> N 44.216235o, W 114.938638o
> In central Idaho, Stanley sits 3 hours northeast of Boise at the junction of Highway 21 and Highway 75; one hour north of Sun Valley and 2.5 hours north of Twin Falls on Highway 75; one hour south of Challis on Highway 75
> Connected in all three directions by recognized scenic byways: the Ponderosa Pine, Salmon River and Sawtooth Scenic Byways to be precise.
> The town of Stanley lies in the Stanley Basin between the Sawtooth NF, the Salmon-Challis NF, and the Boise NF. Within the Sawtooth NF is the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA)
> Stanley is in Custer County, Idaho, USA. It sits at an elevation of 6,253 feet and occupies a mere 398 acres. The population was 69 in 2013. At the time of the 2010 census, there were 63 people, 30 households, and 13 families residing in the city. The ZIP code is 83278 and the area code is 208.
“Stanley, IdahoWhere the middle of nowhere is somewhere”
That’s the tagline on my T-shirt. It always draws a comment and gives me a chance to tell of this beautiful place.
Several years ago, while trying to decide on some locations to visit in the northwest section of the US, I stumbled onto pictures of the Sawtooth Mountains in a magazine. It was love at first sight, and I resolved that I had to go there. I have seen and visited mountains before but none came close to the Sawtooth for rugged beauty.
If you want to visit the Sawtooth mountains, Stanley is the logical destination for planning the visit. For an “off the map” town, Stanley is an outdoor four seasons playground.
Now I am just going to steal unabashedly from the Stanley Chamber of Commerce website.
Stanley, Idaho has earned a reputation for its variety of epic backcountry rides, a lot of single track trails, and zero crowds. The surrounding area boasts miles of pristine trails through huge mountain meadows, past cascading streams and over high mountain passes.
Bikers are treated to incredible views of the Sawtooth, Whitecloud and Salmon River mountain ranges. You can pedal for weeks and never find yourself riding the same trail twice. Visitors can hire a Mountain Bike Guide to explore the area’s best trails, or rent a bike, purchase a map and head out on their own.
Chalk, cams, and grit, the Sawtooth Mountains hold some of the most renowned multi-pitch, granite routes in North America. The Sawtooths are home to the Elephants Perch, one of the recognized Classic Climbs in North America with over 25 established routes emanating from basecamp at Saddleback Lakes aka, “Shangri-La.” This region is littered with high-quality alpine routes varying in difficulty and accessibility including The Finger of Fate, Mount Heyburn, Blue Rock Buttress, and Barron Spire. With several establishments in town serving satisfying mountain sustenance, your basecamp of Stanley is a close second to the allure of grippy mountain granite.
Qualified and reputed local guides take clients throughout the area on the run of trips from beginner Super Slab sessions to multi-pitch assaults in the high alpine.
The Stanley Basin is home to renowned high-quality fishing running the full range of species and approaches from fly casting to trolling to spin casting to spey casting.
The Middle Fork and Upper Main Salmon Rivers are within easy striking distance and offer endless opportunities for wade, bank and float fishing. You will find rainbow, west slope cutthroat, hybrid rainbow-cutthroat, brook, and bull trout as well as mountain whitefish and Chinook salmon in its waters. In the spring, fishermen congregate to the Salmon River for its steelhead run, the longest steelhead run (over 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean) in North America.
Combined with the region’s high mountain lake fishing and boat/bank fishing on its lower elevation lakes minutes from town, this is a fisherman’s paradise.
As an outfitter destination, several guide services are based out of Stanley, which put clients on the best water with intimate knowledge of conditions day after day all season long. Some high mountain lakes and near-in lakes, as well as rivers, are stocked by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game complementing the robust native fishery for which the area is known.
The Sawtooth, White Cloud, and Salmon River Ranges, which encircle Stanley offer hands down some of the best backpacking, hiking, and climbing anywhere in the lower 48 states.
From day hikes to alpine lakes to multi-day traverses and loops to limitless peak bagging and world-recognized rock and alpine climbing, Stanley is a real backcountry mecca. Hundreds of high mountain lakes are linked by maintained and marked trails in all three ranges with trailheads a matter of minutes from downtown Stanley. World famous alpine routes on the region’s bomber granite attract climbers from all continents while families revel in the plethora of shorter hikes to a multitude of pristine mountain lakes.
