Along the edge of the southern Sawtooths exists a typical summer scene at Alturas Lake - boaters, swimmers, campers and fifth-wheels escaping the heat of an Idaho summer. In contrast, at the headwaters of this swimming hole lies a peaceful slew of crystal clear lakes, stunning waterfalls, and vertical granite slabs. With no officially marked trail on any map, this area of the wilderness caught my interest.

Alpine Creek Trail

At first glance, the Alpine Creek trailhead leads a relatively mundane (by Sawtooth standards) hike along a glacial valley. However, rewards are plentiful if one is willing to endure a little route-finding and even some scrambling past the trail’s dead end. At the trailhead there are two options - stick to the left and you join the bikes and motorcycles along Alturas Lake Creek heading towards Mattingly Divide, and eventually end up in Atlanta after a few very long day(s). Today we are staying right along Alpine Creek, reserved for foot traffic only.

While this trail drags fairly flat with little elevation gain, constant fields of wildflowers make up for it, as well as Sawtooth Peaks and dense forest to shade the summer sun. As the official trail comes to an end, traversing the muddy forest leads to two more choices - cross Alpine Creek and hike to the south canyon, or stay right and head towards the north canyon. The south features a steep wall along a large waterfall to negotiate, but awards a large island-laded alpine lake that few will want to make the effort to visit. The north features a more gradual climb along with a string of smaller lakes and waterfalls, and probably sees a greater density of people since it’s an easier hike.

North Alpine Creek Canyon

As you reach the end of the official trail and head north, the sound of endless waterfalls encourages the uphill climb. Lake 8523 is only the start of beautiful alpine, and it’s worth it to continue past. Each of the many small lakes and creeks on the way to the top of the basin look as though they are a perfectly crafted scene from a painting. As you crest the steepest of the waterfalls, you are nearly at Lake 9167, which gives way to the final pass to Flytrip Basin. Looking back on the canyon reveals a beautiful view of Perfect Peak among many other rock features.

Perfect Peak from across the north valley.
Perfect Peak from across the north valley.
 
Snowyside Peak from Lake 9162.
Snowyside Peak from Lake 9162.
 
A grand bristlecone pine still standing the test of time at the top of the valley.
A grand bristlecone pine still standing the test of time at the top of the valley.
 
Indian paintbrush and every flower imaginable were in full swing.
Indian paintbrush and every flower imaginable were in full swing.
 
Backlit trees near the shore of Lake 9167.
Backlit trees near the shore of Lake 9167.
 

Camp at Lake 9167

At camp, subtle hints of fire from many years ago show how spectacularly fast nature recovers. Mini-wildflowers thrive along the shore of this high alpine lake - so clear it’s begging to be jumped in. During my trip, forest fires littered the west, however I got lucky with the wind and had beautiful light filtered through the forest and jagged peaks. At the north of the lake, Snowyside Peak stands tall. Past this peak leads to one of the most popular Sawtooth’s Trek - the Alice to Toxaway Loop. If you make your way to the ridge between Lake 9167 and Lake 9050, you’ll find good potential to make a loop out of this area by exiting via the south canyon.

Light channeled thorugh the canyon, illuminating the top of Perfect Peak.
Light channeled thorugh the canyon, illuminating the top of Perfect Peak.
 
Overlooking the ridge above Lake 9050, with the South Canyon in the distance.
Overlooking the ridge above Lake 9050, with the South Canyon in the distance.
 
Dawn at Lake 9167.
Dawn at Lake 9167.
 
First light shrouding the peaks above Lake 9050.
First light shrouding the peaks above Lake 9050.
 
Morning light greeting the wilderness headwaters of Alpine Creek.
Morning light greeting the wilderness headwaters of Alpine Creek.
 
Waterfalls are endless along this hike.
Waterfalls are endless along this hike.
 
Trailside waterfalls.
Trailside waterfalls.
 
Yet another waterfall into a perfect pool.
Yet another waterfall into a perfect pool.
 
Wildflowers along the shore of Lake 8523.
Wildflowers along the shore of Lake 8523.
 
Beautiful meadows staggered between lakes.
Beautiful meadows staggered between lakes.
 
Impressive rock formations at Lake 8523.
Impressive rock formations at Lake 8523.
 
Waterfalls line the trail home.
Waterfalls line the trail home.
 
Perfect views from a potential camp site.
Perfect views from a potential camp site.
 

South Alpine Creek Canyon

Navigating the southern portion requires a bit more effort. Crossing Alpine Creek can cause confusion as the creek breaks off into many forks, and some maps have the trail wrong. Once you’ve made it past, you are greeting with a section of large trees downed by avalanches during the 2016-17 record winter. Stay to the left of the creeks, make the climb, and before you know it you’re cresting the shore of the lake at 8522’, sometimes referred to as Leah’s Lake.
A rugged tree showing a will to survive despite the harsh conditions of living on a rock.
A rugged tree showing a will to survive despite the harsh conditions of living on a rock.
 
The north valley of Alpine Creek - to be explored another weekend.
The north valley of Alpine Creek - to be explored another weekend.
 
The waterfall from Leah’s Lake was still a raging torrent mid-July.
The waterfall from Leah’s Lake was still a raging torrent mid-July.
 
We marveled at the massive stack of granite across the lake from us.
We marveled at the massive stack of granite across the lake from us.
 
Our conclusive view of Perfect Peak from the Leah’s Lake.
Our conclusive view of Perfect Peak from the Leah’s Lake.
 
One of the lake’s island backlit with crisp, alpine light.
One of the lake’s island backlit with crisp, alpine light.
 
For a moment, the sun broke through the morning’s storm clouds and illuminated the basin.
For a moment, the sun broke through the morning’s storm clouds and illuminated the basin.
 
Magnificent clouds and light painted a scene that so few see.
Magnificent clouds and light painted a scene that so few see.
 
Morning light over camp at Leah's Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness.
Morning light over camp at Leah's Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness.
 
Saša making a careful crossing over winter’s remnants.
Saša making a careful crossing over winter’s remnants.
 
A final look at the lake.
A final look at the lake.
 
Saša traversing July snow on a backpacking trip in the Sawtooth Mountains.
Saša traversing July snow on a backpacking trip in the Sawtooth Mountains.
 

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