Stanley Idaho | Paradise in the Sawtooth Mountains

I am not sure a more perfect representation of a mountain exists than the one that sits in Stanley, Idaho. A town whose population, of mere 121 people, is outnumbered by the number of mountain peaks that surround it. Stanley sits in a valley at 6,000ft, tucked underneath one of the most incredible mountain ranges in the world, the Sawtooths. This mountainscape is what you picture when you imagine jagged, rocky peaks that hold snow well into the summer months. And at the base of those mountains are unimaginably blue lakes that drain into river filled with sockeye salmon and rainbow trout. And in this town, made up of only a few restaurants, fishing guides, rafting guides, and a handful of motels, is a place to make unforgettable memories.

Stanley rounded out the end of our trip to Idaho this summer, and it was the perfect way to end a long road trip that included stops in Bend, Caldwell, McCall, and Cascade. We stayed just on the edge of town, at a motel that sat right along the Lower Salmon River, and I mean right on the river. Out our back door, we could be in the river fishing in less than 10 feet. And after purchasing our fishing licenses, we spent mornings and evenings fishing that river. Even though we didn’t have waders, we still walked up and down the river trying to find the fish. I only hooked a couple with a fly that looked like a grasshopper. My father-in-law also was successful with that same fly. But catching fish wasn’t what made this spot magical, it was the backdrop that was nothing like I’d ever seen before while fishing, and it was seared into my mind.

While we’d been up to the Sawtooths just once before while looking for campsites on a trip up to Sun Valley, we never really got to experience the mountains. On our second day in Stanley, I got to experience moving through the mountains in a completely new way, on horseback! The four of us headed up near Red Fish Lake to the Mystic Ranch Stables where we got to go on a guided horseback tour into the mountain trails. Hopping on my first horse, whose name was Rocket, was very unfamiliar. The stability, and instability, in a horse’s saddle is nothing like a motorcycle or mountain bike. As he stumbled forward, we climbed up the trails and crossed rocky sections with surprising ease. Being able to gently drift the reigns left or right to adjust the direction of this massive animal was quite impressive. A swift quick of my heels to the side would get him going again after a quick stop to snack on some weeds. And with this bit of control, the group of us climbed up to a ridgeline behind our guide, where we were gifted with the view of the stunning Sawtooths above and the massive Red Fish Lake below. This was unforgettable, being able to ride horses with my family in a truly wild place, especially for the very first time. It almost made us want to get horses of our own to keep eperiencing places like this.

When I wasn’t fishing, or reading the latest Jack Carr book on the back deck of the motel, we were usually in town, and what a town it was. Even though it’s impressively tiny, the dirt road town was still bustling in the mornings and nights. Each day started out with all of the visiting tourists grabbing coffee at a shop or breakfast at the infamous ######, with some of the best breakfast burritos and cinnamon rolls. The afternoons had everyone scrambling off to do a countless number of outdoor pursuits. But in the evenings, especially Thursday nights, the entire town comes out and the main strip comes alive. Whether you’re headed to #### for the shockingly good pizza or ####, you’re in for a good night of great food and endless drinks. Overall, there are a handful of restaurants, and by the sight of packed tables, I can only assume the rest of the places were just as good. Plus there’s a grocery store in town to stock on up on anything else you could possibly need for your adventures in the valley. 

Of course, we only were staying a few days, and barely scratched the surface of what this town has to offer. I didn’t even mention all of the hot springs just outside of town that we stopped at on the way in. Just a short walk from the parking areas have you sitting alongside a river in natural hotsprings that can reach anywhere from 70 to 100+ degrees. Admittedly, I was not in the mood to be sitting in a hot spring when the August heat was soaring, but they were still miraculous nonetheless. My wife and her parents where absolutely loving the experience and that made up for my sour mood. It just means that we really need to come back in the fall or winter to truly experience the best time to hop in those hot springs! And even moreso, I can’t wait to get back up there to saok in the shadow of the Sawtooth mountains even more, because Stanley, Idaho is one incredible place!

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