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The Best Things to Do in Stanley, Idaho: Gateway to the Sawtooths

There are so many epic things to do in Stanley, Idaho – including hiking in the amazing Sawtooth Mountains! Stanley should be on every nature-lover’s bucket list. If you’re looking to escape the overcrowded National Parks this summer but still see some amazing nature – Stanley is the place to be!

Keep reading to plan your trip!

things to do in stanley idaho

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Stanley, Idaho Trip Overview

  • PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 2-3
  • Days of Trip: 5
  • Cost: $

SEE ALSO: Your Guide to an Epic North Cascades Camping Trip

How to Get to Stanley, Idaho

Fly in to either:

  • Sun Valley, ID (SUN)
    • 1 hour from Stanley
  • Boise, ID (BOI)
    • 2 hours and 45 minute from Stanley

For most people, the flights will be significantly cheaper to fly into Boise, which is what I did. Don’t forget to rent your car early enough in advance to get a good price!

Note that the drive from Boise to Stanley is mostly through a windy, mountain road with no cell service. Download your maps beforehand and make sure you have a full tank of gas!

Best Time of Year to Visit Stanley, ID

things to do in stanley idaho

The best time of year to visit Stanley is in the summer (June-September) when the snow is gone and the lakes aren’t frozen over so you have plenty of hiking opportunities. If you visit in June, there is still a good chance that you will experience snow/frozen lakes! I visited in mid-July.

Where to Stay in Stanley, ID

The town of Stanley is super small – the population is only 73 people! If you’re visiting in the summer, make sure you book your lodging in advance so that it doesn’t fill up.

Hotels

  1. Mountain Village Resort

Mountain Village Resort is affordable & right in the center of town, but the biggest draw of staying here is that you get access to their epic hot spring tub in the back. You’ve likely seen this hot tub on Instagram – it’s beautiful! And the only way you can visit it is if you are a guest at the hotel (more details on this hot spring later). The actual rooms are mediocre, but fine (you won’t be spending much time in your room anyways!)

2. Stanley Basecamp

Stanley Basecamp lodge is about 5 minutes outside of town, but it’s SO cute. It was recently built back in 2019 and is more like a hostel. There are private rooms and then a shared kitchen and bathroom. It’s super clean and nice, with lots of little thoughtful touches and cute decor! There’s also a laundry room on site if you need to
wash your hiking clothes, a fire pit, a front porch with rocking chairs, and a little gift store. Good vibes.

Airbnb/VRBOs

There are also a few great options for rental homes in Stanley. For instance, this 8-person cabin right on the Salmon River looks incredible!

Photo: VRBO.com

What to Pack for Your Stanley, Idaho Trip

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If you need to buy a propane tank for your JetBoil (or any other last minute camping items) there is an outdoor store right in town next to the Mountain Village Saloon. There’s also a convenient store/grocery store right across the street next to the gas station, where you can buy food and supplies!

The Best Things to Do in Stanley, Idaho

There are so many awesome things to in Stanley and the Sawtooth National Forest!

Hike

Of course, while in the Stanley area you’ve got to go on some epic hikes! Stanley is know as the “Gateway to the Sawtooths”, as it’s surrounded by the Sawtooth National Forest with a plethora of awesome trails nearby. The below 3 trails are the ones that I did on my trip to Stanley. I highly recommend doing all of them if you have the time!

1. Alice/Toxaway Lake Loop

things to do in stanley idaho
Overlooking Twin Lakes
  • Miles: 20.6
  • Elevation Gain: 3,169
  • Type: Loop
  • Trailhead: Tin Cup Hiker Trailhead
  • Permit Required?: Yes, but it’s just a walk-up permit that you fill out on the trail

This loop trail is one of the most iconic hikes in the Sawtooths. Most people do it either as a 2 or 3 day backpacking hike. If you are short on time, you could just hike to Alice Lake as a day hike instead of completing the whole loop.

things to do in stanley idaho
Alice Lake (day 2)

I did the whole loop as a 2-day backpacking trip, and I highly recommend it! If you are doing the whole loop, I recommend going counter-clockwise so that you get the incline out of the way on day 1, and have an easier descent on day 2.

