If Salt Lake City is the Crossroads of the West, then the tiny town of Stanley, Idaho, is the Crossroads of scenic byways.
Stanley, population 69, is the hub of the Sawtooth Valley, a lovely chunk of real estate north of Ketchum. Mountains surround a sagebrush-covered landscape. The setting is reminiscent of Jackson Hole but on a smaller scale.There are only three highways into the valley. They converge in Stanley and all of them are scenic byways.
Ketchum/Sun Valley is south by way of 8,701-foot Galena Pass. The route is designated the Sawtooth Scenic Byway.
If you drive north from Stanley on ID-75, also known as the Salmon River Scenic Byway, you'll come to the small ranching town of Challis. The route follows the winding course of the Salmon River through what is said to be a fisherman's paradise. Fishing cabins near the river are proof of the pudding.
ID-21, the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, takes you from Stanley west and south to Boise.
The area is close enough to the Wasatch Front that you can drive there in a day. It makes an ideal summer getaway and is a less crowded alternative to Jackson Hole.
You won't find as wide a range of accommodations or as many touristy shops in Stanley as there are in Jackson. But outdoor lovers will be impressed with the hiking trails and backcountry lakes.
Tourism peaks in July and August. May, June and September can be lovely times to visit, weather permitting.
Mitzi Mecham, executive director of the Stanley Chamber of Commerce, says the area had more than 1 million visitors last year. "If you're coming in July or August, make reservations early," she advises.
She urges you to consider taking a scenic flight over the mountains. "People say you've never seen the Sawtooths until you do that," she says. "Some of those peaks are toothpick sharp."
Stanley Air Taxi is the only company based in Stanley that offers that service.
"People have told us again and again that this is the highlight of their trip to Idaho," says Dia Terese, co-owner of the company.
Its Sawtooth Tour takes about a half an hour and the cost averages out to about $30 per person, assuming the maximum number of passengers (three in the Cessna 182 and five in the Cessna 206). Its hour-long tour includes a fly over of the Sawtooth Range and the White Cloud Range on the east side of the valley.
The cost of the hour tour last year was $160 for three people plus $50 per person for two additional passengers.
In winter, snowmobilers flock to the valley. "Stanley was rated No. 3 in the country for snowmobiling," says Mecham. It is also popular with cross-country skiers.
Beware of cold temperatures. This winter the temperature has dropped to only 30 below, mild compared to other winters. School gets canceled at 32 below.
Winter tourism usually runs into April.
You must take the good with the bad. Driving north from I-84, you pass through what this reporter considers some of Idaho's dullest scenery to get to some of its best.
The Sawtooths' full majesty isn't always apparent from the highway. Glacial moraines in front of the mountains obscure the view, making them less dramatic than the Tetons.
Here are details.
Places to stay
The area has a wide array of accommodations from motels to private cabins; from tent camping facilities to furnished teepees. They include:
Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch: 208-774-3544. Operating dates: June 12 through Sept. 20. Rustic, well-appointed cabins. The lodge, which dates back to 1930 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has a view across the valley to the Sawtooths. The ranch is known for its fine dining. A natural hot springs swimming pool is across the highway. A three-night minimum stay is required unless they can fit you in between existing reservations. Five nights a week the ranch has a limited number of dinner openings for people who aren't staying at the ranch. Reservations required. The ranch has four lodge rooms, 8 duplex cabins and one honeymoon cabin. Rates for a three-to-six night stay: A basic cabin is $92 a night per person; deluxe cabins are $102 a night per person; lodge rooms are $77. One or two-night rates are slightly higher. A weekly package is $588 per person. All rates are based on double occupancy and include lodging, use of ranch facilities and breakfast and dinner. "We don't have phones, televisions or radios in the cabins," says Sandra Beckwith, lodge manager. "That helps people enjoy the natural area a whole lot."
The lower ranch, across the highway from the lodge, operates two cabins as a bed & breakfast in the winter. Two-night minimum stay. This year those cabins will close April 5.
Redfish Lake Lodge: 208-774-3536 (after May 1). Prior to May 1, call 208-838-2267. Operating dates: May 22-Sept. 26. Lodge rooms (shared community bathrooms), start at $50 a night; six types of cabins start at $110. Two different types of motels start at $85 a night. No TVs or phones in the rooms. Dining room, lounge, horseback riding, general store and service station. Boat shuttle service to trailheads.
Camp Stanley: 888-722-5432. Tent cabins at Alturis Lake, which is 23 miles south of Stanley. Turn west off Highway 75. Alturis Lake is at the base of the frontal moraine. Bring your own sleeping bags and food. Each tent cabin has its own wood-burning stove. The camp is equipped with community cooking facilities and has a volleyball net and horseshoe pits. Hiking and mountain biking trails nearby. A tent cabin (sleeps up to eight) is $60 a night. A wall tent (sleeps up to six) is $50 a night. The price for renting the entire camp, which accommodates 32 people, begins at $200 a night. If you have more than 32 people in your group, there's room for RVs and your own tents. Open from Memorial Weekend through Labor Day.
Smiley Creek Lodge: 208-774-3547. Located near the original Sawtooth City, near the base of Galena Pass. Its two furnished tepees are particularly popular with families. It also has three lodge rooms, two cabins and an RV park with full hookups and tent sites. The teepees (for which there is a bathhouse) rent for $35 a night; the bigger lodge room (with a bath) is $70 a night, the other lodge room, with no bath (use the bathhouse) is $40. An RV site with full hookup is $20 a night. Operating dates depend on the weather but usually run from June 1 through October.
For information about Forest Service campgrounds in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which runs from six miles north of Ketchum to 30 miles north of Stanley, call the Stanley Ranger Station at 208-774-3000, or write it at HC64, Box 9900, Stanley, ID 83278.
According to a Forest Service spokeswoman, the most popular campgrounds in the Stanley area are Outlet Campground, Point Campground and Glacier View at Redfish Lake (reservations only, call 1-800-280-2267 up to 240 days in advance); and Stanley Lake Campground and Stanley Lake Inlet Campground, both at Stanley Lake, available first-come, first-served. Chinook Bay and Mountain View campgrounds on Little Redfish Lake are also popular. The cost ranges from $9 a night for a two-vehicle, 10-person site; to $24 for a six-vehicle, 20-person site.
The Redfish Lake Visitors Center, which will open in late June, subject to funding, has details about campgrounds and hiking.
- Fourth of July children's parade and fireworks
- Mountain Mamas Arts and Crafts Festival, July 18 and 19
- Cow Pasture Golf Tournament and Barbeque, Sept. 12
- Mountain Mamas Quilt Festival, Sept. 19 and 20
Call the Stanley/Sawtooth Chamber of Commerce at 208-774-3411. Leave your name and address and it will send you a visitor information packet. Or write it at P.O. Box 8, Stanley, ID 83278.