Backpacking the Kalalau Trail at the Nā Pali Coast in Kauai

Last week my wife and I backpacked the 11 mile Kalalau Trail in Kauai. The Kalalau Trail is considered one of the top backpacking destinations in the world, and it lived up to its reputation for me. It was the most spectacular backpacking trip I’ve been on, with verdant jungles, jagged mountains, oceanside cliffs, waterfalls, rivers, creeks, and beautiful beaches. Not to mention passion fruit, whales, wild pigs, some big spiders, treacherous cliffs, and lots of mud.

Napali Coast sign

How to get to the Kalalau Trail

Two or three months before your trip, you need to purchase a permit to hike the Kalalau Trail. These can sell out pretty quickly, there are only 60 available per night (many people get them and don’t end up using them). They cost $20 per night. You can get a permit by going to the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park site. There’s also some information about the trail on the state parks site.

Warning Signs on the Kalalau Trail
Get ready for lots of warning signs

Before leaving for Hawaii, we packed our gear into two packs and put them all in a big duffel bag. I put the tent in my carry-on to save some weight.

We flew into Kauai on Wednesday at 4pm. We picked up a rental car and drove straight to Ace Hardware so we could pick up some butane (gas) for our backpacking stove. Gas canisters are not allowed on planes, so you’ll need to do the same. You can check the locations and hours of Ace Hardware online. I called the one in Lihue before we flew out to confirm that they carried butane (I heard that some of the other Ace’s on the island don’t carry it).

We next drove to Walmart to pick up some food, mosquito repellent, and a lighter. We had packed some of our meals, but needed some lunches and additional snacks. It was also good to pick up some stuff at Walmart for our whole stay so that we wouldn’t have to purchase bottled water, for example.

The Kalalau Trail is on the northwest corner of the island of Kauai. The closest decent size city is Princeville. We stayed in the cheapest place I could find for one night, an airbnb, which was still pretty expensive. If you’re up for it, there are lots of camping options around the island.

On Thursday morning we left early to give us the most time on the trail. It was easy to get up since we were from the mainland (3 hours ahead of Hawaii time) and since there were roosters crowing starting at 1:30am! Ugh!

We parked in the Hāʻena State Park parking lot. The cost is $15 per day (two nights = three days). I was a little worried about someone breaking into our car, so we didn’t leave anything valuable in there. At the very least I would make sure that anything you leave in the car is well hidden. This is a new parking option as of November 2019.

We lucked out with some fantastic sunny weather on Thursday. The Kalalau Trail is often closed due to rain. In fact, we were hiking on the 16th. From the 10th through half of the 14th the trail was closed! And as you’ll see below, the trail was closed again on the 17th. We lucked out by having scheduled our hike in a 2 1/2 day open window.

The reason the trail closes is that there are rivers that you need to pass that will become impassable with any steady rainfall. The rivers are actually the most dangerous part of the Kalalau Trail (not the cliffs).

How can you avoid closures? First, we were hiking in January, the middle of the winter. Winter in Kauai means more rain — about double the rainfall in the summer. You’ll maximize chances of an open trail by going in May through September. This site has a chart showing rainfall in Wainiha, right near the trail head.

Second, try to be flexible when you go. I know this is difficult since you need to get hotel reservations, but if you can alter your starting day by a day or two you may have a better chance of making it on the trail.

You can check the weather for the trail at this link.

You can check if the Kalalau Trail is open on the state parks website. If it’s not open, there will be a red alert at the top of the page.

Overview of the Kalalau Trail

We started hiking right around 7:30. Once you’re at the actual trail head (something like 1/3 mile from the parking lot), the trail immediately starts climbing a steep hill. Not too far into the trail you’ll start getting some great views of the coastline.

Kalalau Beach is near the farthest coastal outcropping you can see

The Kalalau Trail is basically composed of 3 segments:

  • The first two miles from the trail head to Hanakapi’ai stream and beach. The Hanakapi’ai Waterfall is two miles from the beach up a different trail.
  • Mile 2 to mile 6 from Hanakapi’ai to Hanakoa Stream. You can camp in the Hanakoa valley, but there’s no beach access. The Hanakoa Waterfall is a mile from the camping spot on a trail up the valley.
  • Miles 6 to mile 11 from Hanakoa Valley to Kalalau Beach. (At approximately mile 7 you’ll cross the infamous Crawler’s Ledge.)

