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Summer guide to stanley idaho

A Summer Guide to Stanley, Idaho

Some of the many attractive qualities of Stanley, Idaho are the Sawtooth Mountains, the abundance of hot springs, and the quirky nightlife. I’m currently on my second summer of living in Stanley, and I feel I’ve thoroughly dabbled in what this slice of mountain heaven has to offer.

In this guide you will find where to hike, hot spring, float, eat, sleep, and dance. 

The Best Spots in Stanley, Idaho

Where to Stay in Stanley, Idaho

Free Car Camping in Stanley

There are ample locations to car camp in Stanley. For good views of the Sawtooth’s, I recommend Nip and Tuck Road. For proximity to town, Iron Creek Road is a good location. Drive down Iron Creek Road and you’ll see a few different spots. If you go all the way to the end of the road there is a campground you have to pay to use. 

If you’d like to be further out of town and not be close to people, try Fourth of July Road or Decker Flats Road. For these spots you can just find a good spot along the road. There’s no official site. 

Keep in mind that none of these sites will have bathrooms, showers, water spigots, or any other amenities. If you’re new to car camping it may be worth paying a few dollars for an established site. 

Car Camping with Amenities

If you don’t mind paying anywhere from $5-30 to car camp, there are tons of options. Check out the Forest Service website for a full list of campsites in Stanley. (Go to page 8 for the map of campsites and page 12 for the full list with amenities.)

Lodging in Stanley, Idaho

There’s plenty of options for hotels and cabins near Stanley. I always send people to Mountain Village because they have a very nice hot spring for guests to use. Plus it’s within walking distance of everything in town. 

There’s plenty of cool cabins, spots by rivers or lakes, and lodges outside of town. It depends on the vibes you’re looking for. Check out the map for some good spots to look into. 

Where to Eat & Drink in Stanley, Idaho

Stanley, Idaho Nightlife

For being such a small town, Stanley has a lot of live music on the weekends. Granted, things have slowed down this summer because of Covid. Under usual circumstances, Thursday night street dances are a must. They shut down main street and have a band. There’s swing dancing, and you can drink in the street.

The Kasino Club and Mountain Village are other good bars in town for dancing, pool, and drinking. It’s worth brushing up on some swing dancing videos on YouTube before getting to town if you’re planning on going out. 

Most tourists don’t typically come to Stanley for the nightlife, and the bars attract a lot of the locals and summer seasonal folks in town. It’s a great way to meet people who live in Stanley. 

Best Restaurants in Stanley

The best breakfast in town is the Bakery. Don’t let the long line scare you; they keep it moving pretty fast. Peaks & Perks is the coffee and bagel stand, which is also delicious. 

Mountain Village is good for most things: breakfast, burgers, and late-night bar snacks. Go to Papa Brunee’s for pizza. 

The Sawtooth Hotel is by far the best spot for dinner. It is a little more pricey than all the other restaurants in town, so save it for a special occasion. 

The Stanley Supper Club is new, but I’ve heard good things about it. And Sawtooth Luce’s is another good dinner spot. 

Outdoor Activities in Stanley, Idaho

Hot Springs in Stanley, Idaho

There is quite a few options for hot springs in Stanley for being such a tiny town. As I mentioned before, there’s the Mountain Village hot spring. You do have to pay to use it, but it’s such a nice spring that it’s worth a trip.

Perhaps the most well known of the Stanley area hot springs is Boat Box. After you leave Lower Stanley, it’s two miles down the road on the right. There’s a pull off that is easy to miss. Boat Box really only has room for about four people at a time, so expect to wait for a bit during peak summer time. 

Then finally we have Sun Beam hot spring. Again, it’s along the side of the highway once you drive out of Lower Stanley. The springs are down in the river.

White Water Rafting

There’s lots of options for white water rafting in Stanley. If you don’t really know what you’re doing, go with one of the raft companies in town. I have personally gone with Sawtooth Adventure Company and White Otter, and both companies are great. I’ve never actually heard anything bad about any of the rafting companies in town though, so you’ll have a good time no matter who you go with. 

River Floating

If you’re just looking for a relaxing river float, that’s an option as well. You can put in just outside of town (check my map for the exact location). And the take out spot is down the road at Mormon Bend Campground. It will take about two hours, and you’ll float by Boat Box Hot Spring along the way. You will need two cars to shuttle the rafts and people between the put in and take out spots. 

Do check local river conditions before you go, and be sure to have life jackets on board for everyone. I recommend renting inflatable kayaks from River Wear in town. They have good deals, and they will be able to tell you about the river conditions. 

Relax at the Lake

There’s plenty of lakes to choose from in the Stanley area. Redfish Lake is by far the most popular. They have boat rentals and a lodge. There’s also plenty of stuff to do there with kids. If you want beach vibes and a place to buy snacks or booze, head to Redfish.

For a less crowded lake option, try out Alturas Lake. There’s a beach there as well, but it’s more of a nature experience.

Hiking & Backpacking in Stanley, Idaho

There are endless options for hiking trails near Stanley. Pick up a Sawtooth & White Cloud Mountains map. The trails around Stanley are very well maintained, so anything you pick on the map will be a good option. There are also hundreds of alpine lakes, and all of them are equally beautiful. There are a few spots that are more popular than others, such as Alice and Sawtooth Lake. They are certainly beautiful, but you’ll be just as happy visiting other less popular spots. 

These hikes are ones that I have personally done and can recommend. However, there are countless others. I suggest taking a look at the map and seeing what calls to you.

Day Hikes:

  • Yellow Belly Lake
  • Hell Roaring Lake
  • Stanley Lake area
  • Sawtooth Lake
  • Alice Lake
  • Goat Lake
  • Redfish Lake area
  • Bridal Veil Falls
  • Fourth of July Lake
  • Born Lakes (White Clouds)

Backpacking Trips

  • Alice-Toxaway Loop
  • Saddleback Lake
  • Boulder Chain Lakes (White Clouds)
  • Big Boulder Lakes (White Clouds)
  • Imogene Lake

Can’t Miss Experiences

  • Enjoying the stars during a New Moon. Stanley is a Dark Sky Reserve, which means that artificial lighting is limited so people can fully enjoy the night sky. 
  • Getting drinks in town and trying out swing dancing. Stanley is such a friendly place that you will be sure to make a few friends during a night on the town. 
  • Hiking to an alpine lake and taking a dip in the freezing water. The lakes are so pristine here that you can see clear to the bottom. 
  • Relaxing in a hot spring on a chilly evening. Wait until night time to really get the most out of your hot spring experience. There will be less people, and it won’t be too hot to soak.
  • Waiting in line at the bakery for a delicious breakfast. There’s a reason the line is so long. It’s because it’s worth the wait. 
  • Taking a trip down the river. Whether it’s a mellow float or a trip down the rapids, you gotta get on the river while in Stanley. 

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