Hikes in Stanley, Idaho

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The last time I visited Stanley, Idaho was eleven years ago.  I had hoped to visit last year during my three weeks in Idaho, but I was too early as it was still snowing.  Considering I should have named my blog, Chasing 70 Degrees, snow is not in my future if I can help it.

Anyway, I finally arrived and spent several days camping and hiking in Stanley and and caught up with a few relatives.

Campsite in Stanley

Upon driving into Stanley, my first stop was the visitors center.  It closes at 4pm, and I arrived a few minutes too late, but fortunately the nice lady who was just leaving pointed me to some dispersed camping with cell service on Nip and Tuck Rd. 

While there is literally camping all over the place (probably more camp sites than hotel rooms in the area), aside from portions of Redfish Lake and Iron Creek, cell service (especially AT&T and T-mobile) is extremely limited.  Consequently, I was extremely grateful for the tip, so I could blog while in camp rather than at the library or a street side corner!

What made my campsite even better was the remarkable view!  This is one of the best sites I have ever snagged (and one of the hardest to find).  On a Tuesday, almost a week before July 4th, this was the only one open.

campsite in Stanley on nip and tuck road

Alright, enough about campsites.  The title of this post is Hikes in Stanley.

Hikes in Stanley

As you likely know, with a plethora of camping, comes a selection of hiking trails.  If I wanted, I could have just walked a different dirt road from my campsite every day.  But I prefer destination hikes, meaning I like to end up a lake, waterfall or view.

Below are a few hikes in Stanley I found with the help of All Trails, a flyer from the Visitor Center, and posted maps at the trail heads.  These are listed in the order I hiked the trails in Stanley, not in any other way.

Bridal Veil Falls – 7 miles – Moderate

The first hike I took in Stanley was to Bridal Veil Falls, which I found on a flyer I picked up at the Visitors Center.  The description read: “7 miles roundtrip – 350’ elevation gain – Easy.  The trail offers scenic view of McGown Peak, meadows ablaze with wildflowers, and of course, the waterfall at the end.

Well, the view of McGown Peak across a meadow of purple wildflowers was absolutely stunning.  This was within the first mile of the hike, and in my opinion, the best part.  I probably also liked it because I spotted three elk darting away after they heard my dog Annie romping in the meadow.  Fortunately, she didn’t see them.

Bridal veil falls hike in stanley

Anyway, after a mile, the well-maintained trail gradually ascends through the forest.  For the most part, it is a peaceful hike in the shade of the pine trees.  Eventually, the path meets a turn off to Lady Face Falls.  Since I am a waterfall lover, I took the short jaunt to the left, only to be disappointed. 

I could hear the roaring water, but barely glimpse the falls in the narrow canyon.  Consequently, it was hardly photo worthy.

I carried on and to my dismay I reached a creek crossing with fast running water approximately knee high.  I wasn’t prepared for this, but likely should have been since I knew I was in a Wilderness Area which is defined by keeping the wilderness in its most natural state.

As a result, there is no bridge, and the creek requires wading across.  I’m told there is a log much farther upstream that rests on the banks about three feet above the water.  So, you may take your pick.  I took off my La Sportivas and socks, kept Annie upriver of me, and couldn’t get across the ice cold water fast enough.  Whew!  My feet burned from the cold and the rocky creek bottom wasn’t the most welcoming!

I thought to myself, after that effort, the view of Bridal Veil Falls better be spectacular!  Much to my chagrin, you could hardly see Bridal Veil Falls from the trail.  In fact, if I didn’t have the google map, I would have walked right by it.  The tall falls are tucked high in the trees across the river.

A side path branches off to another river crossing, but thereafter, I was told by a local it is a scramble (which is not counted in the seven-mile roundtrip). I also found out that this path leads to the north side of incoming creek, and it is best to climb up the south side if you want to make the scramble.

I walked up the main trail a little bit further to a post missing a sign but didn’t see an easy creek crossing which I wasn’t going to try again anyway. Had I found this hike on the All Trails app, and known the scramble was less than a half-mile, I might have tried it. But I didn’t find it until afterward and the risk reward was too unknown.

In summary, if you have the adventure in you, cross the creek and bushwack toward the falls, as I hear they are worth it.  If not, maybe don’t take this hike as you’ll have to settle for a fleeting glimpse like I did!  At least the aqua color creek is lovely.

On a side note, the parking for this trail is at Stanley Lake, but the trail is number 460 and the trailhead is located slightly up the dirt road from the pit toilets.

aqua creek on bridal veil falls trail

Bench Lakes – 7.8 miles – Moderate

The second hike in Stanley that I took was to Bench Lakes.  This trail is located south of town in the Sawtooth National Forest at Redfish Lake, so named for the red Chinook salmon who spawn in the turquoise waters.  To reach the trailhead, follow the AllTrails directions up until you pass the laundry and showers and park in the next large, dirt parking lot.

From the parking lot, cross the road to the trailhead and follow the creek upstream for a quarter mile where you’ll find sign indicating Bench Lakes is to the left.  From here, the trail leaves the rather busy area, crosses the creek over a lovely bridge, and ascends through the forest.