Hiking the Kalalau Trail, Day 1

Since we were early there weren’t many people on the trail. All the people we did see on the trail in the first couple miles were just going the first couple miles to Hanakāpīʻai. That’s the first major stream crossing. From there the trail splits. People with permits can continue on the Kalalau Trail, but most people (without permits) either turn around or go to the Hanakāpīʻai waterfall, which is another two miles from the junction. That makes for a great day hike if you don’t have the time or desire to go all the way to Kalalau Beach.

We took our shoes off to cross the stream as we were still mostly dry and didn’t want to hike in wet shoes all day.

Crossing Hanakapiai Stream on the Kalalau Trail
Crossing Hanakapiai Stream on the Kalalau Trail

There’s a decent outhouse near Hanakāpīʻai Beach, in case you need it.

Kalalau Trail Outhouse

Be careful at Hanakapiai Beach! You probably shouldn’t swim in it. Here’s a story of a couple kids getting swept out. And another story and video of a rogue wave.

Warning signs at Hanakapiai Beach

We ate half our lunch at Hanakapi’ai and then started back on the trail.

Throughout the morning I was continually amazed by the green jungle foliage. There was a variety of trees, bushes, and shrubs. There were flowers and many shades of green.

Hiking on the Kalalau Trail

Small creeks crossed the trail in many places and there was mud everywhere, mostly due to the recent rains. The mud was enough to make our shoes and legs dirty, but not enough for us to get stuck in or to hamper our progress too much. I’ve done quite a bit of backpacking and I’ve never relied on hiking poles. Hiking poles may ease some of the pressure on your knees and legs, but they also cause you to expend more energy since you’re basically pumping weights the whole time. However, I purchased a pair of hiking poles for this trip and Cyndi borrowed a pair from a friend. We were very grateful we had them. They helped with the mud and with all the slopes and steps.

Rock Formation on the Kalalau Trail
One of many spectacular rock formations

Eventually we made it to the beautiful Hanakoa valley where we had to cross another stream. There are some camping spots there and some were taken from people coming back. There is a little shelter with picnic tables on both sides of the creek, and an outhouse on the north side of the creek.

Hanakoa Mileage Sign

We had been hiking near a South Korean from Canada who was hiking solo. We saw him stop to take one of the lower camping spots. He planned on continuing on the Kalalau the following day. More on him later…

Kalalau Trail Mountains

We continued on our way knowing that Crawler’s Ledge, the most famous part of the Kalalau Trail, was about a mile farther. (Cyndi was nervous about it.) We knew when we got to it. First you switchback down a grassy and rocky bank and then make your way around to the rocky cliff.

Warning before Crawler's Ledge on the Kalalau Trail

We took it easy on Crawler’s Ledge, but I really didn’t think it was too bad. Later, a friend said she was told that if you can walk across a sidewalk without falling over, then you’ll be fine. This is pretty accurate. Even if it was raining I don’t think I’d be too worried about it. In fact, there are other places on Kalalau Trail that are more dangerous, although they don’t feel as dangerous (if that’s any comfort).

Crawler's Ledge on the Kalalau Trail
Cyndi making her way across Crawler’s Ledge
Crawler's Ledge on the Kalalau Trail

With the sun shining, it was quite warm on parts of the trail. There was high humidity and not a lot of breeze on this particular day. Some spots felt like an oven as we walked through them.

Passion Fruit
We found some passion fruit on the trail, which I thoroughly enjoyed

At one point after Crawler’s ledge we stopped at another ocean overlook and ate another bagel. I was scanning the ocean hoping to see a whale and sure enough I spotted one a long way out from the coast. It must have been at least a mile, but I spotted it because it blew a big sprout of water! We were excited to see a few more sprouts. I’d never seen a whale before. A little later we also saw a herd of goats hanging out on a patch of dirt that sloped into the ocean.


Eventually we rounded a turn and entered Kalalau Valley. We still had over a mile to go before our campsite. Approaching mile 10 we had to descend a long eroded stretch of trail that was pretty difficult on our tired legs. We were dragging after a long day of backpacking. We finally got to the bottom of that stretch and entered a large grove that had a bunch of passion fruit in it. That grove was bisected by the final big stream crossing, Kalalau Stream. This was probably the most difficult crossing, but it wasn’t too bad. I left my shoes on since they were filthy anyways and it made the footing much easier.

Kalalau Beach

We were so happy to see the beach after another ~half mile down the trail! We quickly selected a spot to pitch our tent, and then threw on our swimsuits and headed down to the water. There is plenty of space to camp in the trees right along the trail. If you walk all the way to the end of the trail there are a couple overhangs and some premium spots to camp right next to the beach.

