When people were asking us where our next trip was and we answered “Idaho!” we got a lot of confused looks. Idaho isn’t the first place you’d normally think of escaping to, but it is a hidden gem for sure. Our trip to the Sawtooth Mountains was one of my favorite places we’ve gone. I’d describe it as a combination of the Grand Tetons and Colorado, just way less crowds. So pretty much the perfect place!
Fun Fact: Kyle and I technically got married in Idaho – the Teton Valley to be exact!
The Sawtooth Mountains are part of the Rocky Mountain Range located in the central part of the state. There are an abundance of hiking trails and many alpine lakes. To find more tips and facts, I highly recommend Visit Idaho’s website. They have so many great guides and ideas for things to do.
How to get there
Much like Nebraska (where we live) Idaho isn’t the easiest place to fly into, which is part of the reason why you won’t see too many crowds of people. We flew from Omaha to Boise. The airport at Boise is super clean, easy to navigate, and the rental car companies are right there in the airport, no shuttles to take. After landing, it was smooth sailing to pick up our rental car and head to a hotel for the night before making our way to the mountains the next morning.
The drive to Stanley, Idaho is about 3.5-4 hours, so plan accordingly. We decided to fly into Boise in the evening and arrived late so that we could get up early and hit the road to be able to squeeze in a few activities as soon as we got to Stanley. Had we flown into Boise in the morning, with the 4 hour drive due to more traffic, we wouldn’t have been able to do much upon arrival to Stanley. But this is all dependent on your schedule and if you’re a morning person or not.
If you want to take more stops as you drive through Sun Valley and Ketchum before you get to Stanley, you will need to plan for this. These towns are about 1 hour from Stanley due to the winding roads through the mountains. I wish we would have had more time to explore these fun ski towns, maybe next time!
Where to stay
Since Stanley, Idaho is only a population of 63, this is pretty much a tourist destination with a handful of hotels & cabins. The Sawtooth National Forest and various state parks offer hundreds of camping sites if you’re up for that or have a camper van or RV to park. We opted to stay at the Mountain Village Resort one night so we could check out their hot spring and then stayed in the Redwood Cabins for the remainder of the trip. Both places were super affordable. We actually preferred the cabin because it had a little kitchenette and it backed up to the Salmon River where we relaxed in the lawn chairs, hammock, and swing watching kayakers and rafters float down the river. Oh, and you can’t beat the view of the stunning Sawtooth Mountains. We totally would have camped or rented a camper van, however, it’s a little trickier when you’re flying in. We prefer to only take carryons, but if you want, you could check a bag with a lot of your camping gear and then rent the rest when you get to Idaho. We have done this on a previous trip to the Grand Tetons where we slept in the back of a 4Runner.
Other lodging options are the Redfish Lake Lodge located right on Redfish Lake with easy access to the marina. This is a family friendly and dog friendly option.
Mountain Village Resort is famous for the hot spring log cabin they have with an epic mountain view. Hotel guests can reserve a time to use the hot spring at no additional charge and non-guests can reserve the hot spring for a $15 charge.
Goldbug Hot Spring is about a two hour drive from Stanley. There is also about a two mile hike with a 900 foot elevation gain, making it a moderate-strenuous hike.
Stanley Lake is a short drive from town and ended up being one of our favorite lakes here. It was the first attraction we visited after arriving. The view of the mountains lines up perfectly with the lake making it a very photogenic place.
Fishook Creek hiking trail is a short hike, about 5 miles round trip, that opens up to a beautiful meadow. It’s located right by the Redfish Lake Lodge if you want to time it around lunch or dinner.
Grab a canoe at Redfish Lake early in the morning for a peaceful view of the sun rising over the mountains. There are lots of family friendly options here like biking, camping, swimming on the beach, horseback riding and more. We even saw families playing volleyball and hanging out on the lawn with their dogs.
We were shocked that we were able to grab one of the beach front fire pits to make some s’mores without anyone around us.
Alice Lake is a more strenuous hike and is about 11 miles one way. You will want to be sure to plan accordingly so that you have enough time to complete this hike.
We started by watching the sun rise at Petite lake where the trailhead begins and finished up around noon, just in time to fill our bellies and take an afternoon nap. We were here in July so it gets pretty warm in the afternoon and getting an early start made for the perfect weather.
Where to eat
Mountain Village Restaurant is connected to the hotel Mountain Village Resort. We ended up eating here three different times due to the convenient location and the good menu. Burgers, steak, sausage & potatoes, stuffed chicken were a few of the items we ordered. We also got peppermint tea to go a couple of nights to enjoy while we watched the sunset.
Sawtooth Luce’s is where I had the best burger I’ve ever had! They had a small menu of choices of burgers using local, high quality beef. You can definitely tell! After a long day hiking to the hot springs and driving back, we were starving and a burger and fries hit the spot. You better believe I ate and enjoyed every bite of it!
Redd Square Restaurant is located located in the “town square” right next to the library (which is genius btw and I wish I would have discovered it earlier in the trip to enjoy a book by the Salmon River). Again, this restaurant served locally farmed and grown food. I had the salmon with rice pilaf and Kyle got their jambalaya. I also recommend the marionberry cider.
Redfish Lake Lodge restaurant is a super popular restaurant option that is located at the Redfish Lake Lodge and right next to the boat marina. It is family friendly and was the busiest place we visited while in Stanley. I had the steak with parmesan potatoes and Kyle had the roasted chicken all enjoyed while watching the waitresses to try find the owner of a dog who kept sneaking into the restaurant! This place was pricier than the rest and while good, wasn’t our favorite.
Stanley Baking Co. is the most popular and highest rated restaurant in Stanley and the first time we ate here we had to wait in line for about 15 minutes to order. They only serve breakfast and brunch items and close at 2pm. I would recommend getting their Migas and the Bear Bowl. They are famous for the Oatcakes and cinnamon rolls if you prefer sweet things for breakfast. They also serve you organic high quality coffee while you are waiting in line, so a win in our book!
Peaks and Perks is a little coffee food truck located a few steps down from the Mountain Village Resort. Lots of coffee options, bagels, smoothies and grab ‘n go bars. Our only wish was that they opened a tad bit earlier so we could get coffees to go on our way to sunrise hikes.
Although there aren’t many options in the village of Stanley, there also was a pizza place, another restaurant and an ice cream shop.
There are two grocery/convenience stores in Stanley that surprisingly had a lot of organic and healthy food options. We bought our s’mores supplies here along with water, firewood, some snacks and drinks for our cabin.
Hot springs and hiking were the main activities we enjoyed while visiting the Sawtooth Mountains, however there are an abundance of options for the whole family.
- Canoeing, kayaking, rafting.
- Camping and swimming in the lakes.
- Grab a book at the Stanley library to read while you relax by the Salmon River.
- Pretty much everything is dog friendly. We enjoyed watching dogs float by on rafts and kayaks on the Salmon River and we hiked trails with several dogs.
- Sit by a campfire and make s’mores.
- Enjoy live music at the Redfish Lake Lodge or Mountain Village Resort.
- Visit the Stanley Museum.
- Swing (with a view)!
- Visit an art gallery.
If you found this recap of our trip to the Idaho Sawtooth Mountains helpful, let me know!