What’s so special about Stanley, Idaho?

Have you ever visited a place that stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away?

Bench Lakes Trail

That’s Stanley, Idaho for you. 

(But if you drive up last minute on a Friday evening, the same weekend as a massive music festival with a borrowed tent, no food and no campsite in mind, be prepared to go with the flow.)

Stanley Idaho is a town in Custer County, Idaho about 130 miles from Boise. At last count the population of Stanley was 68 people. Your eyes will water when you drive through town not only because of the majestic mountain backdrop but also because you’re trying so hard not to blink so you don’t miss the town completely. It’s that small.

Just a 2.5 hour drive from Boise, Stanley makes for an easy weekend getaway. Plus the drive there, which winds along the Payette River, is almost worth the visit itself. Seriously, if you just drove to Stanley and back home again you’d still be a happy camper (without the camping).

According to Wikipedia, the Stanley Basin was discovered by fur trappers in the 1820’s. Although long before that, the land was occupied by the Sheepeater Tribe (named for their diet). 

It wasn’t until 1919 that Stanley was designated an actual town after the streets and lots were surveyed and recorded. And now, 100 years later, Stanley is one of the top spots for folks in Idaho wanting to experience the outdoors.

So here are few things should know if you take a quick overnight trip to Stanley, Idaho.

  1. Stop by Stanley Lake. Everyone talks about Redfish Lake and they should because it is breathtaking and there’s beer. But Stanley Lake in the morning is seriously stunning. With McGowan Peak reflecting on the glass water and birds singing their morning tune, this lake will make you take up meditation.
  2. Find a campsite early. If you visit during the weekend, campsites can be slim pickings, especially the good ones. So don’t hem and haw about the best one. Just choose one because someone will definitely snag the one you pass up.
  3. Try to avoid buying your camp food in Stanley. It’s expensive and limited.
  4. Visit Redfish Lake Lodge and take the boat across the lake. It’s $8.75 one-way and allows you to skip 6 miles of hiking to start your adventure immediately.
  5. Don’t stress about what hikes to do because they’re all good. Bench Lakes Hike is awesome. You’ll traverse along Redfish Lake until you head inland. Three miles later you’ll come across two lakes just begging you to jump in. (Done.)
  6. Enjoy an ice cream cone or a beer at the Redfish Lake Lodge. Because, why not?
  7. Practice setting up your tent up before you camping. Trust me, it’ll save you lots of sweat and tears.
  8. Put your campfire completely dead out. Because, wildfire.
  9. Redfish Lake Lodge parking can get crazy. Be careful to not park in a spot that could get trapped in. (Yes, this is from experience).
  10. The cost of a campsite depends on where you camp. If you have a bathroom and shower, there’s likely a camp fee. If you’re on public land with no amenities then it’s likely free, (note the difference between “fee” and “free”.) But read this article for more details about camping on public land.
  11. Look around and enjoy your surroundings.

So to answer the question, what’s so special about Stanley, Idaho? Well, everything. The small town, the majestic peaks, the blue lakes, the quaint restaurants, the ample hiking, the night stars, the camping, the history. All of it makes Stanley, Idaho a spot that you just can’t stop thinking about. 


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