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Things to do in Stanley Idaho

When you come on a spring or early summer Middle Fork Salmon River rafting trip with Solitude River Trips, we begin our journey in the mountain town of Stanley, Idaho. Even though you’ll be in Idaho for a world-class Middle Fork Salmon River fly fishing or rafting trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, it is worth the time and effort to dedicate a day or two before or after your river trip in this amazing and unique town. There is so much to do in Stanley Idaho, so we made a list of our favorite activities for you to choose from.

Hike the Sawtooths: The Sawtooth Mountains are unmistakable — their peaks are some of the most jagged and majestic in the world, and they soar up from the foothills just outside Stanley, Idaho. There are many options for hiking trails in the wilderness area, ranging from easy to very challenging. Here are just a few of our suggestions:

      • Fishhook Meadows: a great beginner trail that allows you to acclimate or bring along hikers of all ages, this hike is wide and shaded by lodgepole pines along it’s 2 mile route. It ends in a stunning meadow with a picturesque pond and panoramic views of some of the tallest peaks in the Sawtooths. With only 300ft of elevation gain, this is a great hike for anyone. 
      • Sawtooth Lake: This trail is one of the most popular in the area, and for good reason. It takes you up switchbacks and through winding alpine forests to a crystalline lake surrounded by impressive peaks. It is 5 miles one-way, with almost 2,000ft of elevation gain, so it’s not a hike for the faint of heart. You can do it as a day trip and lunch at one of the many natural overlooks around the lake, or spend a night at the lake camping under the stars. 
visit Stanley Idaho and hike to iconic Sawtooth Lake

A view of Sawtooth Lake from a ridge above.

      • Cramer Lakes: One of my personal favorite sports in the Sawtooths, Cramer Lakes usually requires camping gear, as it is almost 8-miles one-way to the first of the lakes. It is possible to get an early start on one of those long Idaho days and do the whole hike in one day, but I suggest taking the time to enjoy the lakes. My favorite part about Cramer Lakes is the waterfall that connects the two lakes. 
      • Goat Lake: This is a great option for a moderate hike that still accesses a stunning alpine lake. It is a little less than 4 miles to the lake over 1,700ft of elevation gain. You’ll walk through fields of wildflowers and stunning vistas before getting to one of the largest waterfalls in the Sawtooths. Its just a few more turns after that to the lake itself. 
      • Grand Sawtooth Loop: If you’re here for an insanely challenging and time-consuming trek, look no further than hiking the entirety of the Sawtooths. I did this 70+ mile trek in the summer of 2020, and was shocked by the quality of the trails, the pristine camping, and the endless views of ridges, peaks, and lakes. But this 8-day journey was also one of the most difficult backpacking trips I have ever done, with an insane about of vertical gained and lost every day. If you are interested in this expedition, make sure to plan on embarking later in the summer, when the mosquitoes have mostly died off and the trails are clear of snow. I started and ended my trek in Granjean, but there are many access points into the Sawtooth Wilderness. You can piece together any number of routes depending on where your journey begins. 
a view of the Sawtooths from the trail.

Hiking the Grand Sawtooth Loop.

Hike in the White Cloud Wilderness: The Sawtooth Mountains are more well known around Stanley because of their towering prominence from any view point in town, but just down the highway lies another untouched wilderness area that is not to be forgotten. The Cecil Andrus White Cloud Wilderness Area is relatively new, having been established in 2015. This is a mostly unknown and altogether unique place to visit due to its combination of sub-alpine lakes, plentiful creeks, hiking trails and the limestone and metamorphic formations that give the mountain peaks their notable white appearance. From Stanley you can drive south on highway 75 to the Fourth of July Creek road and trailhead, access point to miles of trails leading to dozens of remote lakes. This is a more off-the-beaten path thing to do in Stanley, Idaho. Here are some of the hikes accessible from there:

      • Fourth of July Creek to Born Lakes: The trail takes you up the creek and is the main access point to most of the wilderness area. You’ll head through a lovely forest and up over a ridge, providing panoramic views of the Sawtooths, to a series of lakes nestled in the White Cloud Mountains. At 8 miles round trip with a little less than 2,000 feet of elevation gain through amazingly diverse terrain, it’s a moderate trail that is accessible to most. 
      • Washington Lake: This trail starts the same as before, but branches south about a mile and a half into the hike as you pass Fourth of July Lake. At 6.5 miles round trip with 1,100ft of elevation game, it is relatively easy compared to most of the hikes in the area. Washington Lake is a great hike for people of all ages, with a steady incline and a wide, well-maintained route. You’ll reach the lake just in time for a swim!
      • White Cloud Peaks Loop: There are amazing camping opportunities at all the lakes in the White Cloud Wilderness, and there is no better way to experience these mountains than by conquering the whole loop. This route will take you through the heart of the wilderness area, past Born lakes, through the Four Lakes Basin, past Quiet Lake, Baker Lake, Castle Divide, the Chamberlain Basin, Washington Lake and back to the trailhead.  Most backpackers take 3-4 days to hike the 28 mile loop. There are ample campsites nestled alongside all of the lakes, as well as opportunities to fish and explore side hikes. 
Visit Stanley Idaho and access the White Cloud Wilderness Area

Looking over one of the many alpine lake basins in the White Cloud Wilderness.

