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Hiking in Stanley, Idaho: the Best Trails & Lakes

Spring is in full swing, and I am lamenting that I’m not returning to go hiking in Stanley, Idaho for a third summer. Last summer while working in Stanley, I went backpacking pretty much every weekend and visited all the hiking trails and lakes that were left on my list.

While I’m very excited to go hiking here in Oregon this summer, I need a few moments to reminisce on my favorite places in the Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains.

I’ve intentionally not included the more popular hikes on this list such as Alice Lake, Sawtooth Lake, and Goat Lake. They are certainly gorgeous and worth a visit. There’s a reason they are the most popular destinations for hiking in Stanley, Idaho. But I wanted to make a list that features the less obvious destinations. And I do have posts about all those lakes I just mentioned if that’s what you’re after; just click on the highlighted lake name. 

Many of the trails and lakes on this list can be done as day hikes, but I would also recommend them as their own camping destination. I’ve done about 200 miles worth of trails in the Sawtooths and White Clouds, and these are my favorities.

The view above Baron Lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains.

The Best Hiking in Stanley, Idaho

1. Baron Lakes

Somehow I didn’t make it to Baron Lakes until my very last hike in Stanley last year, the Sawtooth Traverse. I got there in the morning and was so upset with myself that I wouldn’t be able to stay for a night.

Baron Lakes are three lakes that cascade into one another. They are a deep blue and are surrounded by jagged peaks. If you’d like, you can even camp on a sliver of land that juts out between two of the lakes.

It is a tough journey to get here. It’s about seven miles to get to from the Redfish Lake ferry drop-off location. First you must do a steep climb up to Alpine Lake. Then there is another steep climb up to Baron Divide before dropping down to the lakes. If you don’t want to do the whole hike, just go to Baron Divide and you will still have amazing views of the lakes.

Mountain Range: the Sawtooths

Miles: 14 out-and-back

Trailhead: Redfish Lake ferry drop-off

Do you see the little waterfall between Cramer Lakes?

2. Cramer Lakes

Think of these as the easier version of Baron Lakes. It’s not as difficult to get to, but it has many similar qualities. It’s a series of three lakes that cascade into one another. There’s even a little lake waterfall between two of them. There are some pleasant campsites to choose from, and it’s not too crowded. 

I really enjoy the beauty and peacefulness of these lakes. I’ve been here twice and it always lulls me in and makes me want to stay. I think these would be a nice introduction to the Sawtooths if you’re looking for a destination that is a little off-the-beaten track, but not extremely challenging to get to. 

Mountain Range: the Sawtooths

Miles: 14 out-and-back

Trailhead: Redfish Lake ferry drop-off

A view of Antz Basin.

3. Antz Basin and Born Lakes

I’m just going to say it. I think that Antz Basin in the prettiest basin and/or valley in the whole Stanley area. When I first hiked here, I just wanted to spend the night at Born Lakes. I knew I’d be passing through Antz Basin, but I had no idea what it was really like.

The photo really doesn’t do it justice. When you come over the ridge, there’s all of a sudden a vast basin stretched out below. The trees line the edges of the rocky mountains, and the basin floor is a blend of bright green grass and beige dry land. It creates quite a beautiful contrast. 

The trail winds down into the basin and continues onto Born Lakes. The lakes themselves are beautiful, not heavily trafficked, and really reflect the mountains nicely. Sunset here was gorgeous because of how the mountains are situated. The sunset hits them and they glow orange. 

If you don’t want to hike all the way to Born Lakes, just hike to the ridgeline overlooking Antz Basin.

Mountain Range: the White Clouds

Miles: 10 out-and-back

Trailhead: 4th of July Creek Trailhead 

See what I mean about there being something special about Imogene Lake?

Imogene Lake

This lake is not a very common one for people to go to because it makes for a very long day hike and it’s not on a trail that directly goes anywhere. You wouldn’t really pass by Imogene Lake unless you were trying to take the long way back to civilization.

