The Gateway to the Sawtooths


The Sawtooth mountain region is an extensive and expansive maze of valleys, ridges, creeks, and lakes. Around every bend, there is something new and exciting waiting to be found by human eyes. Stanley, Idaho is the Gateway to the Sawtooths. It is the beginning to an exciting and never ending trail system that snakes its way into peace and solitude. This week we will talk about some of the popular trails in the Sawtooth mountain range, and some of the quietest areas as well. Most people that come to Stanley have hiked, or at least heard of, Sawtooth Lake out of Iron Creek. This is one of our most popular trailheads in the area, and it is incredibly close to town! Sawtooth Lake is five miles from the trailhead, and its open trail with large winding switchbacks is great for people of all ages. However, don’t forget that switchbacks means elevation, and the total elevation gain on this trail is about 1,200 feet. This can usually take between 4-6 hours to complete, but don’t rush it! Take in all the views, the large and old Douglas-firs, and not to mention the photogenic lake itself.

Photogenic Lake Stanley, ID | Stanley Chambers

Photo Credit James Yost

If we move farther west from Stanley, you can actually go to Stanley Lake. There are multiple campgrounds here, and an amazing lake. McGown Peak towers about the lake offering a up close view of the mountains. Towards the end of Stanley Lake Road there is a trailhead. This trailhead is there for both the Elk Mountain mountain-bike loop, and the Lady Face Falls trail. The beginning this hiking trail is serene and flat. It meanders across a meadow where one can see wildflowers blooming, elk eating, and sandhill cranes flying. This trail will eventually start going uphill as you go towards the falls. In order to see these falls, one would have to go off trail a little. People can stand at the top of the falls looking down on them, or even climb down to the bottom of the falls to get a grander view. We must all be careful when traveling off trail, so be sure to look at a map before heading off.

Water Falls Stanley, ID | Stanley Chambers

Continuing towards Boise we reach an entirely different ecosystem. Although the western side of the Sawtooth range is still the same range, the forest itself is incredibly varied. There are ponderosa pines, mass amounts of huckleberries, and many other dramatic differences. The Grandjean trailhead near the Sawtooth Lodge acts as a portal to the diverse area. From here, a wonderful hike is going up to Observation Peak. Although this is not in the Wilderness, this 360 view is beyond compare. Looking at the other side of McGown is incredible as your eyes wander all around the range. This hike is approximately 14 miles round trip, and has a total elevation gain of about 3,800 feet. It is not easy, but it is beautiful.

Night sky Stanley, ID | Stanley Chambers

South of Stanley is the ever allusive Imogene Lake near Decker Flats Road. Many people know about this lake, but have not hiked there before. This 9 mile trail to the lake goes past the popular Hell Roaring Lake, and then travels up in elevation to this gorgeous lake. The trail is rather exposed, but upon reaching the ridge that looks down on Hell Roaring, it’s easy to forget the sun on your back. Imogene Lake itself is expansive and crystal clear. There are campsite back there, so it is recommended to camp out there for at least a night. Out of Imogene Lake there are chains of unnamed lakes, however, just like the trail to Lady Face Falls, it is important to have a map and a good idea about where you are going. The total elevation for this hike is 1,600 feet, and approximately 18 miles round trip.

Panoramic view of the lake Stanley, ID | Stanley Chambers

These are some of the more popular trails in this area. It is always important to know where you are going, how far the trail is, and what the terrain is like. Please use the multiple resources in town in order to ensure that you understand your next trail so your adventures can be timeless. The Stanley Ranger Station, Redfish General Store, Redfish Visitor Center, and the Chamber of Commerce are all wonderful resources, but don’t forget about all the other locals! They have hiked so many different places in this Wilderness and in our neighboring Wilderness areas, so use them as a resource, too! Go out and find your next adventure in Stanley, Idaho, and the Sawtooth Forest.