This is a guest post from my friend Lee Genung from Vermont Mountain Moms who spends a couple of weeks every summer exploring Stanley, Idaho. Her parents fell in love with Stanley in the 80’s while on a river trip and have made it their home. After spending many years of her own childhood in Stanley, Lee is experiencing the majesty of the Sawtooth Mountains and all the adventures that area has to offer with her own family. She offered to share some highlights here on Adventure Travel Mom, and I’m glad she did! I’m moving a river rafting trip to the top of my list based on just the photo alone.
Stanley is remote, located an hour and a half from Sun Valley with a population of 63 in the winter, but in the summer months, the town fills with seasonal residents and visitors. It’s a quiet place and that’s part of the attraction. Don’t get me wrong, the winter is amazing too, we have spent time there cross country skiing, hut-to-hut tele skiing, and whiled away hours playing games by the fire. But summer is my favorite time to visit. My kids get a different perspective on life. They have learned about ranching, the wilderness, and western history in a way that only a place like Stanley can teach. The sheer massiveness of the mountains and rivers are stunning to them, especially when compared to those back home in Vermont. There are other places in the west that have this affect, but a down-to-earth attitude sets Stanley apart.
Despite it’s small size, Stanley has endless summertime activities. Hiking, river rafting and fishing are the three biggest draws to the area, and this summer the kids were really ready to start exploring. Here is our list of the “Best of Stanley”!
I was thrilled this year when the kids said they wanted to go river rafting. The best outfit in town for day trips is The River Company based in downtown Stanley. They provided everything we needed from life jackets to wetsuits, booties and raincoats (on the off chance it rained). They even have a photographer on the riverbank, which is how I got the above photo of the kids right up front, clearly having a blast. Before we signed up, I had a million questions and ended up talking with David and Heather, the owners. They could not have been more helpful. They completely understood my concerns around safety since they have little ones that are about the same ages. Plus, they are just cool people. They recommended The Whitewater Trip with Lunch, lasting 4-5 hours for ages 4 and up. It was perfect. My kids (ages 7 and 9) were a little nervous, but the guides were very experienced rafting with children and kept the gang happy and engaged. The squeals from my kids going through the class II-III rapids, watching a bald eagle, cheering on those brave enough to dive from Jump Rock, and a delicious lunch made for a perfect day. Events where meals are provided can be tough for us because our son has a gluten allergy, but these guys and gals can handle anything. We let them know ahead of time and they were extremely accommodating and said they work with this all the time. This is definitely on our list for next year as well. We may even try out one of their Float Fishing Trips!
My son LOVES to fish and Stanley offers a range of fishing options for all ages. The rivers and lakes in the area range from easily accessible by car to hours of hiking into a breathtaking lake in the mountains. You can find all of the information on great hikes and excellent fishing locations at the information center downtown or some of our other favorite spots in town.
You will not find anyone more knowledgeable about fishing in the Stanley Basin than the people at McCoy’s Tackle and Gift Shop (authorized Orvis Dealer). Jane McCoy has owned the shop for as long as I can remember and she knows it all! You can book guided fishing adventures or ask for recommendations on great spots in the area. Plus, there is no need to drag all of your “stuff” to Stanley, everything you will need is here- rod rentals, maps, clothing, licenses, books and all the gear.
Another spot not to be missed is The Sawtooth Fish Hatchery, 5 miles south of Stanley. The life of a salmon is unique and honestly sounds exhausting! Whether you decide to just wander around and look at the charts, maps, open tanks and “raceways” of salmon swimming outside or you do a more guided tour approach learning about the incubation and early rearing as well as the adult spawning facility, you can’t go wrong. My kids love feeding the fish and spending some time on the banks of the well stocked fishing pond catching fish after fish (they provide the rods and bait). One word of caution though, ask when the best times to fish are, we made the mistake of going mid-day and didn’t fare very well on our fish count.
We have spent many days at Redfish Lake Lodge. The views are breathtaking, the water is crystal clear (but a bit cold!) and there are endless activities. Redfish Lodge, built in 1929 is open from the end of May to early October. They have lodge rooms and cabins if you are looking for a place to stay, but everything else is open to the public. Our days are spent sitting on the beach and playing with the toys at the marina. With SUPs, paddle boats, motor boats, and kayaks for rent everyone is occupied for hours. The General Store has snacks and essentials and the Gazebo Grill is open for lunch and dinner, as is the full service dining room inside. Two nights a week you will find the lawn packed with people listening to live music and enjoying the beautiful view.
Word of warning, the lodge area and beach can be crowded. If you walk a little further down the lake there are public camping and picnic spots and the crowds thin out on the beach. Another fun adventure is to take the boat shuttle from the Redfish dock to the other end of the lake and go for a hike. If you do this just make sure you have a decent understanding of the terrain and the plan, it’s a massive area and you can plan a week long camping trip or a quick family hike.
Situated above town, I don’t think there are many people out there who can argue with this playground. It’s not fancy, but it’s fun and one of our favorite spots for the kids to burn some energy and for us to enjoy the views with a cup of coffee. For the older kids and adults you can also spend some time at the informal but fun Stanley Idaho Disc Golf Course.
These are some of our favorites, but the list of activities in Stanley goes on and on, from hots springs, horseback riding, and camping to mountain biking, rock climbing, and the local history museum, there is something for everyone! For information and many more ideas, check out The Stanley Chamber Of Commerce.
Days full of adventure tend to build up an appetite, and Stanley has no shortage of great restaurants. For breakfast and lunch, The Stanley Baking Company & Cafe wins in our book, hands down. With baked goods fresh daily, their famous granola and an extensive list of unique items everyone will find something they will love while sitting on the beautiful deck enjoying the views. The owners, Becky and Tim also own the Sawtooth Hotel, the log building at the end of the road. The restaurant there serves a phenomenal dinner featuring local, fresh ingredients.
I haven’t yet been to the Backcountry Bistro at the Stanley High Country Inn, but my parents love it and recommend it often. After checking out their menu, we will absolutely go next year. It’s not open every night and reservations are recommended.
For a little different flare, check out the Kasino Club. It’s in the center of town and has been an icon of Stanley for years. Walk in and you feel like you have been transported back in time a bit, nothing super fancy, but the salad bar and the steaks are too good to miss. We have never had a meal there we haven’t liked.