Stunning and Scenic Stanley, Idaho

All the hype we’d heard about Stanley, Idaho turned out to be absolutely true – and then some!  We spent a fabulous week experiencing its unforgettable stunning scenery, breathing its crisp clean air and enjoying its unspoiled landscapes.  And frankly, we couldn’t get enough of those mountain views.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Cruising Sawtooth Scenic Byway, toward the base of towering mountain peaks

Betsy got a good workout as we headed along the Sawtooth Scenic Byway (Hwy 75).  We drove through sagebrush valleys to the heart of Sawtooth National Forest, and climbed up and over the high mountain pass of Galena Summit at 8,701′.  Then down we went into Sawtooth Valley, which is the headwaters of the Salmon River (the River of No Return).  We stopped at an overlook and were treated to panoramic views of the still snow-capped Sawtooth Mountains with lush Sawtooth Valley below:

Sawtooth Mountains
First glimpse of the Sawtooth Mountains from an overlook

At the base of the Sawtooth Mountains lies the tiny town of Stanley, home to less than 100 permanent residents.  It’s also at the intersection of three very picturesque scenic byway routes: Ponderosa Pine Highway (Hwy 21 from Boise), Salmon River Highway (75N and 93 from Montana) and Sawtooth Highway (75S from Shoshone).

Approaching the town from either direction, a jaw-dropping view of those jagged Sawtooth Mountains unfolds before you, the gorgeous landscape that is the wilderness area of Sawtooth National Forest.

Dramatic skyline over Stanley and Lower Stanley

The visitor center host told us she’s one of the hardy souls living here year round.  Even if it is one of the coldest places in the U.S. outside of Alaska, she believes Stanley is the greatest place to live in Idaho.  It’s hard to argue after seeing the area, but no way could I tolerate the mind-blowing winters here!

Conversely, the mild summers host a tourist season that peaks in July, and our June 6-13 visit enabled us to miss the big crowds while enduring reasonable weather swings.

Stanley, Idaho
Chilling at Mountain Village, but no jacket required on this day!

Our first 3 nights were spent dry camping at beautiful Sockeye Campground on Redfish Lake, where sites are first-come, first-serve. The campground is situated in a lodgepole pine forest, where it was very quiet when generators weren’t running – including ours.  We hated interrupting the serenity by using it for hours every day, but with a residential refrigerator and no solar panels we didn’t have a choice.

We loved our spacious site with a large sitting area

Most of you know we always hike early in the morning, but the need to recharge our batteries got us off to late starts here.  While Steve handled the recharging, I was in full photographic bliss at Redfish Lake as the sun rose.  I wish all mornings could be like this – calm, tranquil and so beautiful!

Catching the alpenglow of the Sawtooth Mountains, thanks to Nina of WheelingIt for the tip on where to get the best shots!

The still waters of Redfish Lake

Several trailheads were within walking distance of our site, making the hikes super convenient.  First we tackled Redfish Ridge Trail, a beautiful but steep trek along a moraine crest through Douglas Fir forests.  It offered awesome views of Thompson Peak, White Clouds and Grand Mogul massifs.  We weren’t equipped to complete the entire loop around the lake, so we turned back after 4 miles to make it an 8-mile roundtrip.

Next we followed the popular Fish Hook Creek Trail, a 5-mile roundtrip hike.  It was a dreary day as we meandered across a meadow and along the fast-moving creek under a canopy of pine trees:

Our next Stanley stop was at at Elk Mountain RV “Resort”, a short and scenic 12-mile drive for Betsy.  More and more RV parks are calling themselves resorts, making the term meaningless – this one was more like a storage facility!  But it did have very friendly tenants and a tiny laundry room with free machines, so we’ll overlook it this time 😉

From our gorgeous and spacious site at Sockeye Campground to this!

Folks here were so friendly that when our neighbor saw me with a dangling camera he urged us to take a scenic drive on the Nip and Tuck Road for another perspective of the imposing jagged mountains.  We made the drive, but only after taking a wrong turn onto a county road.  We finally figured out our error, enjoying a beautiful drive in blissful ignorance.  After turning around we got back on track as a Western Tanager and a Red Crossbill watched the lost humans with curiosity:

The Pronghorns were curious as well

Stanley’s proximity to Sawtooth National Forest makes it a recreational paradise in central Idaho, and with over 2,000 miles of trails to choose from we were in hiking heaven.  It also sits on the banks of the Salmon River, and Steve mentioned that a rafting trip might be in order.  But the cold mornings and frigid river curbed our enthusiasm, and instead we strapped our hiking boot back on to explore 2 more trails – Bridal Veil Falls and Iron Creek.

