Wednesday, July 26th, Day 1, We began the day with the intent of kayaking Red Fish Lake however the weather was not cooperating. So, after a tasty breakfast at the Stanley Baking Company and Cafe we head over to Riverwear, an outdoor adventure store, as we mill about and gather intel on the trail to Bench Lakes, a chain of 5 small glacial alpine lakes located at an elevation of 7786 feet in the Sawtooth Mountains. Making the decision with the rain still coming down we head to Redfish Lake and secure a great parking spot right near the beach. Determining the weather will move out shortly we grab our packs and head to the Redfish Lake Trailhead, signing in we begin our trek to the Bench Lakes. A steady climb ensues as we reach a series of switchbacks that lead to what I would refer to as a hogback that parallels Redfish Lake below. With the rain having ended and the sun peeking through the clouds the humidity kicks in as we continue our journey to the junction further ahead. Reaching the trailhead we head west into the Sawtooth National Wilderness Area and obtain our backcountry permit. Stella likened it to being bagged and tagged, except I mention that it typically would be attached to your big toe and not your pack. To this point the climb has been fairly easy however the last stretch up to the lakes is a bit steeper thus giving the overall trail a moderate rating. We traverse the final series of switchbacks which provide an awesome view of the Sawtooth Mountains being obscured by the passing clouds. Continuing along the trail we stumble upon the state flower of Wyoming in Idaho, the Indian Paintbrush and finally reach the alpine meadow leading to the first of the Bench Lakes. After taking a few photos, unbeknownst to us the next lake was only about 200 yards away, and with the weather clearing we were eager to retrace our steps to put the kayak in the water and paddle Redfish Lake. The hike itself was a just over 9 miles in length with an elevation gain of 1232 feet taking us 3 hours and 25 minutes to complete. What an excellent way to start the day.
Swapping the hiking boots for my water shoes, we get the “Big Mango” off the Tahoe as quickly as we can, the winds are light and variable unlike our last 2 attempts a year ago where the winds prevented us from navigating the lake in its entirety. Dodging a few beach goers we are off paddling along the western shoreline from the lodge near Point Campground, around the point is Orval Hansen Point Beach where families can enjoy the day on the lake. Continuing our journey south we paddle along the shore about 3 miles as we reach Redfish Lake Creek and Redfish Lake Inlet Campground. This serves as the shuttle stop across the lake for those seeking adventure deep into the Sawtooth wilderness. The southern end of the lake has a several waterfalls that cascade from high above adding to the majestic views that encompass the lake. Redfish Lake derives its name from the once plentiful sockeye salmon returning from the Pacific Ocean, legend has it the lake shimmered in red as the salmon returned to spawn each fall. Heading back to the north along the eastern shore and paddling for another 3 miles we come upon Sockeye Campground. The northern end of the lake is dotted by several campgrounds run by the National Forest Service. Navigating through a series of moored boats we are at the outlet of Redfish Creek that flows into the Salmon River to the north. We begin the final stretch of our adventure paddling back to lodge but not before crossing the inlet of Redfish Hook Creek. Our first circumnavigation of Redfish Lake is complete and you could not have asked for better weather conditions unlike our prior two attempts last year, no wind and the lake itself was like paddling on glass. In all we spent 3 hours on the water with 9.26 miles of paddling behind us.
As we pull the kayak from the water, we hear music coming from the lawn in front of the lodge, a band named Muzzie Braun was playing to a large gathering. Unfortunately, they were on their last song by the time we were able to sit and listen. Heading into the historic Redfish Lake Lodge with food on our mind, we wandered into the Rustic Lounge, off to the side of the main restaurant, the historic Limbert’s. We shared an appetizer of deep fried Wisconsin cheese curds, which had been bathed in a spicy buffalo sauce, these were devoured in seconds. For our main course, we each ordered the fish & chips, which consisted of fried salmon pieces and french fries. The fish was good, but the fries…. meh.
After a fantastic day spent in the mountains and on the water we head back to our Base Camp, the Lower Stanley Cabins and Motel, located on the Salmon River and literally out our back door. The views from the deck have you looking across the river and directly into the heart of the Sawtooth Range, stunning.