Local hiking, climbing, horseback, and fishing guides offer both one day and multi-day trips into the Sawtooths, White Cloud, and Salmon River Range areas.
Not much is better than waking up to the sun just hitting the Sawtooth Peaks, stepping out into the chilly mountain air and slipping into a pool of natural hot water. Besides, maybe, doing so after a long hike or a day of fishing.
In Stanley, this can easily be done. Stanley is situated over the Idaho Batholith, a granite formation fractured by faults. Through each fault, hot water from deep in earth’s core rushes up, spilling out onto the surface, creating pools, mixing with streams, making steamy gathering places for the weary adventurer.
As a result of the faults, Stanley is surrounded by hot springs. Whether at the destination of a long hike or right next to the road out of town, the hot springs of Stanley bring an essence of paradise to the area.
Bordering the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, horseback riding and packing out of the Stanley Basin is as good as it gets. Ride deep into the mountains, don’t shave, and live like it was a hundred years ago or get the family out on a pony ride. Either way, the experience of the Sawtooths, White Clouds and Salmon Rivers on the back of a horse is to be set free amongst the most exciting ranges on earth.
Trail options splinter in all directions for hundreds of miles from downtown Stanley. A great group of outfitters operate locally and can take you and your group for anything from a day ride to a high mountain lake to a multi-day journey through the wilderness.
There are few things better than basking in the sun at the base of the Sawtooths with your feet in the clear, cold water of a lake. The Sawtooth Basin is dotted with mountain lakes. As with many of the features in the Sawtooth Valley, most of these lakes were formed by glaciation. The glaciers of a different time left enough cracks, hollows, and depressions to create over 300 beautiful mountain lakes in the Sawtooth Basin. There are big, deep lakes accessible from the car, small shallow lakes a two-days hike away, and everything in between.
Visitors can pack a picnic and find solitude on the shores of Alturus or Petit Lake or have a shore side grilled burger and ice cream cone from the gazebo at Redfish Lake. They can take their little ones on a short hike to Bench Lakes or strap on their thick hiking boots and hoof it to Alice Lake. Whatever the intention there is a lake for everyone.
Stanley sits at the nexus of the waters that give Idaho the nickname, “The Whitewater State”. Perched on the banks of the headwaters of the Salmon River and thirty miles from the origin of the South Fork of the Payette River, thousands of river rafters and boaters come to the area every season.
Stanley is the jumping off point for running through 100 miles of wilderness canyon on the world-renowned Middle Fork of the Salmon “River of No Return” and boasts the highest per capita river guide to redneck ratio in the United States. Whether you are a family on summer vacation or destination river rat, Stanley has you covered. Here you can do everything from get your feet wet on the local “Day Stretch”, with single and half day rafting and kayaking trips through Class II-IV whitewater, to embarking on a six-day backcountry adventure through the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states.
THE SALMON RIVER
The Salmon River originates in the Sawtooth and Lemhi Valleys of central and eastern Idaho. Springs and snowmelt from the Sawtooth and Salmon River mountains feed this wild river.
The river flows undammed along its 425-mile total length and drains about 14,000 square miles within the borders of Idaho. It is the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states. From elevations above 8,000 feet, the Salmon cascades to an elevation of 905 feet before it joins the Snake River in Hells Canyon, near the Idaho/Oregon border.
The Sawtooth Mountains which bump up against Stanley to the south and west hold some of the most aesthetic and radical ski terrains in the western United States. Little known, hewn from the granite of the central Idaho batholith, the Sawtooths are riddled with thousands of couloirs, drawing the eye to line after line proving that God was a geologist with a skier/snowboarder mindset. Cold, long winters are punctuated by massive storms with recurring patterns of warm air and sun periodically pushing in from the south and west. During late spring and early summer, the range becomes even larger with long days and typically more stable conditions that allow for deeper exploration.
Accessible from the highway, day trips into the Sawtooths with Stanley as base camp offer an abundance of quality snow and a variety of killer terrain. Skiers and snowboarders also have the option of utilizing the Sawtooth Yurt System, which brings backcountry travelers deep into the range for the full spectrum of experiences. From meadow skipping to intermediate glade skiing to full on avalanche chute hunting the Sawtooths are the real deal and one of the best-kept secrets anywhere.