The beach is gorgeous. There is cliff on behind the beach and a waterfall coming down on the south side which disappears into the sand. The valley is composed of towering green mountains that seem to rise directly from the beach below. (We didn’t take the best photo, which is looking from the beach towards the mountains – there are plenty of these online though.)

Kalalau Beach

The sun was still out and it was nice to wash off all the dirt and sweat from the day’s hiking. The waves were really tame, so I actually did a little body surfing. This might have been unwise, but I was careful not to go very deep (only just over my waist). We walked along the beach to some cool caves carved into the cliff walls. There were probably 15 other campers in the area that night. Only one had passed us on the trail, so the rest had either camped at Hanakoa or had been at Kalalau Beach for more than one day.

After a swim, we retrieved our stove and Mountain House meals and cooked dinner on the rocks by the sand as the sun went down behind the cliffs. We did a little reading and went to bed really early since it was dark, our home timezone was three hours ahead, we were exhausted, and we couldn’t have a fire. Some of our stuff was pretty wet from the hike so we just hung it on the trees.

Dinner on Kalalau Beach
Salty dinner tastes so good after a full day hiking!
Kalalau Beach at sunset

That night it RAINED! It must have started around midnight and then didn’t let up until about 10am. At one point during the night I found a little puddle of water next to me in the tent — the rain had dripped down the side of the tent and through a gap where the two zippers meet. I fixed it by moving the two zippers up. Luckily our tent was pretty waterproof otherwise. I had a small two-man tent, but before the trip I purchased a cheap three-man tent at Walmart to have enough space for our bags. Despite being cheap, it had a nice tarp floor and it held up very well. Thank goodness we had our bags in the tent and out of the rain. Since it was warm, any wetness that got into the tent really didn’t bug me a lot. I was actually hot most of the night as it doesn’t get below 60F in Kauai.

Hiking the Kalalau Trail, Days 2 and 3

When we finally got out of bed, the big concern was whether we’d be able to cross the stream to get out. We took our breakfast to one of the overhangs so we could get out of the rain at least. Streams of water were running down the trail. We met another couple who had the same concern and decided to hike out together to help each other cross the stream. Another couple ladies wanted help across as well.

Fortunately the rain had lifted early enough that the stream flow subsided. It was still much more water than the prior afternoon, but we carefully forded it with a couple of us anchoring in and then helping each other across.

We then had a very pleasant hike back to Hanakoa Valley. It was overcast with some wind, but it wasn’t raining and I hiked in shorts and a t-shirt again. The waves were enormous, contrasting the mild ocean just the day before. When we got to Crawler’s Ledge, the mist from the ocean waves battering the cliffs reached all the way up to us. Sometimes the waves would bounce off the cliffs and then crash into the waves behind them and spew water into the air.

Hikers on Crawlers Ledge on the Kalalau Trail
Can you see us coming back on Crawlers Ledge? Some hikers in front of us took this photo and sent it to us.
Jagged Mountains near the Kalalau Trail

The two ladies we crossed the stream with went ahead, but Cyndi and I hiked the whole way with the couple we met and we quickly became friends. We ended up camping in Hanakoa next to them and playing some card games that night, and then we hiked out the following day with them.

Drying Gear at Hanakoa
Drying off our clothes and gear after a wet night

We also made the mile hike to Hanakoa Falls, which was worth the hike. (There are some helpful orange tags on some trees to help guide the way.) I wish I’d jumped in the pool of water under the waterfall, but I was rather cold from a wet, windy day and from rinsing off in Hanakoa Stream.

Hanakoa Falls

We kept waiting to cross paths with the South Korean. We never saw him, and when we arrived at the camping spots we saw that his spot literally had a stream of water flowing through it. We felt really bad that he must have had a very wet night.

We woke up early in the morning to finish hiking out the Kalalau Trail. We had 6 miles to go and we were rather worn out.

Hiking on the Kalalau Trail
Hiking on the Kalalau Trail

The trail was completely empty until we crossed Hanakapi’ai Stream. Evidently, the trail had been closed the day before due to the rain, which was no surprise to us. The last two miles was full of people making the day hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls.

We made it to our car by 11am after a very successful trip. Our car hadn’t been touched.

Backpacking the Kalalau Trail was truly the trip of a lifetime. It was so different to what I’m accustomed to, with lush vegetation, beautiful coastal views, steep green mountains, and moderate temperatures. It was the highlight of our stay on Kaua’i. I hope to do it again someday.

