying unimpeded views the entire way.
The first lake you’ll come upon is Upper Baron Lake. The rocky shoreline offers plenty of spots to stop for a break and hang out by the lake. That being said, the shore is a bit steep and covered in large boulders, meaning there aren’t a ton of great campsites at Upper Baron Lake.
We’d recommend continuing to the north shore of Baron Lake to set up camp. There are also a few nice camping spots on the strip of land that divides Upper Baron Lake and Baron Lake.
After passing Upper Baron Lake, the trail continues further downhill to Baron Lake. Continue until you reach the end of the lake, where you’ll find several awesome spots to pitch your tent! Make sure to look for a previously disturbed spot and be respectful of other campers when deciding where to camp.
There are a few really obvious campsites right when you arrive at Baron Lake. We continued past this area a little way and found a perfect spot that was more private but still offered amazing views and easy access to the lake.
We spent the afternoon relaxing on the shore, took an ice-cold swim in Baron Lake, and enjoyed a peaceful sunset over the jagged Sawtooth peaks.
The next morning, we were treated to an amazing sunrise over the serene waters of Baron Lake and a picture-perfect reflection of the jagged peaks towering above. Sitting on the lakeshore with a cup of hot coffee in hand, we can’t think of a better way to wake up!
Take your time enjoying the morning before packing up camp to begin the journey back to the trailhead. Don’t forget that your morning starts with a challenging climb back up Baron Pass. However, it’s all downhill from there for a gentle end to the backpacking trip.
Make sure to plan your time wisely so that you can arrive back at the shuttle by your reserved time. During busy summer days, the shuttle operates back and forth all day, so we got the sense that you could likely catch a shuttle at any time, but it’s best to be on time just in case.
Baron Lakes packing list
Below is a list of gear we’d recommend packing for backpacking to Baron Lakes in Idaho.
Bug Spray | The mosquitos around the water at night are absolutely brutal. They will bite right through your layers! If you don’t have bug spray, you may find yourself seeking relief in your tent.
Warm Layers | Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody
Even during the summer, it gets quite cold at night here. Pack a warm sleeping bag and extra layers for when the sun goes down. My Arc’teryx jacket is incredibly warm, lightweight and packs down small!
Water shoes | Chacos
If you don’t want to be stuck with wet boots, bring a pair of water shoes to change into for the stream crossings.
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!
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)
Bear Can | BearVault
Because you’re backpacking bear country, you’ll need to fit anything that smells (food + toiletries) into a bear can. We can typically share the small can for short trips (1 – 2 nights) and the larger can or two small cans for longer trips.
Our Backpacking Essentials
Good gear can make all the difference on a backpacking trip. Below we’ve compiled a list of our tried and true backpacking gear essentials – we use these items every time we backpack and couldn’t live without them.
Backpack | 40L Osprey Tempest / 65L Osprey Ariel / 55L REI Co-Op Flash
For one-night backpacking trips, I (Sarah) love my 40L Osprey Tempest! It fits the essentials but is super lightweight. For longer trips and/or carrying more weight, the 65L Osprey is more spacious, really comfortable, and provides more hip support. Matt’s go-to pack for most trips is the lightweight 55L REI Flash.
Backpacking Tent | Mountain Hardwear Aspect 3
A reliable tent makes all the difference in the backcountry, and the Mountain Hardwear Aspect 3 has not let us down. Though it’s not cheap, it’s lightweight (less than 4 pounds), durable, easy to set up and feels spacious enough to fit 2 people comfortably.
Campstove | Jetboil Flash
Picture this: you wake up in the dark in the backcountry, aiming to catch the sunrise somewhere nearby but its so cold you don’t want to get out of bed… then you remember you’ve got a Jetboil and piping hot coffee can be ready within minutes! Morning made.
Coffee | Sea to Summit Collapsible Coffee Filter
If you’re a coffee snob (like me…) who needs *real* coffee in the morning, even in the backcountry, the compact Sea to Summit collapsible filter makes it easy. Pair with the Jetboil Flash and Sea to Summit cups and you’ll have your cup of joe in no time!
Sleeping Bag | REI Co-op Women’s Magma 30 / REI Co-op Men’s Magma 30
At this price point, you can’t beat the REI Co-op Magma 30 (Women’s and Men’s). We both use this sleeping bag, and it’s lightweight enough for backpacking without sacrificing on warmth and durability.
Sleeping Bag Liner | Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner
I’m a very cold sleeper so I often bring this Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner,even for summer nights. It’s super cozy, lightweight, adds 8 degrees of warmth and helps keep your sleeping bag cleaner.
Trekking Poles | Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles / Distance NFZ 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.
Sleeping pad | Women’s Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad / Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad
I often sleep better on my Therm-a-rest sleeping pad than I do in a hotel bed… this thing is so comfy and weighs only 12 ounces! Only downside I have found is it is a bit noisy if you tend to move in your sleep a lot.
Inflatable Pillow | Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow
This Sea to Summit inflatable pillow is super lightweight and packs down tiny (I’ve actually lost it a few times because it packs down so small), so it’s great for camping and backpacking trips. The best part, it’s shockingly comfortable! I am a light sleeper (in a normal bed), so this is huge for me!
Dehydrated Meals | Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai with Chicken
Backpacker’s Pantry has a huge variety of dehydrated meals that we’ve found to be surprisingly tasty. The Pad Thai and Chana Masala are our all time favorites!
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.
Headlamp | Black Diamond Storm 400
Navigating around a campsite is nearly impossible after dark without a headlamp. We both use Black Diamond Storm 400’s, and we’ve found them to be reliable and long-lasting despite the compact size.
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.
Be confident you have everything you need with our Sawtooth backpacking checklist!
Our interactive excel checklist is complete with all the essentials you need for backpacking in the Sawtooths and customizable based on your trip length.
Tips for a great backpacking trip
Lastly, we will leave you with a few tips to make your backpacking trip goes smoothly!
- Don’t forget to fill out a Wilderness Permit. Rangers do patrol the trails and you may be asked to show your permit.
- Remember to be bear aware. While there are no longer grizzly bears in the Sawtooth Wilderness, there are black bears in the area. Do not leave food unattended and bring bear spray to be safe.
- Get an early start. Parking at the Redfish Lake trailhead fills up, so it’s best to get an early start to avoid the hassle of searching for parking. You also have a better shot at finding an epic campsite if you arrive early.
Other Useful Resources
Planning a trip to Idaho? If you enjoyed this article, we think you may also be interested in these:
- Sawtooths | Alice Lake Loop in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains
- Sawtooths | Complete Guide to Hiking to Sawtooth Lake
- 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
- Wyoming | 18 Best Hikes in Grand Teton National Park
- Wyoming | How to Hike to Delta Lake in Grand Teton
For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide
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Questions or comments about backpacking to Baron Lakes in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains? Let us know in the comments section below!