Camper Van on the road near Stanley, Idaho Sawtooths Wilderness Idaho

Travel to Stanley, Idaho

Head Straight for Stanley, Idaho

After a busy summer season, I took a GoCamp trip of my own to Stanley, Idaho with some girlfriends. We hiked three trails, swam in three lakes, soaked in three hot springs, stayed in three different campgrounds, got, er, one speeding ticket, and laughed too many times to count. There were three of us, which resulted in exponential fun. Here’s a recap of our trip by the numbers.

Miles Driven: 1066 miles

We set off for our adventure from Portland, Ore. and drove to Stanley, Idaho, gateway to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. After getting provisions in Boise, we headed out Highway 55 to Banks. From there, we turned right on the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway. You go through Lowman and then on the Stanley; and you get jaw dropping scenery the whole way.

Note that GoCamp vans are available for pick up in Boise, Idaho. So you can also just fly into Boise and start from there.

Campgrounds: 3

When we first arrived late Friday afternoon, the campgrounds at Redfish Lake were already taken. So we kept going to Alturas Lake and the North Shore Campground. Best decision we ever made. The Alturas Inlet Campground offers a little bit better beach access and is nestled near a charming meadow.  

After Alturas Lake we tried our luck at Redfish Lake again. This time we scored a perfect spot (#4 I think) at Chinook Bay Campground. This campground is quiet, lovely and boasts its own beach on Little Redfish Lake. It’s away from the hustle and bustle of its bigger namesake.  

Pine Flats Campground, in the Boise National Forest along the Banks-Lowman Highway, was our final stop. The trail to a beautiful hot spring starts in this campground. That gave us all the reason we needed to stop here on our last night. Nestled along the South Fork of the Payette, the forest across the river from the campground is recovering from a fire. I found the look of black, charred trees against new growth to be stunning.

Hikes: 3

There are over 700 miles of trail in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. That makes your biggest problem choosing which hike you’ll do. We most wanted to jump into alpine lakes, so we let the presence of a lake guide our selection.

We hiked the Cabin Creek Trail, the Bench Lakes Trail, and Saddleback Lake Trail. Of the three, Saddleback is the most strenuous and requires really paying attention to cairns and other trail markings, but was well worth all the scrambling over boulders off trail.

Hot Spring Soaks: 3

That Idaho has so many hot springs, one around every corner it seemed, was a revelation to me. Boat Box Hot Spring made us giddy, with its cauldron off the side of the road along the Salmon River. And the two pools at Pine Flats Campground mentioned above made it hard to leave Idaho. Pro tip: while at Pine Flats Campground, head down the trail to the hot springs right before dusk. That way the light will be just so over the river as you soak. 

Idaho, we’ll be back for more, much more.  

Photo credit: Shawn Linehan