Start at Petit Lake, then to Toxaway Lake, and up to Twin Lakes. Camp at Twin Lakes (about 12 miles the first day). The next morning, wake up and hike the rest of the loop through Alice Lake and back to the trailhead! I used these detailed directions and GPX file for the hike.

The hike was beautiful every step of the way! There are several scenic spots to camp at Twin Lakes. It took us about 8 hours to hike the 12 miles from the trailhead to our campsite at Twin Lakes. Totally worth it!

Note that this hike had a lot of mosquitoes. Bring bug spray!

2. Sawtooth Lake

things to do in stanley idaho
  • Miles: 10
  • Elevation Gain: 1,873
  • Type: Out and back
  • Trailhead: Iron Creek Trailhead
  • Permit Required?: Yes, but it’s just a walk-up permit that you fill out on the trail

The Sawtooth Lake hike is amazing! You can do it as a day-hike, but I recommend backpacking so you can spend the night in this incredible spot. The hike is pretty mild until the last mile when the steep switchbacks come in. You’ll get a good view of Alpine Lake while on these switchbacks though! Once you make it to the top you’ll see a lake and might think you’ve made it but nope – keep on going past this lake to get to the real destination! Once you arrive at Sawtooth Lake, make sure to keep hiking around it to get to the most scenic area with the snowcapped peak in the background. This is where we set up camp, and it was such an amazing spot! There were no other people camped around us at all – we had the place to ourselves!

3. Goat Lake

things to do in stanley idaho
  • Miles: 8.1
  • Elevation Gain: 1,768
  • Type: Out and back
  • Trailhead: Iron Creek Trailhead
  • Permit Required?: Yes, but it’s just a walk-up permit that you fill out on the trail

Goat Lake is another completely amazing hike, and is one of the best things to do in Stanley, Idaho. It kind of reminds me of the Delta Lake hike at Grand Teton National Park, but a little harder. You can do it as a day hike (as I did) or camp up there for the night! Just note that this hike is tough at the top and requires some scrambling and route-finding, which would be even tougher with your full backpack on.

The Goat Lake hike starts out on the same trail as Sawtooth Lake but about a mile in, you’ll make a left turn instead of keeping straight (right after you pass the Sawtooth Wilderness sign). Right after you make the left turn you’ll have a creek crossing, and then about 1.5 miles in you’ll cross a bridge. At the next junction (at the Alpine Way sign) you’ll make a right, and continue on until the trail basically ends, at which point you’ll start your scramble up some loose scree. This is the hardest part of the hike! You have to pay attention as you scramble up the mountain, stay left (close to the waterfall), and DO NOT cross the boulder field at the top. Keep an eye out for cairns that will help guide you! I used this blog to help guide me along the way.

Once you reach Goat Lake – prepare to be amazed! The bright blue color of this lake with the snowcapped mountains in the background is incredible. As always, I recommend jumping in! It’s refreshing and SO much fun.

Hot Springs

One of the best things to do in Stanley, Idaho is to soak in one of the many hot springs nearby! There are a few to choose from:

1. Pine Flat Hot Spring

things to do in stanley idaho

This hot spring is actually an hour away from Stanley, but it is on the way on your drive from Boise to Stanley. I recommend stopping here to break up your drive on your first day! These hot springs are seriously amazing. I think Pine Flat Hot Springs are my new favorite, actually! (and I’ve been to a lot of hot springs!)

You can enter “Pine Flat Hot Springs” into your GPS and it will take you right around there. Park in the day-parking area of Pine Flat Campground, and follow the sign/trail down to the hot springs. It’s about a 0.5 mile trail. There are a few small pools, some at the bottom and some along a trail at the top. The main hot spring (the reason I came here!) is at the bottom, but you have to wade through the river to get there. The river is flowing very swiftly, but just hug the rock wall and walk around the curve and then you will find it! This hot spring has a waterfall cascading into it. It’s awesome.

