The Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho is well known for epic hikes, but, in our opinion the hike to Thompson Peak is head and shoulders (literally!) above the rest! Standing nearly 10,700 feet above sea level, Thompson Peak is the tallest summit in the Sawtooth Range and the hike to reach the top is one of the most epic day hikes we’ve ever done. Featuring serious elevation gain, a picturesque alpine lake, a killer boulder field, and some scrambling up to the summit, this hike has it all! In this article, we’ve outlined everything you need to reach the roof of the Sawtooth mountains!


Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!

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View from Thompson Peak in Idaho, the tallest point in the Sawtooth Range

Thompson Peak Hike in Idaho

Quick Stats

  • Hiking distance | 12.3 miles
  • Elevation gain | 4,035 feet
  • Epic-ness rating | 8.5
  • Difficulty | Hard
  • Dogs allowed? | Yes

Find this hike on AllTrails: Thompson Peak via Alpine Way Trail

Rising high above the aptly-named Sawtooth Mountains, Thompson Peak is the ultimate hiking adventure in central Idaho. The tallest mountain in the Sawtooth Range, the hike to Thompson Peak is steep, long, and often unmarked, making the hike a grueling journey that should only be attempted by those in good physical fitness.

But those who are willing to put in the effort will be rewarded with not only the best day hike in the Sawtooth area, but an unmatched feeling of accomplishment.

We’ve done a lot of hiking in the Sawtooth’s, and of course we haven’t been to every peak, but we’d wager that the 360-degree degree view from the summit of Thompson Peak is one of the best vies in the entire Sawtooth Range.

If you are a serious hiker and looking for a solid adventure in the Sawtooth’s, the hike to Thompson Peak is your best option!

Highlights

  • Hands-down the best view in the Sawtooth Mountains
  • Thompson Lake is a picturesque spot for a break
  • Amazing sense of accomplishment reaching the tallest point in the Sawtooth Mountains

Lowlights

  • Trail almost entirely disappears after Thompson Lake
  • Traversing the boulder field is slow, tedious, and tough
  • Elevation gain is no joke
  • Final scramble up loose scree can be scary for some

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

Thompson Peak is located in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest. With iconic 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 Thompson Peak?

There’s no beating around the bush on this one – the hike to Thompson Peak is tough! Covering more than 12 miles and climbing over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, the hike to Thompson Peak is not for the faint of heart.

The first 3.5 miles is a gradual uphill climb as you make your way up to Thompson Lake but the remaining 2.5 miles from Thompson Lake up to Thompson Peak are absolutely killer. The trail all but disappears and you’ll spend much of your time climbing up a steep and loose boulder field.

As you get closer to the peak, you’ll need to do some scrambling up loose scree that is a bit scary and the cherry on top of long day!

When to hike Thompson Peak in Idaho

The best time to hike Thompson Peak is summer through early fall (typically late June through September).

During the spring and early summer months, the trail will likely be icy and snow-covered. While you could probably make it up to Thompson Lake hiking through the snow, we definitely would not recommend attempting to traverse the boulder field or scramble up to the summit when conditions are cold, snowy, or icy.

Also, it’s important to remember that you’ll be hiking up to the tallest point in the area and the trek up to the summit past Thompson Lake is very exposed. It is definitely not a place you want to be when a storm rolls through. Make sure to keep an eye on the forecast and look out for any ominous clouds rolling in.

Do not attempt the hike to Thompson Peak if there are storms in the vicinity and we highly recommend being off the peak by the afternoon in case any unexpected storms do pop up.

Alpine lake below Thompson Peak

Thompson Peak Idaho: hike details

In this section, we’ll go into detail on each section of the hike to Thompson Peak so you know what to expect.

Parking and getting to the trailhead

The hike to Thompson Peak begins from the Redfish Lake Trailhead, near the Red Fish Lake Lodge in Stanley, Idaho.

Stanley is typically considered the gateway to the Sawtooth Mountains and the Redfish Lake Trailhead is a popular launching off points for tons of activities in the area.

The parking lot at the trailhead is large but it does fill up later in the day. Again, we highly, highly recommend starting the hike to Thompson Peak as early in the day as you can, so parking space at the trailhead shouldn’t be a problem.

Starting the hike to Thompson Peak

The trail leaves right from the Redfish Lake trailhead parking lot. The first 3.5 miles of the hike lead up to Thompson Lake, which sits at the base of the towering Thompson Peak.