Our hike to Bridal Veil began in fog and light snow flurries.  Then after 3 miles an obstacle came into view – no way could we cross the deep and fast-flowing waters of swollen Stanley Creek.  So after confirming there was no other way to cross the creek from where we were, we headed back while telling other hikers the bad news on our way 😦

We caught sight of a Badger on our way back – only the second one we’ve seen…

This guy was playing hide and seek with us before finally running off

…and wildflowers too!

We just had to hike the moderate but long Iron Creek Trail, which lead us to 2 glacial lakes – partially frozen Sawtooth Lake, and Alpine Lake which had already thawed.  We climbed over 1,760′ in 5 miles up to Sawtooth Lake at 8,435′ and played in the snow as we enjoyed our lunch.  The beautiful views there and the overlook of Alpine Lake on our return trip made the 10 miles of huffing and puffing worth it!

Getting a close-up view of jagged granite peaks
We hit the snow line at around 7,600′
Partially frozen Sawtooth Lake
Looking down at thawed out Alpine Lake – it brought back memories of Alaska!
The little town of Stanley from far above

On another day we drove to the Yankee Fork Historic Area off the Salmon Scenic Byway.  It’s an area that was established in 1990 to preserve and interpret the rich mining heritage of Central Idaho.

It was snowing lightly when we reached the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge
The four-level Yankee Fork dredge floated for miles as it extracted gold and silver from the river bed
Six miles of dredge piles are preserved as evidence of Idaho’s mining heritage

An informational plaque taught us that these peaks were once molten rock under the earth’s surface.  Through slow cooling they became granite, and tremendous forces later thrust the rock through earth’s surface.  Erosion and glaciers exposed and shaped what we see today, jagged peaks that inspired the name Sawtooth Mountains.

Our wonderful week in Stanley had come to an end far too quickly.  The weather while we were here was a mixture of warm and cold, sun and clouds, light snow and rain.  But it didn’t hamper our activities; we had fun scheduling outings around the next day’s conditions.

Salmon River passes by Stanley

As is usual in our lifestyle, upcoming reservations and the need to replenish supplies urged us to move on.  Leaving the area, we posed Betsy in front of the incredible mountains as we took a few last breaths of the amazing mountain air.  We agreed that we’ll always have special memories of this magnificent place.

Goodbye, Sawtooth Mountains!
If you haven’t done it yet, try to make Stanley a summer destination – you won’t regret it!




  1. My goodness, MonaLiza. Your photos are absolutely stunning! Thank you for the tour of the Sawtooth Range and Stanley! This just went on our ‘must see’ list.

  2. You two always manage to make the most out of any of your stops. What stunning scenery that you captured beautifully. We unfortunately spent only a day in the area which as you know isn’t enough. A gal could wear out a camera with that landscape!

    • I think you should reconsider, revisiting that area for a longer stay. Like you said you can wear out the camera, the place begs for it to be captured.

  3. All I can say is wow! You are making me miss my motorhome and the adventures. I guess I need to reconsider our new lifestyle….Maybe part time explorers is more to my liking!

  4. Thanks for the preplanning! What amazing scenery the Sawtooth Mountains provided. You certainly found some great hikes. Your photos are beautiful. Love the sunrise with alpenglow:) You certainly captured the beauty of this area. We’ve never seen a badger…how cute! It was such fun reading through this post and getting some passive hiking:) I could feel you joy for the area.

    • Pam you won’t be disappointed with the trails here and the scenery is the big reward. Yes we had been hiking for you. We feel your discomfort of the humidity and temps. Soon we will get it too, so we are savoring every minute of our time here.

  5. Hello Steve and Mona Liza:

    OMG! I am so glad you made it to my favorite place in the U.S. Your post was well done and reminded me of how much I love Stanley. Thanks. I needed that.

  6. As usual, your photos are amazing-but I know your subject matter helps! I asked you a long time ago what cameras you used but DH wasn’t ready to buy. He is now after so many of his pictures didn’t turn out this summer.
    Hopefully we will get here one day-but if not, you sure captured the beauty so I feel like I was there with you two!

  7. Wow and wow! Magnificent landscapes. After 3 months on the beach in Delaware, I’m ready to turn in my flop flops for hiking boots! Think we’ll do mountains next summer. Maybe you & Ingrid could do a post on photography tips!!

    • Oh you are so sweet, I think Ingrid can do a better job of sharing her photography tips 🙂 You are in Delaware? I just realized I have not posted our stay in Delaware 🙂

      • Yea, we’ve been in DE since May 1st till end of July, I’ll post our experience soon. Its actually been great; relaxing beach time, visiting historical places, boat tours. First time in this part of the country!

