Sawtooth National Recreation Area Overview

Sawtooth National Recreation Area's (SNRA) 756,000 acres are part of the Sawtooth National Forest. The SNRA was established by Congress in 1972 "... in order to assure the preservation and protection of the natural, scenic, historic, pastoral, and fish and wildlife values and to provide for the enhancement of the recreational values associated therewith..." At the same time, the 217,000-acre Sawtooth Primitive Area was designated as the Sawtooth Wilderness Area.

The SNRA can be reached by driving 2.5 hours east on State Highway 21 from Boise, Idaho; making a one-hour drive north on State Highway 75 from the Ketchum/Sun Valley area, or by driving one hour west on State Highway 75 from Challis, Idaho. Driving times vary by season; during the winter months, call the Idaho Department of Transportation for road conditions.

Located at the northernmost end of the Sawtooth National Forest, SNRA comprises one of the largest and most magnificent National Recreation Areas in the United States. Four mountain ranges: the Sawtooths, Boulders, White Clouds, and Smokies provide scenic landscapes in every direction, with more than 50 major peaks over 10,000 feet, 300 lakes, and 250 miles of trails. There are more than 1,000 high mountain lakes here, as well as the headwaters of four of Idaho's major rivers: the Salmon, South Fork of the Payette, the Boise, and the Big Wood.

Summer and fall activities within SNRA include fishing, hiking, mountain climbing, nature trails, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, birdwatching, canoeing, kayaking, and whitewater float boating.

Most trails within the Sawtooth NRA are open to mountain bike users, with the exclusion of wilderness trails. Other trails are open to motorized off-road vehicles. Many of the lakes on the SNRA are open to motorized boating. The SNRA also contains the headwaters of the Salmon River, which is a float boater's paradise. Redfish Lake is a wonderful place for sail boating. Other warm-weather activities include water-skiing, horseback riding, picnicking, hunting, airplane tours, llama trekking, and swimming.

Family camping attracts more recreationists to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area than any other single activity. There are 37 developed campgrounds with a total of 700 individual sites along the Salmon River in the Stanley, Redfish, and Alturas Lake areas and in the Wood River Valley. Camping outside of developed campgrounds is allowed with some restrictions.

The Sawtooth NRA is heaven for those looking for scenic drives. Three National Scenic Byways—the Sawtooth, Salmon River and Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byways—converge in Stanley, Idaho, the largest settlement in the Sawtooth NRA.

Tape tours are available from the SNRA headquarters, the Stanley Ranger Station, and the Ketchum Ranger Station. This tape tour describes the Forest Service management of the SNRA, geology, history, and natural history. The tape tour and cassette players are available on loan free of charge for area visitors. Evening campfire programs and interpretive activities are available at the Wood River Campground and Redfish Lake Amphitheaters Wednesday through Saturday during the summer season.

During the winter and spring, popular activities are cross-country skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, steelhead fishing, winter camping, and ice skating on a pond at the SNRA Headquarters located eight miles north of Ketchum. The SNRA maintains about 150 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and more than 70 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. Backcountry skiing is quite popular and helicopter skiing is available in the SNRA with a heli-ski outfitter.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 Sep 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Articles & Advice on Sawtooth National Recreation Area

park finder
step one
Where are you going?

step one
What do you want to do?

+ More Activities

Receive Gear Reviews, Articles & Advice

Preview this newsletter »


Parks Near Sawtooth National Recreation Area
GEARZILLA: The Gorp Gear Blog


Ask Questions