Enjoy this first section of the hike because it is by far the easiest part. The trail is a more gradual incline, well-marked, and shaded. As you hike up, you’ll be treated to epic views of the jagged Sawtooth peaks rising high in the distance. Just remember that you’ll be climbing to the top of these massive mountains in just a few short miles!

trail to Thompson Peak in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains

No Name Lake (Thompson Lake)

After about 3.5 miles, you’ll reach a picturesque blue lake nestled at the base of Thompson Peak. Technically, this stunning lake has no official name, but it is sometimes referred to as either Thompson Lake or Profile Lake. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to the lake as Thompson Lake from here on out.

In an area known for alpine lakes, Thompson Lake is definitely one of our favorites. It’s a bit tricky to get down to the lakeshore, as the banks around the lake are steep but it’s still a great place to stop for a break and a snack.

Across the lake, you can see the massive Thompson Peak towering high above, a stark reminder of the work you still have left to do!

The climb up to Thompson Peak

After enjoying some time at Thompson Lake, it’s time to tackle the hardest part of the hike – the final 2.5 mile climb from the lake up to the tallest point in the Sawtooth Mountains – Thompson Peak!

From the lake, the trail travels a bit to the right, or the northern side of the lake, circles around to the backside of Thompson Peak, before climbing up to the summit.

However, after leaving the lake, you’ll notice the trail very quickly becomes harder and harder to follow. You may be able to find some faint footpaths and scattered cairns, but it’s very important you keep an eye on your downloaded map to make sure you’re going the right way.

Also, immediately after leaving Thompson Lake, the trail starts to get much, much steeper. The first maybe half a mile to a mile is still manageable as you make your way up to a ridge to the right of the lake.

But soon enough, as you circle towards the backside of Thompson Peak, you’ll realize the magnitude of the challenge before you.

For the last 1.5 miles, the trail all but disappears and you’ll be climbing across a massive boulder field. If the lack of a trail and traversing boulders wasn’t enough, the route also starts to get very, very steep.

Make sure to take your time, double check your footing with each step (some boulders can be loose!), and keep eye on your map! The last 1.5 miles up the boulder field took me as long if not longer to climb than the first 5 miles!

Final scramble and summit push

After a long and difficult push up and across the boulder field, you have one final challenge before reaching the summit. The last 100 to 200 yards before the summit are a bit of a scramble up loose scree, where footing is precarious and you’ll definitely want to take your time.

But soon enough, you’ll reach the rocky summit of Thompson Peak and you will be the highest person in the Sawtooths! In our opinion, the unimpeded panoramic view from Thompson Peak is easily the best view on all of the Sawtooths!

You can even see Thompson Lake, which now looks super tiny from the bird’s-eye view!

As you’d expect from a mountain in the Sawtooth range, the summit is small, jagged, and rocky. Which is another reason to start your hike earlier and beat everyone else to the top so you can enjoy some alone time at the summit!

views from the summit of Thompson Peak

The hike back down

This hike is an out-and-back so the route back to the trailhead is the same path you took to reach the summit.

I actually found climbing down the scramble and boulder field to be more precarious than going up. My legs were feeling like jello at that point and the loose ground and boulders are not always easy easy to balance on. I definitely took a few tumbles on the way down!

Thompson Peak hike alternate options

Luckily, there are a few alternate options for hiking up tot Thompson Peak:

  • Backpacking | If you don’t feel like tackling a 12 mile hike in one day or just want to enjoy some time in the backcountry, there are a few campsites near Thompson Lake. From there, you can continue up to Thompson Peak but don’t have to worry about getting back down on the same day.
  • Return after Thompson Lake | During my hike to Thompson Peak, I would say the majority of people I talked to on the trail were ending their hike at Thompson Lake and they were not continuing on to Thompson Peak. The lake is absolutely beautiful and a perfect day hike for anyone not looking to climb all the way to the top.

Tips for a great hike

  • Start early: The last half of the hike to Thompson Peak is fully exposed and is not a place you want to be in the hot summer or if a storm rolls in. We highly, highly recommend getting off the mountain by noon.
  • Keep an eye on weather: Again, this is not a place you want to be when a storm rolls in. Do not attempt the hike to Thompson Peak if there are storms in the forecast.
  • Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and sun protection.
  • Dogs are allowed in the Sawtooth wilderness but always be mindful of your canine friend. Even if you think he is the best dog in the world, that doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same way and always pick up after your pet!
  • Do not underestimate the fitness level required to make it to the top! Not only is the hike steep and long, but the boulder field and final scramble are extra challenges that make the hike even more challenging.

Other hikes in the Sawtooth Mountains

Want to learn about more incredible hikes in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho? You may also be interested in the following articles:

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For all things Idaho: Idaho Travel Guide

Still have questions about hiking Thompson Peak? Have you tackled the Sawtooth’s highest peak? Tell us about your experience below!

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