Are you ready to explore one of the best-hidden gems in my home state of Idaho? If so, keep reading. Stanley, Idaho a small town in central Idaho about 60 miles away from the well-known ski town of Sun Valley. In this blog, I’ll share my favorite things to do in Stanley!
Whether you enjoy hiking in the summer sunshine or snowmobiling in the winter snow, there are plenty of activities for all visitors to enjoy year-round in Stanley. Take a look at this list of epic things to do in Stanley, Idaho, as you plan your excursion.
Because Stanley, Idaho is somewhat off the beaten path and an Idaho hidden gem, please recreate responsibly by packing out what you pack in and be courteous to others.
Stanley can be accessed as a day trip from Sun Valley or an easy weekend trip from Boise, Idaho. It is a remote small town, so roads in the wintertime can be icy, and the town basically shuts down in the winter. However, like many of the other popular areas in Idaho, Stanley is a perfect place to enjoy scenic views, participate in outdoor activities, and relax in the stillness of nature around you.
The closest airport to Stanley is in Hailey, Idaho (SUN). Most people will opt to fly into Boise, Idaho, and rent a car to take a Southern Roadtrip (see my itinerary for that here) to get to Stanley.
If you stay here, be sure to ask for an updated room. I’m not sure if all rooms have been updated yet, so you’ll want to be sure you get one. This isn’t the nicest place, but you do get free access to their hot spring (make an appointment at the front desk)! I think it’s well worth staying here just for the hot spring! Book Here
These are cute, clean little cabins with great views of the area and walking distance to downtown Stanley. They have cute touches and little porches for sitting out and enjoying sunsets and sunrises! Book Here
16 Epic Things to Do in Stanley, Idaho
1 – Backpack in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Stanley is an area that has gorgeous lakes and mountains, all open for hiking and other outdoor activities. There are over 700 miles of trails and 40 peaks rising over 10,000 feet.
Try backpacking in the Sawtooth Mountains on a multiple-day trip. TheAlice-Toxaway Loop is an incredible 3-4 day excursion of hiking and camping throughout the mountains. This hike gives fantastic views of the mountains and lakes, and you’ll find different wildflowers and animals depending on the seasons. Expect to see other people throughout the loop hiking or camping at various areas along the way. Check out my list of things to pack backpacking here (swipe through to see the list).
2 – Day Hike to Sawtooth Lake or Alice Lake
Redfish Lake is the largest lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and there are many impressive hiking trails right around Redfish Lake that all range in difficulty. Sawtooth Lake and Alice Lake are two other lakes located higher above Redfish in the recreation area.
Each hike will give scenic mountain views and a taste of the great outdoors. While preparing for your hike, be sure to take alook at a map to plan out your hike and consider temperature changes depending on when you leave throughout the day.
3- Play on the Water at Redfish Lake
While you could take a quick dip in Redfish Lake while hiking, it could be better to plan a separate day on your itinerary for enjoying water activities on Redfish Lake. Redfish Lake is open for swimming, boating, waterskiing, and stand-up paddle boarding, which are all fun lake activities in the summer months.
If you have your own boat, you can bring it right into Redfish Lake on your own. If not, then there is an opportunity to rent a variety of water accessories, such as kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, paddle boats, and motorized boats right on the lake.
4 – Go Camping
Put your love for the outdoors to the test by camping for a night or two during your trip to Stanley. There are plenty of campsites to choose from right on Redfish Lake, including Chinook Bay, Mountain View, Mt. Heyburn, Sockeye, Red Fish Inlet, and Sunny Gulch. Some campsites run on a first-come, first-served basis, but others use reservations thatcan get booked up ahead of time.There are various campsites around Sawtooth Lake and Stanley Lake that are worth checking out as well.
How about horseback riding with scenic views of Idaho? Well, this is your chance.Redfish Lake Corrals and Mystic Saddle Ranch are two options for horseback riding in Stanley. There are various ride lengths to choose from, starting at a one-hour ride, a two-hour ride, a half-day ride, and an all-day ride with an included lunch.
Each ride takes you on a different route with varying levels of steepness throughout the journey. These rides are family-friendly, so they are an excellent activity for children to enjoy as well. The lodge even offers a horseback riding special upon booking if you stay at the Redfish Lake Lodge during your trip. No matter which ride you choose, you are guaranteed breathtaking mountain views and a unique experience to remember.
Many incredible river rafting trips begin in Stanley. The Salmon River runs right through Stanley, and the Payette River South Fork runs close by, making Stanley the optimal place for river rafting.
Since Stanley is such a hotspot for rafting, there are different intensity levels for river trips, from a one-day trip to six-day excursions through the Frank Church Wilderness. There are many companies to choose from that offer an assortment of trips, socheck out the different river rafting options to book the best fit for you and your fellow travelers. My favorite guide for my white water rafting trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River was with Mackay Wilderness River Trips.
7 – Soak in Hot Springs
Stanley is lucky enough to be close to some of the most amazing hot springs in Idaho, so be sure to carve out time for a hot spring soak while you’re here.
Boat Box Hot Springs is one of these wonderful hot springs, and it is located along the Salmon River. At one point, this hot spring was a larger pool, but it was washed away by the river years ago. Now, in its place is one metal hot springs tub that sits right on the river. The metal soaking tub may be small, but it is piping hot and ready for relaxation.
