When coming to the Stanley Basin, you are sure to get a glimpse of history. From the dirt roads of town, to the rustic design of the buildings, to the fact that, because of the establishment of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, the area remains relatively unchanged, there is a timeless feel about this place.
Though Native Americans and then trappers first occupied the Sawtooth Valley in the summer, it was the goldrushers who finally made it a permanent home.
With the California gold rush, many men moved west, some to the Sawtooth Valley where gold was discovered up many Salmon River tributaries. While the mining towns along these tributaries made up most of the population, some hardy souls spilled into the valley to endure the deep snows for the opportunity to homestead in the beautiful area.
While at the time Stanley was one of the lesser-populated towns of the area, it is now one of few that stuck around. The remnants of the many other mining towns are now vacated, crumbling ghosts of their former selves. Visiting these ghost towns gives visitors a real look into the rugged lives of the first year-round Sawtooth Valley residents.
Driving from the headwaters of the Salmon River down to Challis, there are several stops to be made.
Vienna was the largest mining camp in the area with over 200 buildings. Though now the town is mostly in rubble, it is still an interesting site to visit. It is just off Highway 75 on forest service road 007. Look for the Forest Service sign indicating the location of the old town.
Another booming town with a fatal end, Sawtooth City once housed nearly 600 people. Today, one well-preserve cabin stands among the rubble. Again, the views and historical significance of the town make it worth the trip. Turn west off of Highway 75 on Forest Service Road 204 (Beaver Creek Road).
Boulder City is the most scenic of the ghost towns. This group of old cabins is situated at 10,000 feet at the base of Boulder Peak in the Boulder Mountains. Boulder City was once a successful silver mining operation with around $1 million worth of ore being extracted from the area. Now, among the tumbling white water and jagged rocky peaks, one can find the old mill, many cabins, and the outlines of the old bath house. Forest Service Road 158 leads to Boulder Basin. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is highly recommended.
Bonanza and Custer City
These two towns are up the clear and tumbling Yankee Fork of the Salmon River. Take a left at Sunbeam and drive approximately 9 miles. The US Forest Service and Friends of Custer County are slowly restoring the area but even those building that have yet to be restored are in relatively good shape making these two ghost towns the best preserved in the area. There is a self-conducted walking tour that includes the old school house, saloon and many other historic buildings.
Bayhorse started as a gold mining town but quickly turned into a silver mining town. Turn left on Bayhorse Road, nine miles before the Highway 75 and 21 intersections. Drive 3.6 miles to the Bayhorse Townsite. This beautiful ghost town includes the Bayhorse hotel, the old cemetery, and old beehive kilns used to make charcoal for the smelter. Use caution in summer months, as there are rattlesnakes in this area.