The Best Things To Do in Stanley, Idaho: Hiking, Hot Springs & More
July 31, 2022
Stanley, Idaho is the perfect adventure destination on an Idaho road trip! It also makes for a great weekend trip from Boise. This small mountain town is located just under 3 hours from Boise and has a year-round population of less than 300.
During a visit to Stanley, you can experience epic mountain trails, soak in hot springs, go on a kayak or rafting adventure, or just take in the views. The jagged mountains and valleys full of wildlife remind me a bit of Grand Teton National Park, but with less crowds.
Whether you are an avid hiker or just enjoy mountain views, Stanley should definitely be on your outdoor bucket list.
Stanley, Idaho is beautiful to visit year round. In the winter months, you can experience fat tire biking, winter hiking, snowmobiling and more.
If you want to hike in the mountains without snow, it is best to visit between June and September. This is also when you are able to experience white water rafting.
September is arguably the perfect time because the weather will be cooler (better weather for hot springs!); there will be fewer crowds and mosquitos.
This blog and photos are based on my experiences visiting in July and August.
I really enjoyed my stay at the Stanley RV + Basecamp Lodge during my trip! The property is a combination lodge, cabins and RVs spots. It is located just a few minutes outside of downtown Stanley.
I stayed in the lodge, which is laid out similar to a hostel. There are four rooms that share a kitchen space. There are also shared bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities that those staying in the RV park have access to as well.
The lodge rooms are well designed with a very cozy bed. There are also picnic tables and fire pits to enjoy outside. Plus, they sell cute merchandise in the camp store. The lodge is affordable, has a great location and really nice staff. It’s the perfect place as a solo traveler or couple visiting Stanley!
The Stanley Baking Company & Cafe has a large menu of delicious breakfast and lunch options. They also have a good number of gluten-free and vegetarian options.
Breakfast meals include migas, french toast, sourdough pancakes and many more. I had the migas with sourdough toast and really enjoyed it!
This cozy restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating and was fast with to-go orders. It gets crowded but the line moves quickly. If you like breakfast, definitely make a stop here during your time in Stanley.
The Stanley Supper Club is a homey restaurant that serves comforting dishes such as fresh-baked sourdough, fried chicken and a selection of picnic staples perfect for sharing. I really enjoyed the sourdough bread (plus the amazing salted butter) and the pierogies. This is a really cute restaurant that is perfect if you’re looking for a nicer meal.
Papa Brunee’s is a casual spot that serves pizza, subs. wings and more. It’s the perfect place to go after a difficult hike. I enjoyed their pizza, cheesy breadsticks and also loved their large beer selection.
There are many incredible hiking trails around Stanley with varying difficulties. Below are descriptions of the three hikes that I’ve done and a list of a few extras that are on my list for next time. For any hike, be sure to know your limits, check trail conditions ahead of time and come prepared with the 10 essentials.
- Black bears live in the Sawtooth Mountains and are somewhat common. If you are camping, be sure to store food safely and always pack out food scraps. You should also consider bear spray during remote hikes.
- The mosquitoes are pretty bad in some areas of the Sawtooth Mountains, especially in the summer months. I love Ranger Ready bug spray, which uses picaridin instead of DEET. (Use code LOSTWITHLYDIA10 for 10% off your order)
- Unfortunately, wildfires are common in the Sawtooth Mountains. Be sure to always follow fire guidelines and put out campfires completely. Keep up with trail closures due to fires on the Forest Service website and the Sawtooth National Forest Twitter.
- There is a permit required when you enter into the Sawtooth Wilderness. There will be paper permits to fill out at the trailheads (or when you cross into the wilderness area later in the trail). You will fill it out, tear off a piece to place in the box and attach the permit to the backpack of one person in your party.
- 4.5 miles
- 288 feet of elevation gain
- Rated easy
The Fishhook Creek trail is a beautiful trail rated easy that will take you along a creek to a small, scenic lake.
The trail begins close to the scenic Redfish Lake, where you can find a snack shack, boat rentals and more. When you begin this hike, be sure to sign the trail register.
The trail is mostly flat and follows through the forest. After about 2 miles, you’ll reach a small lake. If the wind is still, you can see a gorgeous mountain reflection in the water. This is a great family-friendly trail that would also be beautiful at sunrise or sunset.
- 12.6 miles
- 1,630 feet of elevation gain
- Rated hard. This is difficult due to the distance but does not have any difficult rock scrambling.
- Permit required that you fill out 1.2 miles into the trail.
The hike to Alice Lake is a stunning journey that leads to an incredibly beautiful lake. Many people backpack up to this lake and often do a longer 21 mile loop that includes other lakes. I hiked to Alice Lake and back as a day hike and recorded a little over 12 miles.