Check out Redfish Lake: Named for the color of the salmon that used to throng in its waters, Redfish Lake is the largest lake in the area, and allows watercraft of all kinds and sizes for access. You can hike along the ridge above the lake, or take a scenic ride on a rented pontoon or motor boat. You can also rent human powered watercraft, such as stand-up paddle boards and kayaks. Choose your own adventure on Redfish Lake! Hikers can get a ride across the lake to access trails on the other side without having to walk the entirety of the lake. There are several campgrounds, resorts and restaurants here as well, making this a fun place to explore for a day or more.

Enjoy summertime on the beaches of Redfish Lake.

Redfish Lake in the summer time is paradise for everyone.

Walk around downtown Stanley: The town itself is about as small as they come, so exploring the quaint streets can be done in one sunny afternoon. Stroll around and admire the mountain-town, rugged, log-cabin-style architecture and historical buildings, each with its own stunning view of the surrounding mountains. Head down to the Salmon River and dip your toes in its clear and refreshing waters. You can end up in the Sawtooth Valley Pioneer Park to relax and enjoy the views. 

fireworks over Stanley

Fourth of July is always festive in downtown Stanley.

Hit the Hot Springs: If you are staying at the Mountain Village Lodge, you can arrange exclusive access to their amazing riverside hot spring. Tucked into a small, three-walled cabin open to the surrounding views, this is one of the best hot soaks in the area. You can also head east on highway 75 and go to Cove Creek Hot Springs, nestled right along the Salmon River. These springs are all-natural, with a rustic pool built of river stones to soak in. It’s a nice way to enjoy some hot springs because you have the option to jump from the hot water to the cool river and back with ease! You can also check out Sunbeam Hot Springs a little further down highway 75 for a more established riverside spring. There are bathrooms and changing rooms available just above these river-rock hot springs, with a large variety of pools offering different temperatures. 

Stanley Hot Springs

Solitude owner Bridget enjoying the Stanley Hot Springs.

Visit the Stanley Historical Museum: Located in the historic Valley Creek Ranger Station, there are displays of photographs and artifacts that detail the early days in the Sawtooth Valley, and offer a glimpse of pioneer lifestyles in this rugged landscape.

Fly fish the rivers and lakes: Fishing opportunities are seemingly endless in Stanley, from the Salmon River itself, to the myriad of creek tributaries, to the alpine lakes that dot the Sawtooth Mountains. Hire a guide and float the Salmon for a day, or have them take you up to their favorite mountain creek or lake. If you have your own gear, head to any of the roadside pull-offs along the Salmon River and cast your fly. Make sure you have a fishing license before you do any fishing in Idaho!

fly fish the Salmon River running through Stanley

The Salmon River runs through the heart of Stanley and has great fishing pretty much year round.

Explore history firsthand at the Custer Ghost Town: Just 20 miles from Stanley along the scenic highway 75 and forest road 013, this ghost town lets visitors imagine just what it meant to be a gold miner in Idaho over 100 years ago. Custer was founded in 1879 by prospectors eager for their chance at gold, and reached a peak population of 600 people by the year 1896. Once the gold ran out, it was deserted. Significant portions have been restored and caretakers are on site during the summer to provide tours and information. A few private cabins, the town schoolhouse, and the Empire Saloon have been restored and maintained in their 19th century state. 

Go to a Star Party: Don’t get confused and think you’ll be celebrity spotting — these parties are for the astronomically inspired star gazers who want to take advantage of Stanley’s night skies. The town is part of a 1,416-square mile Dark Sky Reserve and is actually the only Gold Tier dark sky reserve in the United States. Limited light pollution in Stanley and the surrounding area, allows gazers to admire planets, countless stars, and even the Milky Way on clear nights. Star Parties are organized by different groups throughout the summer. 

see the stars over Stanley Idaho, home of one of the darkest skies in the country.

Shooting star over Stanley Idaho, home of one of the darkest skies in the country.

See a concert at Velvet Falls Dance Hall: Make sure to check the music line-up for your nights in Stanley, as you will be surprised at the number of talented musicians that come through this small town! The venue at Velvet Falls Dance Hall is new and beautifully crafted, with a large indoor stage, ample room to dance, and a wrap-around bar.

Drive out to the headwaters of the Salmon River: Want to see where the mighty Salmon River gets its start? You’ll be amazed when you find the small trickling creek that transforms over hundreds of miles into the river we know and love. Head south from Stanley for a scenic drive. Drive to the top of Galena Pass first for some stunning views of the mountainous headwaters of the Salmon River. Then, turn back towards Stanley and stop by the roadside historical marker depicting the history of the river. You can explore even further by driving up forest road 215, or Salmon River Road, towards Chemeketan Campground. This dirt road follows the beginnings of the Salmon River for several miles into the mountains. 

Find the headwaters of the Salmon River.

The views of the headwaters of the Salmon River are awe-inspiring! What a river!

We love the town of Stanley for so many reasons; these are just a few. You’ll have to visit the town yourself to discover all of the amazing things to do in Stanley Idaho and to have your own adventure in the wilderness of Idaho.