Wednesday, July 26th, Day 1, we began the day with the intent of kayaking Red Fish Lake; however, the weather was not cooperating. Determining the weather will move out shortly, we grabbed our packs and head to the Redfish Lake Trailhead. After signing in, we began our trek to the Bench Lakes. It is a steady climb with a series of switchbacks that lead to what I refer to as a hogback that parallels Redfish Lake below. With the rain having ended and the sun peeking through the clouds, the humidity had kicked. We continued west into the Sawtooth National Wilderness Area and obtained our backcountry permits. To this point, the climb had been fairly easy, but the last stretch up to the lake was a bit steeper, thus giving the overall trail a moderate rating.
We traversed the final series of switchbacks, which provide an awesome view of the Sawtooth Mountains obscured by the passing clouds. Continuing along the trail, we stumbled upon the state flower of Wyoming, the Indian Paintbrush, and finally reached 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. With the weather clearing, we were eager to retrace our steps to Redfish Lake so that we could put the kayak in. The hike itself was a just over 9 miles, with an elevation gain of 1232 feet. It took 3 hours and 25 minutes to complete. What an excellent way to start the day.
Swapping the hiking boots for water shoes, we got “The Big Mango” off the Tahoe as quickly as we could. The winds were light and variable, unlike our last two attempts a year ago where the winds prevented us from navigating the lake in its entirety. Dodging a few beach goers, we took 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 paddled along the shore about 3 miles as we reached 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, we paddled for another 3 miles and came upon Sockeye Campground. The northern end of the lake is dotted by several campgrounds, which are managed by the National Forest Service. Navigating through a series of moored boats, we had reached the outlet of Redfish Creek that flows into the Salmon River to the north. We began 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 was complete and you could not have asked for better weather conditions, unlike our prior two attempts last year. We paddled 9.26 miles in about 3 hours.
As we pulled the kayak from the water, music was 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.
After a fantastic day spent in the mountains and on the water, we headed 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 look across the river and directly into the heart of the Sawtooth Range.