The Stanley Basin and neighboring Sun Valley are home to a passionate community of Nordic skiers for good reason. This area is ideally suited for kick and glide with some of the best terrain and conditions for Nordic anywhere. Stanley has two groomed Nordic trail systems with one at Alturas Lake 20 minutes south of Stanley on highway 75 and the other at Park Creek less than 10 minutes to the west on Highway 21. Approximately 32 kilometers total of groomed trails loop through the meadows and timber at the base of the Sawtooths in an incredible, picturesque amphitheater of mountains and snow draped stillness.
The Stanley Basin offers almost limitless groomed trail riding and backcountry sledding in the shadows of one of the most breathtaking mountain ranges anywhere, with over 185 miles of groomed trail riding and hundreds of square miles of backcountry terrain outside of the wilderness boundaries. With a remote location far from population centers you can be sure that you will essentially have the place to yourself. Basing out of Stanley you will be able to ride in the four directions of the compass, and all you will need is more time to explore.
SAWTOOTH NATIONAL RECREATION AREA (SNRA)
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area consists of 756,000 acres of scenic mountain country. The Sawtooth NRA has over 700 miles of trails, 40 peaks rising over 10,000 feet and 300 plus high mountain lakes that add to the spectacular scenery and vistas. Recreational pursuits include outdoor activities of camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing, boating and canoeing, rafting, observing nature, photographing and bicycling.
Stanley has about every sort of shelter that any group, couple, or family could hope to find. There are twenty-two listings for hotels, motels, and cabins in the Stanley area.
If you are looking for a place to stay a little bit longer or to bring your group to town for a special occasion you might find renting a home a bit more to your liking. From rustic mountain cabins to well-appointed luxury homes you can find a suitable dwelling for your needs in Stanley. You will find a wide variety of homes available to rent by the night, week, and month on lakes, streams, rivers and in the foothills of the surrounding mountains.
The Stanley Basin is the home of the western guest ranch. Here you will find a wide variety of guest ranches available for rent set amongst idyllic mountain and river canvases that will let you paint a once in a lifetime experience.
Situated at the intersection of three of Idaho’s most remarkable, recognized scenic highways, Stanley is ideal for the RVer offering a multitude of privately run RV Parks and public campgrounds with RV hookups with incredible mountain vistas as backdrops. In the summer these campgrounds are quite busy so reserve in advance.
The Sawtooth/Stanley Basin region is the ultimate camping destination. You can pitch your tent or pull up your RV to sites on the shores of high altitude lakes, amidst the pines of alpine peaks, or on the banks of the rumbling Salmon “River of No Return”.
FOREST SERVICE CAMPGROUNDS
Designed for self-sufficient camping; USFS campgrounds do not offer trailer hookups for water, sewer, or power. Because of heavy winter snows, most area campgrounds are open only from mid-May through Labor Day.
Eleven USFS fee campgrounds and five picnic sites in the SNRA may be reserved in advance. The sites that may be reserved (generally the most popular) include several on Redfish Lake, Stanley Lake, and the Salmon River, as well as a few along Idaho Highway 21 west of Stanley.
You would not think a town with a permanent population of fewer than 70 souls would have a large selection of dining establishments. Thirteen are listed.
In another part of this website, I mentioned that I use four “GPS Games” to help me find places off the map. So I think it makes sense to include them in the posts when applicable. Here are items near Stanley
GCGN29 — R & G Cache (Virtual)
GC348J9 — Da Sawtoofs (Traditional)
GC2BY46 — The Road Less Traveled (Traditional)
GC348HM — A cache with a view (Traditional)
WM1QNV — Stanley Ranger Station #406
WM1QNY — Bears’ Ploughed Field #328
WM2371 — Redfish Lake Trailhead
WM236D — Redfish Lodge Idaho
WM4FGV — U.S. Dept of Agriculture Forest Service Point
WM1QRT — Population Center of Idaho Witness Monument
AQ Box #120926 — Idaho Bird
AQ Box #261394 — Sawtooth Valley Meditation Chapel
770 Airport Rd, Stanley, ID 83278
In honor of the beautiful stained glass windows, two stained glass stamps await your discovery.
> Daughter of Triton
> My Spirit Soars on Butterfly Wings
Places like Stanley are what made me start this website. My love affair began when I first saw the magazine picture and persists to this day. So far, I have been there only once. I spent time fly-fishing and whitewater rafting in the Salmon River. I want to return.
You’ve got to love a town with the main drag named “Ace of Diamonds Street.”
It is a long way from Florida to Idaho, and I may never get back there again. But once is better than none.
More details and pictures at the Stanley website