  8. Mona Liza, I can’t express enough how much I love to read about your adventures. You and Steve hit so many places that we want to see and in fact we are heading up to Stanley and beyond in Sept. Finally we are going to see Lake Louise after living in Canada for 4 years and never making it. Have your travels taken you to the old town of Silver City near Boise ID? Hope you both are doing well and keep on traveling for our sake 👍😁

    • Hi Karen, no we did not stop at Silver City :(. Sept could be a good month to visit here, the Aspens may have already turned yellow by then. And oh about Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake both are always crowded. I suggest an early visit to get a parking spot.

  9. We both marveled at your FB pictures from there, most definitely on our list now. You two have become hiking fiends, great job in tackling all those hikes.

  10. I want to go to Stanley! What stunning landscapes and hiking. How cool you saw a badger and even got a photo! Looks like a place one could easily spend a month exploring.

    • Yes, Lisa, you and Hans should make Stanley one of your stop. The hiking is phenomenal and the scenery is fantastic. That badger was playful and stopped for a pose.

  11. Oh wow, it’s even more gorgeous than I imagined! We’ve been wanting to visit the Sawtooths for several years, and are planning to go in the fall (late September). I hope it won’t be too cold then. Your photos are spectacular—the landscapes, the wildflowers, the hiking—and even a badger! Thanks for all the great hiking tips! Love the last photo of you two—you look sooo happy! 🙂

    • I think September would also be a good time to visit, the Aspens would have turned by then. Oh yes, you would love it there, the town is really really small. Lots of trails to choose from and I would suggest the Iron Creek Trail, by then the Sawtooth Lake would really be defrosted lake.

  12. OMG, ML!! These photos are amazeballs! After reading Nina’s posts last year, we added Ketchum to our itinerary this summer, but now I’m thinking after Ketchum, we might head up to Redfish Lake. Looks like there’s more than enough to keep us busy for two weeks rather than one and the views are just mind blowing. Can’t wait!

    • We passed by Ketchum and I know you will like that area, there might be ssome festivals during your stay there too. And yes definitely get a site near Redfish Lake, and there are actually lots of campgrounds there. The snow added to the awesomeness of the scenery. We love it there!

  13. Incredible scenery and photographs! We have spent little time in Idaho but when we did we too were surrounded by great scenery. Love the badger photo, that is truly a rare sighting.

  14. A badger! TBG says he is jealous because now that’s one more than we have seen 😀 So exciting to see, aren’t they? Your glorious pics make me fervently hope we can get back to Idaho soon. Thanks for the virtual ride-along!

    • The badger was in a playing mood, hiding in and out of the bushes watching us! Idaho is full of surprises so many hidden gems. We might even come back here next year.

  15. Beautiful! We were in that area in August summer of 2016 but left early due to smoke from nearby fires. The Sawtooths much better with clear views!
    We’ve never seen a badger, either.

    • I think June is the best time to visit Stanley, the snow covered Sawtooth for it dominates the scenery. That was our second Badger, thankfully Steve has good eyes.

  16. Wow, wow, wow! So many pretty shots. And a badger, to boot! Who sees badgers, let alone photographs them. Wonderful blog. I’ve been to Stanley, Idaho, with the boys many years ago. I fell in love with it, too.

    You should seriously consider sending your second to last photo (the “goodbye” one) to Escapees Magazine for a cover photo. If they choose it for the cover, they pay you. Normally, they like a vertical picture, but yours could be cropped and made vertical. It would make an awesome cover photo. There’s blue sky on top of the photo where they can put the magazine title.

    • Steve has a good eye, he saw the Badger crossing the road and was playing hide and seek with us. We saw one when we were in Alaska. I would like to but I am not an Escapee member 😦

  17. I thought your 3rd picture of the Stanley with the Sawtooth in the background was just stunning and then I read on. So many fantastic pictures Mona Liza. Your photography is professional quality. Those reflection shots are outstanding. Couldn’t agree with you more that the term resort is meaningless. Two thousand trails to choose from just blows my mind. I can hardly deal with choosing among 20 trails. I’ve never seen a badger. How great that you’ve seen two now. Terrific picture. I’m surprised he posed. Snow in June is also amazing for those of us baking in the heat. Looks beautiful. I’m sorry you couldn’t stay as long as you would have wished. I’m finding that the full time life style is not as much fun as it was when we started with the current need for reservations and such strict planning and without the ability to just follow your heart. Thanks for showing me Stanley and your fantastic photographs.

  18. Amazing MonaLiza and Steve! A Badger, wildflowers, snowy hikes, alpine lakes…my oh my!…and the list goes on! Beautiful photography!

  19. Stunning area and beautiful photos. It’s one for the bucket list for sure. Wish we had some of that snow in AZ right now. So hot. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Your photography is stunning MonaLiza! I want to do all those trails. Stanley will definitely be added to our travel list. Thanks for such an informative post.

Comments are closed.