Trail Creek Lakes from Grandjean – July 2019

I’d been itching to do a backpacking trip this year. I was looking for a location I could take my kids — something challenging but not impossible for them. I also preferred something relatively close to Boise. I came across Trail Creek Lakes, which fit the bill with a 5.5 mile hike and a trailhead 2.5 hours from my house.

I took Friday off work and we headed out around noon after getting packed up. It was just me and four of my children, ages 12, 10, 8, and 6. I made sure we were prepared including a couple redundant items (like a second stove).

The nice thing about accessing the Sawtooth mountains from Grandjean is that it saves several miles and minutes off the drive. People camp around Grandjean, but there is also a trailhead with trails that head in a couple different directions. We were on the trail by 3pm and started a long trek up the mountain.

The trail is well maintained, but it has a few difficult parts. There were 5-6 significant creek crossings where we had to balance across logs to prevent getting wet. At least one of the crossings required finding walking sticks to help balance as the crossings were somewhat treacherous. It was July 19 when we hiked up, so much of the initial runoff had already passed through. Due to the creek crossings (and possible snow), I suspect this would be a much more difficult hike in June.

Taking a break on the trail

The only other big obstacle on the trail was a couple sections of downed trees. One area had obviously been hit by a heavy avalanche. There were full pine trees that were snapped in half and strewn all over the trail. Crossing these areas wouldn’t be a problem for most people, but when you have a 6-year-old it definitely slows things down.

We found some recently hatched birds on the trail

The trail has a significant, steady climb. I measured it at about 3,000 feet total. It started at 5200 feet and ended at 8200. I had to push the kids pretty hard to get up before dark. They did great. My 6-year-old basically only walks if someone is telling him a story, so between the way up and down I ended up rehearsing all the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and some Harry Potter books.

We arrived to the first Trail Creek Lake only to find that the ~4 or so camping spots were all taken. Unfortunately this meant we had to hike another half mile and 250 feet to get to the second lake. We had this lake all to ourselves which was pretty nice. I’m not sure there are any fish in it, but there are definitely fish in the lower lake.

Looking down on Trail Creek Lake #1

We had an enjoyable evening and hiked around the area in the morning before heading back down the mountain. It was a quick trip to get into the wilderness and give my kids another taste of backpacking.

Another of the Trail Creek Lakes

On the way home we also stopped by some hot springs that were right by the road and next to the river. I think they liked that more than hiking.

50 Mile Backpacking Trip in the Sawtooth Wilderness

I’m an adviser for a group of 16-18 year-old young men in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This means I help the group organize activities and generally mentor and guide them where possible. Every year we do a “high adventure” trip where we take a few days to do something outdoors that is memorable and character-building. Last year we went on a fantastic 50 mile canoe trip. This year we did a 50 55 mile backpacking trip through the Sawtooth Wilderness in 5 days. It was about what you’d expect: grueling, spectacular, and memorable.

Part of the reason I wanted to do this trip this year, was that we had a group of boys that I thought could handle it. It would challenge them, but we didn’t have anyone that couldn’t get it done, as far as I could tell. Another reason is that I have fond memories of hiking in these same mountains from when I was a youth. There are things you learn about yourself, others, and God on a trip like this in the mountains.

One limitation of the Sawtooths, and many similar areas, is a group size limit. The group size limit in the Sawtooth Wilderness Area is 12. I know people who have attempted to break this limit. Not only will this lead to fines, but I’ve come to appreciate the size limits as a way to protect these incredible areas. One group I know of was a couple miles into their hike when a ranger found them. Because their size was more than 12, the ranger turned them around and followed them out. Fines are common and are meted out regularly. Our group ended up including 6 youth and 3 adults. If you have a large group, please find somewhere else to go.

We debated the best course to take a group through the Sawtooth Wilderness. We considered some routes that would allow us to make a stop and transfer people in and out. We decided against this as it could easily lead to boys giving up and these routes weren’t optimal for what we wanted to see: lakes, peaks, empty spaces.

We decided to leave a car at Iron Creek Trailhead, then start the backpacking trip from Petit Lake. This enabled a point-to-point course.


