bugsy running on lone rock beach with the airstream and f-150 in the background

One night in Stanley, ID–Big Trip #3

We visited Stanley in September 2020, as part of Big Trip #3.

hiking near Stanley, ID

Tiny Stanley is an outdoor adventurer’s town. It’s in the middle of nowhere, has a grocery, a couple cool-looking restaurants, and that’s about it… except for the scenic Salmon River and towering Sawtooth Mountains sprinkled with gorgeous alpine lakes. We were there for the mountains and didn’t get to experience any of the town (other than driving all over in search of firewood, which was strangely hard to find) but look forward to returning and checking out Stanley Supper Club and Bridge Street Grill, and of course, doing more hiking.


Airstream camping in Iron Creek Campground in Stanley

We chose Iron Creek Campground for its proximity to hiking trailheads, and the convenience of a 15-minute drive into Stanley for supplies. The nine campsites are first come, first served, so plan accordingly; we lucked out and had our pick of campsites on a pleasant, late-September Monday. The sites on the right side of the road are creek-side, and many are pull-through. We had no trouble with the Airstream on the Forest Service road, but the campsite was tight for our 28′ trailer. If you’re an experienced driver or have a smaller trailer you can make it work.

This campground is WONDERFUL. The trees, the creek, the trailheads a short walk away… we absolutely loved staying there. There are a few dispersed campsites along the Forest Service road on the way to the campground if it’s full and you need a backup plan, and there’s a full-hookup RV park close to town.


hiking to Sawtooth Lake
hiking to Sawtooth Lake

Both of these hikes are accessible via a short walk from Iron Creek Campground, and being National Forest trails, dogs are allowed.

Sawtooth Lake

a meadow along the hike to Sawtooth Lake
Bugsy swimming in Sawtooth Lake

Sawtooth Lake was surprisingly crowded for a National Forest trail, and for good reason: it’s an easy ten-mile out-and-back through the woods and past meadows to a large lake perched on the side of a mountain. Don’t be fooled by the first pretty lake you meet at the top of the ascent–Sawtooth is just a little farther and much bigger. We saw lots of dogs and several people with fishing rods along the trail and at the lakes. This hike is fantastic and we recommend it.

Goat Lake

hiking to Goat Lake near Stanley
Hiking along the trail from Goat Lake in Stanley

We thought Goat Lake would be a quick and easy 8-mile hike to knock out before leaving town, but it was tough! The views on the way up are incredible, and the lake at the top is lovely, but you really have to work to get there. The last mile was BRUTAL. My copyeditor, J, said I need to emphasize that more. The last mile is one of the hardest miles we’ve ever hiked, and we’ve hiked a lot. Remember how hard Ousel Peak was? The climb to Goat Lake was harder.

Goat Lake in the Sawtooths

Once you’re at the top, read the comments in Alltrails or follow the line on Gaia (those are the two hiking apps we use) to skirt the boulder field. Because of the boulders, this may not be a great dog hike; Bugsy took a rest day so can’t report her opinion on that.

an alpine lake near Sawtooth Lake
Halfway to Sawtooth Lake

Stanley offers so much opportunity for outdoor fun and we’ll be back! On our hiking to-do list:

Redfish Lake to Alpine Lake (11.4 miles)

Red Mountain Trail (8ish miles)

Washington Lake and Fourth of July Lake (5.6 miles)


2 responses to “One night in Stanley, ID–Big Trip #3”

  1. […] Stanley, ID for national forest hiking and camping […]

  2. […] is adjustable. We started from our campsite, a new favorite practice we somehow just figured out in Stanley, Logan, and Telluride, and clocked five and a quarter […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *