The Gem State has many lesser-known destinations that are packed with adventure and jaw-dropping scenery, but Stanley, Idaho, tops the list. Located in the central part of the state and surrounded by the Sawtooth, White Cloud, and Lost River ranges, Stanley has become a basecamp for some of the best hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing in the country. You’ll find hundreds of high mountain lakes accessible by a well-developed trail system just minutes from downtown. World-class rock climbers make the trek to explore the town’s unparalleled granite walls. Fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting are all popular and easily accessible. And yet, for all the outdoor adventures, you have plenty of room to find some solitude. It just takes a few lungfuls of crisp mountain air and a glimpse of the unforgettable scenery to understand what makes this such a special place.
Part of the joy of Stanley is simply traveling there. The town is connected by three designated scenic routes—the Ponderosa Pine, Salmon River, and Sawtooth scenic byways. No matter how you arrive, you’ll be treated to mountain passes, alpine vistas and well-maintained roads through the forested terrain.
Stanley is about three hours northeast of Boise, via the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway (Highway 21). Be prepared for one of the best reveals in nature when coming around the bend and seeing the view of the Sawtooth Basin for the first time. Consider making a full-day tour out of the drive from Boise and explore some of the hot springs in Idaho City or near Lowman along the way.
Travel to Stanley from Sun Valley on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway (Highway 75) takes about an hour, and travelers drive through the heart of the Sawtooth National Forest and up and over the high mountain pass of Galena Summit with its panoramic views. Coming from Montana, the Salmon River Scenic Byway (also Highway 75 and U.S. Highway 93) follows the same path that the Lewis and Clark expedition took more than 200 years ago, following the Salmon River through the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Stanley is about 162 miles from the Montana border on this route and a little over an hour to Challis, Idaho.
Welcome to Town
A rugged group of less than 100 individuals call Stanley home year-round, and they do a lot for the town. Check out the Gerheim Gallery for unique art, sample the eclectic restaurants, and enjoy the seasonal events. Visit "Ace of Diamonds" in the center of downtown Stanley for events and festivals including the summertime Thursday night street dances featuring live music and food in front of the Kasino Club.
Mountain Village has always offered visitors a chance to get a cold post-adventure brew and hear great live music. They have recently added a new concert venue, Velvet Falls Dance Hall, to provide bigger, better shows (click here to see this years lineup). Don’t miss the Sawtooth Valley Gathering music festival or the annual Mountain Mama’s Arts & Crafts Fair, both in July.
One thing about mountain living is that it’s sure to work up an appetite. You can’t go wrong with any restaurant, but here are a couple of suggestions to get started. Don’t miss breakfast at the famous Stanley Baking Co. & Cafe. Located on the Salmon River, Bridge Street Grill in Lower Stanley is a great option for lunch or dinner, with a wide variety of excellent steak and seafood options. The Stanley Town Square is home to the Stanley Sluice, a rustic restaurant with a modern twist, where hungry travelers can find everything from pad thai to local Idaho burgers—this is cattle country after all.
World-Class Outdoor Adventures
Stanley is the perfect spot as a basecamp for Idaho’s storied backcountry. The nearby trails can lead to anything from remote wilderness experiences to easy, family-friendly day hikes. Mountain bike rentals are available at Riverwear and Redfish Lake to shred the area’s epic singletrack. Steep and technical or flowy and fast cross country—there are trails for every style.
Pack the fishing pole to drop a line in one of the many trout-stocked alpine lakes or plan to spend some time exploring the iconic Redfish Lake (pick up any fishing supplies at the Stanley Fly Shop). Ideal for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, swimming, hiking, and biking Redfish is the place to play near the water.
For a spectacular memory-making adventure, book a whitewater rafting trip with one of the area outfitters. Despite its nickname as "the river of no return" no experience is needed for the family and senior-friendly float trips on the Salmon River. There are options for adrenaline junkies and experienced paddlers as well. A half-day trip on class II-III rapids through The River Company is a great option for families. Or enjoy a multi-day adventure on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, which carves through 100 miles of mostly untouched land. Sawtooth Adventure offers trips on this whitewater jewel that drops 3,000 feet in altitude from start to finish.
Shutterbugs won’t have any trouble finding spots to take photos, but the best Instagram-worthy moment in town is Pioneer Park on Airport Road at sunrise or sunset for a vista worth the effort.
Feeling a little road weary from all that fun? Stanley has the answer for that too: natural hot springs. Opportunities abound from the private springs at Mountain Village where it’s possible to reserve a tub for a sunrise soak to the range of rugged riverside pools lovingly maintained by locals.
Book a Room
Fresh air, no crowds, and a comfortable bed are the best ways to guarantee a great night’s rest. All manner of styles can be accommodated in Stanley with a visitors pick of hotels, cabins, guest ranches, RV parks, and camping spots. The historic Redfish Lake Lodge is a perennial favorite, but be sure to book early for prime-season visits. Fall asleep to the babbling river at the Redfish Riverside Inn or perhaps book a stay in the heart of downtown at the Stanley Town Square’s Condo Hotel.
Whether you stop for lunch, come for the weekend, or plan a two-week getaway, Stanley doesn’t disappoint. All it takes is a quick Google search to come and discover for yourself why this small mountain town has such devout visitors that come back year after year.
Written by Lisa Collard for RootsRated Media in partnership with Stanley Sawtooth CoC.