Fires aren’t allowed in some of the drainages, so we packed in small stoves and food that could be cooked on a stove. This was our meal plan:

MondaySack lunchHome-assembled minute rice and Freeze-dried chicken
TuesdayOatmealCrackers, cheese, & hamSoup & mashed potatoes
WednesdayOatmealBagel peanut butter honey sandwichMountain House
ThursdayBring your own
FridayOatmealLeftover snacksRamen
DessertsChips Ahoy, Oreos, Pudding (made in a ziplock from a box and powdered milk)
SnacksHot cocoa, cider, granola bars, raisins, craisins, Crystal Light, beef jerky, dried fruit

Day 1: Petit Lake to Toxaway Lake, 13mi & 4000 feet (including Snowyside Peak summit)

On Monday we loaded into the cars and set out at 6:30am from the Boise area. We started hiking from Petit at about 11am.

Petit Lake is very long, which is part of the reason we decided to go this direction. We didn’t want to end with the long straight-away next to the huge lake.

From the Petit Lake trail head, it’s about 6 miles to Alice Lake. Petit is at 7000 feet and Alice is at 8600, so there are plenty of switchbacks and a few creek crossings between the two lakes. During the hike there are some great views of the basin looking back towards Petit. We passed some other hikers during this part of the trip, including Buck, an acquaintance of mine. Many people do this segment as a day hike.

Hiking up the basin from Petit Lake

Alice is a beautiful lake, although we didn’t spend much time at it. It has some nice peaks and ridges to the south and west.

Alice Lake
Next to Alice Lake

We kept moving past Alice towards Twin Lakes. This required a little climb of 200 feet or so. Twin Lakes are much less popular, although they looked nice enough. We initially planned on camping at Twin Lakes, but everyone was feeling good. After a pow wow, we decided to push on to Toxaway Lake, our Plan B.

Blisters already – Above Twin Lakes

To get to Toxaway we needed to hike over a ridge at 9500 feet. This was a natural resting point to let everyone gather together again. It also presented a nice option to summit a mountain. Snowyside Peak towers over the ridge. It was as close to a peak as we’d get without going out of our way. After some discussion and debate, several of us decided to climb it. My rationale was that we were in good spirits and right next to the peak, so we should climb it now as we didn’t know what would happen during the rest of our trip that might prevent us from climbing other peaks.

Snowyside Peak
Snowyside Peak

Two of the boys had no desire to climb, so they forged ahead to secure a camping spot at Toxaway Lake. The rest of us made our way up, some faster than others. It took 1.5-2 hours to get up and back. A couple of the boys were much more deliberate about their steps and less experienced, so they took quite a while to get down. The views from the peak were spectacular (of course).

Snowyside Peak
Snowyside Peak

When we were finally all back down, we walked the final ~3 miles into Toxaway. We were exhausted by then. I took a dip in the cold lake to wash off and went to bed pretty early.

Excluding the peak, it was a 2500 foot elevation gain to the ridge and 1100 foot decline from the ridge to Toxaway Lake. We traversed 55 switchbacks (I counted). Snowyside Peak was about 1100 feet up and down from the ridge.

Day 2: Toxaway Lake to Hidden Lake

I woke up early to fish at Toxaway and the sun came up right in the dip between the mountains

During the night I woke up at one point and heard some huge boulders falling down the ridge on the opposite side of the lake. In the morning we woke up, ate breakfast, and then started heading up the ridge to the north. This was an arduous 2 mile, 900 foot climb to start the day with plenty of switchbacks.

The ridge above Toxaway

We took a break at the top, which offered some nice views, as well as a little patch of snow. We then made our way 800 feet down to Edna Lake. Another one of the adults and I actually dropped our packs and hit Rendezvous Lake on the way. We tried fishing it, but there were lots of frogs and no fish. I’m pretty sure it was too shallow.

We ate lunch and took a dip in Edna Lake, which is quite large and deep. Then we hiked past Vernon Lake without stopping much to take it in. After Vernon there is another little lake up a 300 foot climb. It has one nice camping spot which someone had taken. In fact, we passed a surprising number of people on this day when I thought we’d be pretty much alone.

We dropped another 600 feet to get to Ardeth Lake. Ardeth has a nice granite backdrop and is quite large. We were considering staying there for the night and taking it easy, but after a pow wow and some discussion, we determined to push on to Hidden Lake. This was no easy task, as it required yet another a 600 foot drop followed by a 1000 foot climb. We were all in pretty good spirits though, and we managed to stick together for much of those final 5 miles.

Hidden lake was a little gem at 8600 feet, nestled between two ridges. We made camp after a second day of 12+ miles, and once again some of us took a dip to clean up. We used a fire blanket to make a little fire and had a great spiritual discussion there in the mountains.