Imogene is a pleasant and serene lake that won’t have too many people nearby. I don’t really know how to describe why this lake is so special, but it just has a quality to it. It evokes feelings of contentment and peace of mind. 

Mountain Range: Sawtooth Mountains

Miles: 16 out-and-back

Trailhead: Hell’s Roaring Creek Trailhead or Tincup Trailhead (it’s a couple miles longer starting here)

The view from my Island Lake campsite in the Big Boulder Lake area.

Big Boulder Lakes

it’s a long drive to even get to this trailhead, plus a big hike to get to the lakes. Some of the lakes in this area aren’t on a designated trail. Only veer off trail if you are prepared and feel confident in your abilities. I recommend this hike as an overnight because of how difficult it is to get there. I do think this trail is better for more experienced hikers. If you’re pretty new to hiking and backpacking, maybe do something else on this list first.

Big Boulder Lakes are a chain of gorgeous alpine lakes up in the White Clouds. If you don’t feel comfortable going off trail, I recommend camping at Island Lake. If you do feel confident, then camp at either Cove or Sapphire Lake. This is all around wild and remote. 

Mountain Range: White Clouds

Miles: 9-14 out-and-back, depending on your route

Trailhead: Boulder Creek Trailhead (at Livingston Mill)

Saddleback Lakes

(the top photo on this post is of Saddleback Lakes)

This spot is known for being a rock climbing destination. I actually did this hike with two friends who had plans to climb Elephant’s Perch the next day. This spot is ideal for the view. Elephant’s Perch is so pretty, especially at dusk.

There’s not much of a designated trail up to Saddleback Lakes, so this is another hike I recommend doing only if you’re more experienced. A lot of the path is on rocks, and it’s easy to get off course or take a different route than intended. 

These lakes are in a narrow space between cliffs. Camping spots at the first lake go pretty quickly, so keep hiking to the further lakes if you have trouble finding a spot. 

This actually isn’t a huge hike and is doable as a day hike.

Mountain Range: Sawtooths

Miles: 7 out-and-back

Trailhead: Redfish Lake ferry drop-off

best hiking in stanley idaho
Chamberlain Basin in the White Clouds.

Chamberlain Basin

Chamberlain Basin is another beautiful destination in the White Cloud Mountains. Similar to Antz Basin, you have an impressive basin view followed by a hike down to the lakes for camping. 

The trail seems a little busy at first until you get past Washington Lake. The terrain isn’t as difficult as what you usually get in the White Clouds either. It’s mellow for the most part. 

While camping at the lakes here, I had my first mountain goat sighting. Those goats are way bigger than I expected them to be. 

If you just want to do a day hike, you can hike until you get a view of Chamberlain Basin. If you want to camp overnight, then continue on to the lake.

Mountain Range: White Clouds

Miles: 18 out-and-back

Trailhead: 4th of July Creek Trailhead

Sawtooth Traverse 

Don’t want to pick just one hike? You can see all of the Sawtooth sights and do the traverse.

The ample amount of trailheads in the Sawtooth Mountains means that you can enter the range in one place and exit in a different place. There’s not a specific route that I think you should do. Take a look at the map and see what seems reasonable to you. 

I won’t get too much into detail here because I wrote a very long blog post about the Sawtooth Traverse that you can use as a resource. If you love backpacking and you have a bit of time in Stanley, you can’t go wrong with the traverse.

Mountain Range: Sawtooths

Miles: 40+

Trailhead: varies

Where would you go hiking in Stanley, Idaho? Have you done any of the trails on this list or have favorite spots I didn’t mention? And don’t forget to bring a Sawtooth & White Cloud map with you.

Directions

I put together a little map with all the trailheads and lakes that I mentioned in this post. Just click the link to go there.

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1XAfVtWxv0Il_9Pnj5sggNO_RTsiJPDCY&usp=sharing

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