Things to Do in Stanley

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Stanley, Idaho is a small town of 100 or so residents that balloons to thousands in the summertime.  Stanley is located in the Sawtooth Valley surrounded by 1,000 miles of wilderness.  In fact, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is the largest recreation area in the United States! Consequently, there is a substantial amount of outdoor things to do in Stanley.

Camping in Stanley

To begin, there are camping options galore.  Campgrounds may be found at Redfish Lake and Stanley Lake.  There many additional designated sites along highway 75.  You may also find dispersed camping off Iron Creek Rd, on the way to Stanley Lake, and off Nip and Tuck Road.  All the camping is very close to Stanley, but cell service is limited, at least with AT&T and T-mobile.

dispersed camping in stanley

If camping is not for you, Stanley boasts a variety of places to stay ranging from cabins to guest ranches to lodges, and hotels.  There are even some apartments rentals and Air Bnbs.  With the popularity of Stanley, these places book early, so make you plans in advance.

A few places to stay in Stanley include but are not limited to Diamond D Ranch, Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch, Redfish Lake Lodge, Beckwith Lodge, Torreys Burnt Creek Inn, Redfish Riverside Inn, Sawtooth Hotel, and Mountain Village Resort.

While enjoying your stay, try out one of these many things to do in Stanley.

Take a Hike

Of course taking a hike is cost effective and easy thing to do in Stanley.  There are many trails in the Sawtooth National Forest from which to choose.  An easy hike is up Fishhook Trail located near Redfish Lake Lodge.  Some moderate hikes in Washington Lake and Sawtooth Lake.  Sawtooth Lake is the most iconic hike in Stanley.  As a result, the ten miler is very popular.  But it features waterfalls, views, and two lakes.  See my post, Hikes in Stanley, for more details and options.

sawtooth lake

Go to a Lake

While I mentioned a few lakes above for hiking, you may also drive to both Redfish Lake and Stanley Lake.  Stanley Lake includes a boat launch and nearby trails.

Redfish Lake is the largest lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.  Its north shore features a hotel, marina, and a cross-lake ferry for hikers and sightseers.  The marina rents boats, kayaks, canoes, SUPs, and paddle boats. You may also take a sightseeing or sunset cruise.

redfish lake

Ride a Horse

Also at Redfish Lake is the opportunity to go horseback riding.  Redfish Lake Corrals is operated by Mystic Saddle Ranch which offers several different trail rides.  Rides begin at 9am and depart every two hours until 3pm.  They may last anywhere from 1 hour to a full day. I ran into a horse riding trip going to Bench Lakes. The views going up the switch backs to Bench Lakes are lovely.

bench lake

Soak in the Hot Springs

If you don’t ride horses much, you might need to soak those sore leg muscles in the Sunbeam Hot Springs.  The Sunbeam Hot Springs are located on Highway 75 on the banks of the Salmon River.  While the pools may be hard to see, there is no denying the steam that comes up from them in the morning as the hot spring water trickles from the mountainside into the icy river!

You may also soak in some history while you are there.  A 1937 bath house built by the CCC stands by the pools and is a historic site.

sunbeam hotsprings

Visit Custer

Sunbeam Hot Springs is located about half-way between Stanley and Custer, so if you are out exploring, keep going to Custer to a well-preserved mining town.  I personally liked the house with crushed cans as the roof!  And as always, seeing old mining equipment is a favorite.  Custer has lots of good stories, so be sure to read the interpretive boards. And don’t miss Custer Day celebrated in July.

custer, idaho

Also, make a stop at the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge.  The dredge was used to dig for gold from 1940 to 1952.  It had 71 buckets on a continuous chain, and each bucket could hold 8 cubic feet of dirt.  Former employees of the company that operated the 988-ton dredge have restored it.  You may walk around it and read the placards at any time.  Or you may go during opening hours, 10-4:30 through the summer to see inside.

yankee fork gold dredge

Also nearby is the Bonanza Cemetery. Bonanza was another mining town next to Custer, but much of it is privately owned.

Stop in the Stanley Museum

While on a historical tour through Stanley, stop in the museum.  It certainly sits in a beautiful setting.  The small building features an interesting climbing exhibit, another thing to do in Stanley.  It also includes period furnishings.  The museum is free, though donations are always appreciated.

stanley museum
view from the museum

Raft the Salmon River

If walking through history isn’t for you, don’t worry.  There are plenty of adrenaline pumping activities in Stanley too.

The Salmon River, also known as the River of No Return, is famous for its rafting.  It got its name from miners who used wooden drift boats and then took the lumber to build camp, requiring them to walk out.

Something else unique about the Salmon River is that it flows north until it reaches the Snake and Columbia rivers before it turns west to reach the ocean.

At 425 miles long, it is the longest river contained in a single state and the longest river without a dam, though it had a short-lived one until it was blown up in 1934.

blown up dam near Stanley

Several companies offer rafting trips of all varieties, including class II/III/IV rapids, floats trips, blow up kayak trips and more.  Plan anywhere from 3.5 to 6 hours for the experience.  The River Company takes more guests down their section of river than any other outfitter.  Other companies include the Sawtooth Adventure Company and White Cloud Rafting Adventures.

Side note: If you want to go rafting in Sun Valley, an hour away, Stanley is where you come.

Check out the Fish Hatchery

Upriver from the dam and the rafting near Red Fish Lake is the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery.  Unfortunately, while I visited, the river was running too high, and the salmon had yet to return to spawn.  Generally, the Chinook and the Sockeye return during the summer.  I was bummed to miss them and wanted to tell the poor blokes fishing below the hatchery, that they were too early…at least for salmon anyway!

sawtooth fish hatchery

Where to Eat in Stanley

Did talking about salmon make you hungry.  There are several excellent restaurants in Stanley.  Almost all of them are rated 4.5 stars or above on google.

I ate at three places while in town.  Papa Brunee’s, Sawtooth Luce’s Restaurant, and Stanley Baking Company & Café.

Papa Brunee’s pizza is excellent and they have a great online ordering system.  I took advantage of this so I could eat pizza while enjoying my amazing campsite view.

Sawtooth Luce’s Restaurant serves a variety of food from mussels to salads to burgers.  I ordered a Kobe beef burger (which was quite as good as the one I had in Salida), but my cousin Stephanie’s salad looked divine!

The Stanley Baking Company & Café is the place to be in the morning.  It was packed on a Tuesday morning, thus ordering a quick pastry through the window didn’t go that smoothly.  But it food is tasty and the atmosphere is great.  ETB

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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.

3 thoughts on “Things to Do in Stanley

  1. I think I may have soaked in that hot spring as a kid. It’s weird… I didn’t really have any memory of it until I saw the photo. Suddenly, it looks so familiar.

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