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72 hours in the SNRA
by Ed Cannady, backcountry recreation manager for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area

Day 1
• Have a hearty breakfast, because you'll need the fuel for a full-day hike.

• Drive to the Rough Creek Trailhead to access the nine-mile round-trip hike to the top of 9,954-foot Lookout Mountain. This is the best available overview of the SNRA from any trail, and has a historic fire lookout as a bonus. The lookout has been recently restored but is still closed because it has no lightning protection system. However, the catwalk is a great place for lunch, with face-to-face views of the White Cloud and Sawtooth mountains and distant views of the Salmon River, as well as the Boulder, Pioneer and Lost River ranges. Be sure to head down at the first sign of a thunderstorm. This is a challenging hike, but the rewards are many.

• Stop at the Boat Box hot springs to soak away the trail miles with the Salmon River flowing by at your feet.

• Stay up late enough to have your mind blown by a dark sky studded with stars. Get re-acquainted with the Milky Way.

Day 2
• Get up early and drive the Nip and Tuck Road to see the sunrise on the Sawtooths. The best views require parking and walking up short, steep, rutted tracks to the top of the ridge. Watch for elk and wildflowers in the meadows as you complete the drive through to Highway 21 west of Stanley.

• Recover from the previous day's hike by floating the thrilling but family-friendly day stretch of the Salmon River with any of the great outfitters offering trips. Opt for the lunch trip, and learn as much as you can about the salmon that spawn here.

• Relax for the rest of the day in a very quiet place such as Fishhook Meadows. Clear your mind, free your soul, slow your pace. These are the best gifts of the wilderness.

• After dinner, challenge yourself to count all the things you're grateful for. If you can't hit 25 without effort, think about what you need to change to get there.

Day 3
• Get up early enough to catch your final Sawtooth sunrise across Little Redfish Lake, an iconic view of the SNRA.

• Pump up the tires on your mountain bike and ride the challenging 14-mile Redfish Lake Loop. This has it all for good riders: challenging switchbacks, rocks, roots, 2,000 feet of climbing, tricky technical and long smooth downhills as well as astounding beauty. Be sure to keep your speed in check on the Bench Lakes trail, which is heavily used by hikers and horses.

• After dinner, stroll on the Redfish Lake Lodge docks as the sun sets. This is a peaceful, romantic highlight that will make your heart smile.