11 Things You Didn’t Know About Redfish Lake & The Sawtooth Wilderness

AMAZING GEOLOGYRedfish Lake from Grand Mogul Summit

The northern Sawtooth Mountains were formed in the Eocene epoch, Sawtooth Batholith, while the Sawtooth Mountains south of Alturas Lake were formed in the Cretaceous period, Idaho Batholith. This explains much of the differentiation in appearance, geology, and geography.


Hundreds of lakes in the Sawtooth Wilderness were formed as glaciers formed and eroded the Earth around them, then melted away as the Little Ice Age ended. It is believed that some glaciers may still have been present until the 1850s, but this cannot be confirmed. In their place, we are left with perennial snow fields, which totaled 202 when studied and counted by a group from Idaho State University in 2011.


The area was first inhabited by the Sheepeater Tribe, a group of Native Americans known for their excellent hunting abilities. During the summer months, groups would inhabit the Sawtooth high country in search of their favorite game: goats, sheep, elk, and deer. The capability to kill such prized game offered the tribe the power to trade furs and meat at high value to other groups.

As more settlers, trappers, and miners began to visit the area, conflict with the Sheepeaters, and other Native American tribes in Idaho, became unavoidable. Pioneering whites explored further into Native American territory, becoming more nervous of these interactions, while threatened tribes moved further and further into the mountains for safety. Then, in 1879, five (5) Chinese miners were murdered on Loon Creek, near the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, and the Sheepeater Tribe was blamed. From this point, interactions between the settlers and natives descended into a chaos that would become known as the “Sheepater Wars,” which ended with the surrender of the remaining 51 Sheepeaters.

You can see the remnants of a rock shelter that was used by the Sheepeater Tribe when they inhabited the Redfish Lake area. It is located near Little Redfish Lake, over a wooden bridge which crosses Redfish Lake Creek at the lakes outlet. This is a neat look into the history of this amazing area.


Redfish Lake and its smaller sister, Little Redfish Lake, draw their names from the brightly-colored Sockeye Salmon which returned to the lake, in abundance, every summer. Stories describe waters so filled with massive, red fish that you could walk across their backs. Early images and history illustrate the lake as a fantastic recreation destination for boating and fishing. Examples of some of these early catches can be found in the lodge and throughout the Stanley area.

With construction of dams, over-fishing, and other changes to the environment, Redfish Lake saw a devastating impact to its native Salmon population, culminating in 1992 with the return of Lonesome Larry, the solitary salmon to return in that year. Since that time, the species has been listed as endangered and a battle has been waged to protect its legacy at Redfish Lake. In 2010, the count had grown to 1,355 returning salmon. Let’s keep up the good work.


A framed painting hangs on the eastern wall of the Redfish Lake Lodge Dining Room, with little attention given to it. It looks slightly faded and blends in perfectly with the rustic mountain setting, while the mountains seem ever-so familiar and Sawtooth-esque.

Why? Because that painting is an original work, created by lodge founder and historical Idahoan, Robert Limbert, at Alice Lake, deep in the Sawtooth Range just south of Redfish Lake. You can still stand in the very spot that the photo was taken, so some individuals may be familiar with the scene.

How do we know? Because his original signature lies in the bottom corner. Additionally, an original photograph showing Limbert, on location, in the process of creating his masterpiece, hangs alongside the large and beautiful painting. The photo was a gift from Margaret Limbert-Lawrence (late, former owner of Hollywood Market in Boise), Robert’s daughter, who could fondly recall her days growing up at Redfish Lake. It offers an interesting glimpse into the life of “Two Guns” Bob Limbert, contrasting his famous adventurer persona with artful appreciation in the form of brush and canvas. One can’t help but wonder at how such a large piece of art was safely transported to and from the location of its creation. If only the painting could talk…

Where did it come from? The painting was found in the Lodge attic, rolled up and stashed away. Thankfully, Jeff Clegg, Lodge General Manager, found it and recognized its historical importance. With the help of a valued guest and some talented efforts, the painting was restored and framed to be hung in its current position.

Be sure to stop in the Lodge to check it out on your next visit.


In 2010, a fault was discovered running some 40 miles long, near Stanley and Redfish Lake. The Sawtooth Fault, as it was labeled, was discovered by a group from Idaho State University that was using remote sensing technology, called LIDAR. The scientists estimated that the fault had produced earthquakes approximately 7,000 and 4,000 years ago, and was capable of producing a modern earthquake measuring around 7.5 magnitude on the Richter scale, which would be easily noticeable in Boise.


On October 28, 1983, the Borah Earthquake rocked Idaho at a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter scale. During the event, many rock slides and avalanches were caused throughout the Sawtooths. The most noticeable of these slides, to Redfish Lake visitors, can be seen on Grand Mogul, where a large portion of rock and Earth collapsed and tumbled into the southern end of Redfish Lake. Large rock bodies and can still be seen along the mountainside, while thick vegetation now fills the slide path. Boaters can see large boulders piled on the lake bottom through Redfish’s crystal, clear waters. This is an amazing view of Earth’s natural power.


This is a hiker’s paradise, with some of the best scenery and solitude available in the United States. An amazing 23 Trailheads lead to 40 trails, which cover over 350 miles of Wilderness Area. Put on your boots and hit the trails.


Three major rivers make their beginnings in the Sawtooth National Recreation area. They are:
Middle Fork of the Boise River, beginning deep in the Sawtooths at Spangle Lake

South Fork of the Payette River, beginning deep in the Sawtooths at Vernon Lake

Main Fork of the Salmon River, The River of No Return, beginning at 9,200ft just south of the Smiley Creek, near Chemeketan Campground. (One of the largest rivers in the United States, with a watershed of over 14,000 miles.)

SAWTOOTH SUMMITSElephant's Perch from Inlet Trail

The Sawtooth Mountains were so-named due to their steep, jagged peaks. Some of the most famous and visible include:
#1. Thompson Peak – 10,751ft

#2. Mt. Cramer – 10,715ft

#3. Decker Peak – 10,705ft

57 Peaks – Over 10,000ft

77 Peaks – Between 9,000-10,000ft

Other Notable Peaks At Redfish Lake…

Mount Heyburn – 10,229ft (Southwestern End of Redfish Lake)

Grand Mogul – 9,734ft (South-Southeastern End of Redfish Lake)


The Elephant’s Perch is, arguably, one of Idaho’s most famous climbing venues and, perhaps, it’s sickest big wall climbing opportunity. The massive wall, over 1,200ft tall at points, is a feature of larger, Saddleback Peak, just south of Redfish Lake. Throughout the summer months, once snow has melted, climbers can be seen as specks against the granite, attempting over 30 different routes to reach the top. Catch a glimpse of this amazing spectacle on a hike to Saddleback Lakes and Idaho’s “Shangri-La.”