If you stay at the Mountain Village Inn, you’ll get access to a great hot spring with breathtaking views of the Sawtooth Mountains. Just remember to use proper hot spring etiquette and pack out what you pack in.
8 – Go Cross-Country Skiing
Not many people venture to Stanley in the wintertime, but if you’re a cross-country or backcountry skier, this could be the perfect spot for you. The beautiful landscape turns into a gorgeous winter wonderland! You can find groomed cross-country skiing trails at Alturas Lake and Park Creek Ski Trails. These aren’t in town, but you can drive to both of these locations.
9 – Hire a Fishing Guide and Fish on the River
Fishing is another great outdoor activity to enjoy on the water in Stanley. There are plenty of high-quality fishing spots along the Middle Fork and Upper Main Salmon Rivers in Stanley. This area is considered “a fisherman’s paradise” with endless access to great fishing. While you may just want to enjoy a fishing outing on your own, there areformal fishing trips that you can take through local fishing companies.
10 – Take a Drive on a Scenic Byway
Many of the activities on this list require some adventurous spirit, but this activity can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own vehicle! There are plenty of scenic drives near Stanley, and you’ll see gorgeous views at every turn. Stanley is located at the intersection of three Scenic Byways: Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, Salmon River Scenic Byway, and Sawtooth Scenic Byway.
These routes lead to the Boise National Forest, the town of Salmon, and Sun Valley, respectively. Each route has its own incredible views of the surrounding mountains and land, making a drive along any of the byways a great activity to do on your trip.
11 – Drive to Stanley Lake
A hidden gem near Stanley is Stanley Lake. Drive 15 minutes, and you’ll see one of the most jaw-dropping lakes that people will think you had to hike miles in to find! I got my engagement photos here, and they turned out unreal. You can also camp here if you get a spot in time, but it’s worth a visit just to look at.
12 – Learn at the Stanley Historical Museum
Need a rainy-day activity during your time in Stanley? A visit to theStanley Historical Museumfor some local history is a great thing to do. The Stanley Historical Museum displays photographs and artifacts showing the early days of Sawtooth Valley. The museum is located on State Highway 75 between Stanley and lower Stanley on the Salmon River Scenic Byway.
13 – Eat Breakfast at the Stanley Baking Company Cafe and Get Coffee at Peaks & Perks
One of Stanley’s most popular breakfast and lunch spots is the Stanley Baking Company Cafe. The cafe opened in 2000 and has been a hot spot for tourists and locals when it is open for the warmer months of May to October. The restaurant serves classic breakfast favorites like egg dishes, pancakes, french toast, and assorted sides. The baked goods are also incredible, especially the homemade scones. Be prepared for a bustling cafe environment when grabbing your food here.
Peaks & Perks is a small seasonal cafe that serves delicious coffee, tea, smoothies, and bagels for breakfast in the summer months. It also serves ice cream and milkshakes for dessert. The stand-alone cafe is located in the Mountain Village parking lot next to the Riverwear store in Stanley.
14 – Grab Lunch at Papa Brunee’s or Sawtooth Luce’s
Another stop on your food tour in Stanley should be Papa Brunees when you require a quick bite for lunch. Papa Brunees is a standard pizza and sub shop serving tasty pizza, calzones, sandwiches, beer, and wine.
Another favorite for a burger and fries is Sawtooth Luce’s. They serve up an eclectic mix of American favorites with a gourmet twist.
15 – Eat Dinner at the Sawtooth Hotel or Stanley Supper Club
Another must-visit in Stanley is theSawtooth Hotel, which is owned by the same family as the Stanley Baking Company Cafe. The Sawtooth Hotel is a great place to stay but also a delicious place to dine for dinner. The hotel has a wooden lodge feel and overlooks the Sawtooth mountains, so you really can enjoy mountain views with every bite. The menu is delicious with various appetizers, salads, and entrees with meat and vegetables. There is a great wine and beer list as well. Plan your dinner around the sunset because those are views you do not want to miss!
Another great restaurant to add to your Stanley dining itinerary is theStanley Supper Club. This is a fine dining experience with incredible food but feels comfortable and welcoming. This is precisely what they achieved with the Stanley Supper Club, which offers dishes like pot roast, roasted cauliflower ravioli, beef stroganoff, and many others. The food is delicious, making Stanley Supper Club a must-visit restaurant to experience during your trip.
16 – Road Trip to Local Idaho Towns
If you are just in Stanley for the weekend, then there is plenty to see within a small radius of the town. But if you are here for an extended period, then consider making a trip to one of the other spectacular Idaho towns just a drive away.
Boise is about 214 miles away from Stanley, which is a bit of a drive for a day trip but leave early in the morning, and you will get to or from Boise in no time. This could even be the scenic direction you travel on your way home from Stanley or while going to another destination.
Welcome to the Traveling Spud! I’m Katie, a 30 something from Idaho who quit her marketing job in San Francisco, California to travel the world for a year. After a trip around the world, my heart chose Idaho. I'm addicted to outdoor adventures, photography, and inspiring others to get out of their comfort zones and cross experiences off of their bucket lists. Let's explore together! Read more here.