Paddle boarding on Redfish Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho.

Redfish Lake

Redfish Lake is located in the Custer County in Idaho, United States. It is an alpine lake that sits at about 1,996 meters above sea level. Redfish is one of the several lakes in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The lake is situated at the headwaters of Salmon River, which flows into the larger Snake and Columbia River.

Landscape and Geography

Redfish Lake
Mount Heyburn and Redfish Lake in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains, near Stanley. 

Redfish Lake is considered to be an alpine lake, due to its higher elevation. It is surrounded by thick forests of mainly Ponderosa pine, Engelmann spruce and Douglas fir trees. Beyond the forests, two main peaks can be seen from the Redfish lake, framing the picturesque lake views. These are Mount Heyburn, which measures 3,118 meters at its peak and lies to the west, and Grand Mogul, which has a maximum height of 2,967 meters. 

Visiting the Lake

Redfish Lake
Redfish Lake covered with snow during winters. 

Visitors come to the lake for a variety of recreational activities. As part of a national recreation area, camping, hiking and outdoor activities are common and encouraged. Similarly, boating, fishing and even windsurfing are some of the popular recreational activities on the lake. There are also nearly 18 kilometers of shoreline along Redfish Lake, much of which has sand beaches. While swimming is allowed, the temperatures in the lake tend to be colder than most would deem ideal for a dip. The water temperatures range from 0°C (the lake usually freezes over in winter) to roughly 17°C during July and August. 


Redfish Lake
Chipmunk on a log at Redfish Lake in Stanley, Idaho. 

In the 1950s, roughly 4,000 sockeye salmon travelled through the lake and rivers. Just as Salmon River was named for these fish, their bright colour is what gave the Redfish Lake its name as well. Over the decades, populations of salmon became massively depleted, and in 1999 the National Marine Fisheries Service decided to stock the lake with salmon raised in a nearby hatchery. This effort has caused an increase in salmon populations, however the numbers are still far less than in the years that gave the area its namesake. In addition to salmon, the lake houses bull trout, steelhead, kokanee and Chinook salmon.

In addition to the fishes, there is an abundance of other wildlife in the lake and around it. Beavers are very common in this part of Idaho, and can be seen in the lake and the dams in the area. Red foxes are also common, as are pine martens, mule deer, mountain goats and elk. The largest mammal in the area is the black bear. In terms of birds in the area, commonly found species include the Western yellow tanager, Mountain bluebird, Steller’s Jay and the predatory osprey.

Sunrise at Redfish Lake, Sawtooth Range, Idaho
Sunrise at Redfish Lake, Sawtooth Range, Idaho.

This beautiful lake in the heart of Idaho’s wilderness is both a historical region as well as a popular destination for those seeking the outdoors. From beautiful views to a variety of recreational activities, Redfish Lake has something for everyone. Visitors can come for a hike, or camp out overnight, and are likely to catch a glimpse of some of Idaho’s best wildlife.


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