2. Mountain Village Resort Hot Spring

things to do in stanley idaho

This hot spring is located right in town, at Mountain Village Resort (lodging that I recommended above). The only way you can visit this hot spring is if you are a guest at the hotel. I recommend staying here one night just so you can visit this hot spring! It’s super relaxing with a great view.

If you are a guest of the hotel, you can reserve a 1-hour block at the hot spring on the day of your arrival (you can’t reserve ahead of time). The hot spring can fit up to 8 people, so you may have others with you. We were there on a Tuesday at a 4pm slot and had the place to ourselves!

3. Sun Beam Hot Springs

things to do in stanley idaho

Sun Beam Hot Springs are also really cool. Located about 10 minutes from town, along the Salmon River, Sun Beam Hot Springs consists of a few shallow pools. The warm water is piped through from the other side of the road, and each little pool is a different temperature as part of the chilly Salmon River flows into the pools as well. Even if there are other people there when you arrive, there are enough pools to choose from that you are able to spread out and have your own space!

4. Boat Box Hot Springs

I did’t have a chance to visit Boat Box Hot Springs, but it looks like another good option! This hot spring is also located right on the river, in what looks like a man-made tub. The spring is pretty small (probably only fits 2-3 people) so you would need to time it right to get the place to yourself!

Hang Out at Redfish Lake

things to do in stanley idaho

Redfish Lake is about 10 minutes from town, and is a nice little scenic spot to hang out for the day. Redfish Lake Lodge is located on this lake and is a popular place to stay (but it books out SUPER far in advance). The lake itself has a few little beach areas where you can lay out, a dock, and a grassy lawn area. There is a restaurant on site where we ate our favorite meal of the whole trip! If you don’t want a sit-down formal dinner, walk to the inside bar which has a similar menu (same kitchen) as the restaurant and order from there for a more laid-back vibe (this is what we did). The Brussel sprouts and the burger are great!

There’s also an even-more-casual outdoor food spot that sells burgers and wraps, and ice cream.

If you have the time (and know how to drive a boat) you can also rent a boat here and cruise along the lake! Or you could rent a kayak as well.

Note that on the weekends in the summer, Redfish Lake gets super crowded and you may not even be able to find a parking spot. If you want to go here during you trip, I recommend doing it on a weekday!

Eat/Drink in Town

Although the best things to do in Stanley, Idaho involve the surrounding Sawtooth nature, it’s always a good idea to get some food/drinks in town! Here are a few of my favorite spots:

  • Stanley Bakery – Great breakfast spot. Order at the counter and sit down outside. Good vibes!
  • Sawtooth Luces – Gastropub. Great spot for dinner. The Chickpea Curry is great!
  • Bridge Street Grille – you come here for the views! The food is mediocre (only thing on the menu is burgers) but it’s situated right on the rushing river. It’s beautiful!
  • Papa Brunees – popular Italian spot in town. I didn’t go here but heard about it!
  • Mountain Village Saloon – right next to Mountain Village Resort. The food is mediocre at best, but this is a great place to get a beer! There’s a pool table and foosball table inside, but I enjoyed sitting outside on their deck and watching people play cornhole. Also, the bathrooms here are super nice and clean.
  • Kasino Klub – I didn’t have a chance to go here, but apparently this is a great spot to get drinks and hear live music!
  • Redfish Lodge – as mentioned above, this bar restaurant inside was the best meal we had the whole trip!

Sunset at Stanley Lake

things to do in stanley idaho

Checking out the sunset at Stanley Lake is one of the best things to do in Stanley, Idaho! Stanley Lake is a lake just outside of town that you can drive right up to! Come here at golden hour for chill vibes and beautiful views.

Other Things to Note for Your Trip to Stanley, Idaho

  • When backpacking, make sure to either have a bear canister, or hang your food in a tree
  • Bring bug spray!
  • Pre-download your maps. There is barely any cell service in this area of Idaho
  • Always check the weather before you hike!
  • Give yourself enough time to get back to the airport on your last day. The road back to Boise is a two-lane highway through the mountains. If there is a wreck, you could be late to the airport!

Enjoy!

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