As you arrive at the trailhead, you’ll take a short gravel road after turning off of State Highway 75. I had no cell service at the parking lot or during any point of the trail. Be sure to download offline maps ahead of time and be prepared.
The trail is pretty flat for the first couple miles and then you’ll take switchbacks up the mountain about halfway through. The trail has a few river crossings along the way. I was able to cross them all without getting my feet wet but found trekking poles to be helpful. Water levels may be higher during other times of year.
When you reach the lake, there is plenty of space to spread out and take in the views. I enjoyed a stunning reflection of the mountains in the water. Alice Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve seen and the 12 mile trek was definitely worth it.
- 8.1 miles
- 1,768 feet of elevation gain
- Rated hard for difficult rock scrambling and steep areas.
- Permit required that you fill out at the trailhead.
The hike to Goat Lake is stunning but very challenging. The trail begins flat and will soon start to ascent up the mountain via switchbacks. There are a few river crossings along the way but logs were available to walk across on.
The trail gets really difficult about 3.5 miles in. Many people also miss the turn around this point, so be sure to download the offline map and be aware of where you’re going. You’ll start by scrambling up a wall. It is probably 10-12 feet tall but has areas where you can place your feet and hands.
After that, you will climb up a loose scree for about a quarter mile. Even larger rocks are loose and there are not always areas to grab onto. You’ll want to take your time and watch your footing carefully during this part of the trail.
When you reach the boulder field, you can continue straight over the boulders or turn left and cross a stream. I found crossing the stream to be much easier but it’s easy to miss the turn. Once again, keep an eye on All Trails. You’ll go through a few trees, cross a stream (there are logs to step on) and then continue to the lake on an easy path through some trees.
When you reach the lake, you’ll be rewarded with bright blue water and incredible mountain views right across the lake. It’s an amazing place to have lunch and take in the views.
While this hike is shorter, I found it to be much harder than the hike to Alice Lake. But if you are an experienced hiker, it is definitely worth it.
- Bench Lakes, 7.8 miles, 1,240 feet of elevation gain, rated moderate
- Sawtooth Lake, 10 miles, 1,873 feet of elevation gain, rated moderate
- Redfish Lake to Alpine Lake, 11.5 miles, 1,978 feet of elevation gain, rated hard
Valley Creek Hot Springs is a beautiful hot spring area that is right on the outskirts of the town of Stanley. When you arrive, be sure to take the road that passes the Stanley Museum. Google Maps may try to take you there from the opposite direction, but that section of the road is private property.
There is a small dirt parking lot to park in and no signage. Also note that there was a giant pothole when entering the parking area so I would not recommend parking a low clearance vehicle here.
After parking, you will cross a wooden bridge over the Valley Creek and find the hot spring on the left.
There is one large pool to soak in. The pool is shallow and wasn’t as hot as I expected, but is definitely warm. The best part of the hot spring is the views. You can see the Sawtooth Mountains, the Valley Creek and take in the surrounding beauty.
I visited Valley Creek Hot Springs at sunrise, had it all to myself and got to enjoy the pink glow on the surrounding mountains.
- Boat Box Hot Springs, 7 minutes from Stanley
- Cove Creek Hot Springs, 15 minutes from Stanley
- Sunbeam Hot Springs, 18 minutes from Stanley
- Kirkham Hot Springs, 1 hour from Stanley
- Challis Hot Springs, 1 hr, 10 minutes from Stanley
- Pine Flat Hot Springs, 1 hr, 10 minutes from Stanley
Redfish Lake is a gorgeous place to spend an afternoon in the Sawtooth Mountains. The lake is 4.5 miles long and getting out on the water provides an incredible view of the surrounding mountains.
The Redfish Lake Lodge has a marina that rents out kayaks, paddle boards, pontoon boats, paddle boats and more. I rented a kayak and really enjoyed exploring the lake. On shore, you can hang out at a beach area, have an ice cream from the Lakeside Grill or bike or hike around the lake.
There is also a shuttle service that will bring you across the lake to reach certain hiking trails. Whether you spend hours kayaking or just take in the views, it’s worth stopping at this beautiful area.
Stanley is a popular jumping off point for a rafting adventure on the Salmon River. You can find rafting trips of all different difficulties from outfitters such as Sawtooth Adventure and White Cloud Rafting.
Some of these outfitters also offer mountain biking, fly-fishing and other adventures in the Sawtooth Mountains.
If you are taking a weekend trip from Boise, you’ll likely pass through Lowman, Idaho on your way to Stanley! Lowman has its own beautiful hot springs and amazing white water rafting. Check out my full guide to Lowman if you want to extend your trip.
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