After the initial ascent, the trail levels off on a ridge overlooking Redfish Lake.  The intermittent views of the cyan lake and grey granite peaks between the green pines was just lovely.  I really enjoyed this portion of the trail.

The next well marked trail junction indicates Bench Lakes are to the right.  I descended the trail, got my Wilderness Area permit, leashed up Annie, and then followed a few switchbacks through a mountainside of arrowroot coupled with outstanding views.

I slowed briefly to soak in the views but was anxious to get to the two lakes.  While I certainly enjoyed seeing the reflection of the snowcapped Sawtooths in the green waters, the shoreline was difficult to access.  In addition, the area is loaded with downed trees and mosquitoes so thick it was like looking into a fog.

bench lake hike in stanley

We stopped for a few seconds, and Annie’s whole back was covered in a patch of twenty mosquitoes.  I quickly captured a few videos and pictures at the upper lake and moved back down to the lower lake which was less marshy.  But without a place to sit with a view of the lake, I retraced my steps to the corner of the last switchback. Here, Annie and I gobbled up our snacks while admiring the mountains across the valley.  And we didn’t even have to contend with mosquitoes.

On the way down, surprisingly we spotted a deer.  Naturally, it didn’t stick around long, so I only captured a crummy photo!

Fishhook Creek – 4.5 miles – Easy

The third hike in Stanley I took was up Fishhook Creek.  Seeing as how it was a Sunday of July Fourth weekend, I wanted to knock out a short, easy hike before the crowds made it to the trail.  I was pretty successful in this venture until the final quarter mile of this 4.5-mile roundtrip.

Fishhook Creek Trail begins at the same trailhead as Bench Lakes.  Instead of turning left across the bridge, it continues straight with little elevation gain.  It is very easy and the flyer from the Visitor Center describes it as “a great family hike for all ages, through pine forests on a gently rolling trail – the Sawtooths overshadow a meadow at the end.”

Annie and I hiked to a very small lake or beaver pond just past the wilderness sign before we turned around.  We caught up with a nice local who was also trying to beat the crowds.  She said, she had hiked to Sawtooth Lake the previous day, and the snow during the last mile was packed down.  Concerned if I could make it to Sawtooth, this was welcomed news, and I made that hike my next destination.

fishhook trail in stanley

Sawtooth Lake – 10 miles – Moderate

Sawtooth Lake, located in the Sawtooth National Forest, may be reached from three different trailheads (Stanley Lake, Redfish Lake, and the Iron Creek.  I hiked to the lake from Iron Creek.

For the first two miles, the smooth trail passes through a damaged forest.  Thereafter, it gets rockier as it climbs to intermittent views of jagged peaks and a waterfall.

Soon it descends across a creek and then ascends to a magnificent view. From the view, the trail climbs through the forest to the Alpine Lake juncture.  I always love when I can see two lakes for the price of one!

In my opinion, Alpine Lake was the prettiest while viewed from the switch backs that head to Sawtooth Lake. So be sure to stop and look before continuing, even if you drop down the short spur trail to its shore.

alpine lake

In early July, Sawtooth Lake was still snowed in a little bit.  The path changed from dry, to muddy, to snowy. To avoid trouncing through more snow, I first stopped at the base of Sawtooth Lake. But the view was limited, so I continued toward the middle.

annie at sawtooth lake

Annie and I, along with the nearby pika, enjoyed the lake to ourselves for about half an hour before many hikers streamed up the trail.  Sawtooth Lake is an iconic hike in Stanley, so be prepared for crowds.  See my post, Hike to Sawtooth Lake, for more details.

Washington Lake – 6 miles – Moderate

The hike to Washington Lake is the farthest away from Stanley, mostly because it requires driving 10 miles down a dirt road.  The road passes through burnt forest, but don’t dismay, as most of the forest around the trail is spared.

The trail to Washington Lake is another path that rewards hikers with multiple lakes!  Annie and I hiked to the Fourth of July Lake, a tarn, and finally Washington Lake.  Three lakes in six miles is pretty awesome.

There is a ton of water on this trail.  Along with the lakes, are many creeks as well as some streaming water in the middle of the trail, at least in early July.

We managed to find a lovely spot on the shore after maneuvering around the snow.  With few people on the trail, I found this hike in Stanley to be very relaxing.  For more details, see my post, Fourth of July Lake Trail. ETB

washington lake hike in stanley

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

11 thoughts on “Hikes in Stanley, Idaho

    1. Haha. I know! I was always afraid I’d come back and somebody would be in it despite me putting out a mat in chairs. It wouldn’t be the first time. But it was kind of on the side of a quiet road, so some people would prefer more seclusion. One of the few spots with good cell service!

      1. That’s happened to you? Geez. I can’t believe someone would take a clearly occupied campsite.

      2. Regularly. Though mostly temporary. Hikers temporarily park there to go on a nearby trail (when they can park someplace else). Bigger campsites, when there is room for 2 and I was saving for friends and posted multiple signs but they parked there anyway, so I had to move. Someone even walked into this campsite to take a picture when she could have gone 6 feet to left on the other side of the tree and not be in mine. Even the ranger parked in my campsite and walked to go talk to another camper. It’s like I have a magnet for it!!! And I’m sensitive to it because my dog gets upset (protective of her space and barks).

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