Day 3: Hidden Lake to Baron Lake

On the third day we awoke and started our climb to the west of The Temple and Mt. Cramer. Some of us were considering summiting Mt. Cramer, but due to our added mileage we decided it wasn’t worth the risk of wearing out or worse. It would have likely taken a couple hours and would have separated the group early on.

About to hike down into the Cramer Lakes area

Instead, we started the 6 miles downward in the direction of Redfish Lake. We passed Upper Cramer Lake, Middle Cramer Lake, and Lower Cramer Lake, as well as one other lake that wasn’t as visible from the trail. At one point, one of the boys got very worn out and slowed down considerably. We started getting worried and wondered if we should escort him out through Redfish. We forced him to eat, and after some time and some prayers he perked back up and we caught up with the whole group at the large creek crossing.

Some A-10’s happened to do a flyby through the basin near Redfish Lake – they were low and fast

From this point on I started having some memories of a 50 mile hike in the Sawtooths from my youth 20+ years ago. Part of our hike was from Baron to Redfish, so some points on the trail were etched in my fading memory.

When we left the creek, one of the boys took off about 100 yards ahead of me (I was still putting my pack on after a break). I immediately arrived at a fork and knew I was supposed to turn left. I couldn’t see the boy in either direction, so I sped up to ensure he was ahead of me. I kept speeding up but I didn’t see him. Luckily there were some switchbacks, so from a high switchback I called down to the others to go back for him. We sent one of the cross country runners, and about 10-15 minutes later they rejoined us. We were really glad we caught the lost boy that quickly! It cost him at least a half mile of hiking.

From the low point to the high point was a solid 1800 feet in 4 miles — a little less elevation than we had already hiked down. We passed Alpine Lake and some puddles. It was quite a climb, but we were rewarded with some great views, including “Heaven’s Gate” as we looked toward Redfish.

Heaven’s Gate leading down to Redfish Lake

From the summit it was 800 feet and 2 miles down switchbacks to get to Upper Baron Lake and then Lower Baron Lake. There was already a scout troop in the ideal spot at Lower Baron Lake, but we found a good spot downstream with nice water access. We played some games that evening and had a good time, although we were all beat after a 14 mile day. It was pretty fun for me to be at Baron Lake after a 21 year hiatus.

Day 4: Baron Lake to Sawtooth Lake

Getting from Baron Lake to Sawtooth Lake was pretty grueling and not particularly interesting.

We followed Baron Creek down 7 miles and 2600 feet to where the south fork and the north fork meet up.

Heading down the mountain from Baron Lakes. Can you see the hikers?

Where the creeks join up they form a roaring stream with some logs to cross on. I’ve heard that people have died here due to the high logs and rapid stream. We used the stream for water, but we didn’t need to cross since the trail forks back up toward our Sawtooth Lake destination.

This was another relatively uninteresting hike comprising 7 miles and a 2900 foot gain. There was a bit of brush and downed logs we had to work through, which slows things down. The trail leaves the bottom of the ravine and works its way up the side of a mountain, with occasional run-off streams crossing down. Eventually the trail takes a northward turn and closes the final distance to the large Sawtooth Lake.

There’s a really nice meadow on the south side of the lake that had enough room for us and another group. I slept under the stars that night and admired stars that can only be seen in the mountains on a clear night.

Day 5: Sawtooth Lake to Iron Creek Trailhead

We had now effectively cut a day out of our planned 6-day trip. Our last day was the shortest, a simple 6 mile and 2800 foot hike from the lake down to Iron Creek Trailhead. We passed Alpine lake on the way, but we didn’t bother stopping there as we had seen lots of lakes and we were all eager to get our packs off our backs.

Hiking out next to Sawtooth Lake


Just for fun, I counted switchbacks each day as best I could. I used a pen, my hand, and a bunch of tally marks. This is what I counted (includes uphill and downhill switchbacks):

Counting switchbacks

50 Mile Backpacking Trip

I realized that 50 mile backpacking trips aren’t particularly “fun”, especially if they’re fast. I’m in really good shape (albeit running shape and not necessarily backpacking shape), but even so I went to bed exhausted every night. Some of the miles were quite difficult and I just had to trudge on.

However, 50 mile backpacking trips like this are spectacular and memorable. We saw countless mountain peaks and lakes. We pushed ourselves and suffered together. We had great conversations and bonded together. It was unforgettable. Someday I hope to do a trip like this with my family (all 6 of our kids). I know it won’t be easy, but it will be something they’ll never forget.