Tucked away in southwestern Idaho in between two national forests sits the tiny hamlet of Stanley—elevation 6,250 feet; population around 70. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise, with endless acres of forests and three separate mountain ranges, including the Sawtooth Range, which has 57 peaks higher than 10,000 feet. It also proudly boasts crystal-clear rivers and lakes, pristine forests with aspens that shine like gold in the fall, and wildflower-covered meadows overlooking postcard-worthy panoramas.
Connecting all this awe-inspiring nature are hundreds and hundreds of miles of crowd-free, backcountry trails, waiting—nay, begging—to be ridden. If you need info on trails, or recommendations on places to pick up supplies, drop into the Visitor Center in the Community Building on Highway 21. If you need a biking guide, Sawtooth Adventure has great options, and the Redfish Lake Lodge has bike rentals, as well as activities you can do while taking a break from biking.
Now that you’re ready to ride, here are a few of the classics in the area.
Elk Mountain Loop
Distance : 11.5 miles Climbing : 1,100 feet Difficulty : Intermediate
Elk Mountain is a good first ride in Stanley. It’s a five-star route that has a little bit of everything the area offers, but it’s a little easier than some other rides. The landscape is stellar, making it a trial of competing needs: slow down and take in the scenery, or let go of the brakes and flow until the eyes are dry.
Climbing from the parking area, you eventually reach the 7,120-foot highpoint. After that, you enjoy a nice downhill roll with breathtaking vistas of the Sawtooth mountains and good opportunities to spot wildlife. Go clockwise to get the big climb done when legs are fresh.
Stanley Lake Creek, Bench Creek, Elk Mountain Trail
Distance : 22 miles Climbing : 3,000 feet Difficulty : Expert
This ride is in the same neighborhood as the Elk Mountain Loop, and it bumps up both the mileage and the difficulty. Settle in for a seven-mile climb from the start. Once you reach the high point at 8,640 feet, you’re treated to six miles of sweet, sweet downhill action.
The highlights of this trail include views of 9,860-foot McGown Peak, good elk and moose viewing, and the cherry on top: Bridal Veil Falls, which requires an off-the-bike scramble but is totally worth it.
Redfish Lake Loop
Distance : 14 miles Climbing : 1,970 feet Difficulty : Advanced
The Redfish Lake Loop circumnavigates picturesque Redfish Lake and offers an adventurous ride with two big climbs and two big descents laced with techy rock gardens, rooty sections, water crossings, and a couple of possible hike-a-bike sections. The ride also leads you to the white-sand beaches of the lake, the perfect place for a cooling dip.
On the loop, riders will catch humbling sightings of the Grand Mogul and pass through gorgeous pine forest and aspen groves. The upper end is surprisingly green and lush and teeming with butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. From the parking area, clockwise is the better direction to go.
Distance : 18 miles Climbing : 2,000 feet Difficulty : Intermediate
No mention of Stanley or Sun Valley would be complete without Fisher Creek. It’s classic Idaho, with a huge climb, and then insane flow all day long in some of the most gorgeous terrain on the planet. The trail passes through an old burn area where the once-scarred earth has given way to meadows covered with wildflowers, giving it a unique, otherworldly feel. The last part of the loop is downhill back to your car at the Williams Creek Parking Lot, with the majestic Sawtooth Mountains looming straight ahead.
Distance : 27 miles Climbing : 3,930 feet Difficulty : Expert
This is a long, hard, fun day, with a four-mile climb up to the 9,500-foot high point, and then a screaming six-mile descent. Another long-but-casual climb sets riders up for another lengthy downhill that is the very definition of flow. There are great views of the jagged Sawtooths, alpine lakes, and wildflower-blanketed meadows.
The beginning of this ride starts on Boundary Creek Trail which can be used to link several other five-star rides in the area, like the Big/Little Casino Loops, Sunny Gulch, and Fisher Creek.
After a Day on the Trails
For a town this small, Stanley has a surprising amount of foodie-worthy eating options. In the morning, enjoy coffee and a hearty breakfast at the Redd Square Restaurant, or pick up a box lunch, which you can order the night before. You can also fuel up with some epic oatmeal pancakes at the Stanley Baking Co. & Cafe. For dinner, how about pizza at Papa Brunee’s or a nice sit-down dinner at a rustic place like the Sawtooth Hotel?
When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, there are plenty of pay campsites, cabins, and RV hookups available for reservation through the U.S. Forest Service website. Plus, you’ll find 27 hotel/lodge options in the Stanley area, and folks seeking something truly unique can try a guest ranch.
Rest Day Activities
The possibilities are almost limitless in Stanley. There’s rafting, climbing, horseback riding, swimming, and, of course, hiking in this outdoor mecca. But, to truly relax and let those weary muscles recover, there is only one option: soaking in a hot spring. Now that puts the rest in rest day.
Written by Shaine Smith for RootsRated in partnership with Stanley Sawtooth CoC.