2 Days in The Sawtooth Mountains: The best things to do in Stanley, Idaho

Sep 19, 2020

Looking to spend some time in the Gem State? In this guide we are sharing a 2 day itinerary for the Sawtooth Mountains including where to stay, what to eat, and the best things to do in Stanley, Idaho!

From the second we arrived in the Sawtooth Mountains, we felt at home. As we mentioned in our Alice Lake backpacking guide, the Sawtooth Mountains had been on our hiking bucket list for years and our expectations were very high. And they totally exceeded them! There is just something magical in the air that immediately won us over and we never wanted to leave.

We spent three days in the Sawtooth Mountains (watch our vlogs here!) and every second we fell more in love with the area. The views are endless, there are gorgeous lakes, and the area feels so remote, without tons of huge resorts, much civilization, or any cell service. It’s just you and nature.

Per usual, our time in the Sawtooth Mountains was way too short. There is so much to do in the area, from hiking, outdoor activities like kayaking and fishing, to hot springs. We could’ve easily spent weeks! 

But if you’re like us and only have a little bit of time to spend there, this guide will focus on some of the best things to do in the Sawtooth Mountains if you just have 2 days, as well as tips on where to stay, information about the area, and more!

We’ll be focusing on the Stanley, Idaho area, as that was sort of our basecamp for our adventures, but make sure to check out our “if you have extra time” section for more ideas of things to do in the surrounding area. 

We hope you fall in love with the Sawtooth Mountains like we did!

Looking for more things to do in Idaho? Check out our other Idaho guides:

Reminder: Leave No Trace

Before starting your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave the places you explore even better than you found them.

  1. Plan ahead and prepare: Know the regulations, prepare for different weather conditions, and pack the 10 essentials.
     
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Travel on designated trails and camp at designated sites at least 200 ft away from water sources.
     
  3. Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out. Carry ALL trash with you and dig a 6-8″ cat hole for human waste, 200 ft away from water.
     
  4. Leave what you find: Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
     
  5. Minimize campfire impacts: If fires are allowed, use established fire rings. Keep fires small and put out fires completely.
     
  6. Respect wildlife: Do not approach or feed wildlife, keep pets under control, and store your food properly.
     
  7. Be considerate of others: Yield to hikers going uphill and keep noises down.

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About the Sawtooth Mountains

The Sawtooths are a mountain range of the Rocky Mountains in central Idaho, making up a total of 217,000 acres. The range is home to hundreds of gorgeous alpine lakes and jagged peaks (they look like a saw!), with 50 peaks over 10,000 feet (the tallest being Thompson peak at 10,751 ft). And with 40 trails totaling over 350 miles, rivers for fishing, hot springs, and many lakes, there is a little something for everyone.

We know we’re probably a broken record about how much we love the Sawtooth Mountains, but they are honestly one of our favorite mountain ranges we have ever been to! Rocky, sharp peaks are our favorite and there is no shortage of them here.

And while the Sawtooth Mountains are likely popular among Idaho locals, they still feel like a bit of a secret to the rest of the US. We are a bit torn about sharing how incredible this place is (please don’t hate us locals!), as we loved how much less crowded it is compared to Washington, but we think Idaho doesn’t get enough love and we want to get others excited about responsibly exploring this beautiful area.

When to visit the Sawtooth Mountains


The Sawtooths are beautiful to visit year round, but for the sake of this guide, we’d suggest visiting between late June and September. This will give you the best chance of having warmer days and no snow, which will make all of the items on this itinerary accessible.

We’re sharing the average weather for Stanley above, but keep in mind that the hikes in the mountains will be a lot cooler, since they are higher elevation than the town of Stanley.

The fall can also be a gorgeous time as the leaves change to beautiful red, orange, and yellow, but you run the risk of a surprise snow storm or freezing temperatures. And if you love snow, winter would be gorgeous and there are tons of activities to do, like cross country skiing, visit hot springs, snowshoeing, sledding, and more!

Getting to the Sawtooth Mountains


If you’re visiting Idaho by plane, the quickest way to get to the Sawtooth Mountains is to fly into the Boise Airport, which is 2 hours and 45 minutes from Stanley. We drove from the Sawtooths to Boise and the drive is stunning! With windy roads and mountain views, it’s a super scenic almost 3 hour trek. 

If you’re road tripping around Idaho like we were, definitely add the Sawtooth Mountains to your list! Its central location in the state makes it relatively convenient no matter where you’re coming from. We visited the Sawtooths from Twin Falls, which is about 2 hours and 45 minutes south of Stanley, and it was a perfect addition to our already epic Idaho road trip!

Getting around the Sawtooth Mountains

Things to do in Stanley Idaho

As we mentioned above, the Sawtooth Mountains are pretty remote, so you’ll definitely need a car to get around! If you’re renting a car, we’d suggest getting something with decent clearance so that you can drive easier on rougher forest roads, but don’t worry if you just have a small car—our van did just fine!

Where to Stay in the Sawtooth Mountains

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While this Sawtooth Mountain guide is focused more on the Stanley area, Stanley is pretty remote and small, so your options will be more limited when it comes to lodging than perhaps some more popular mountain towns in the US. But don’t worry! With a combination of Airbnbs, lodges, campgrounds (free and paid) both in Stanley, as well as in nearby Ketchum (about an hour away), you can definitely find a great home away from home.

Below are some great options to check out!

Airbnbs

  • Option #1 (Stanley): This tiny home is super cute, has an amazing view, and is gorgeous on the inside.
  • Option #2 (Stanley): Another tiny home in the same complex with just as beautiful views and design.
  • Option #3 (Stanley): A third tiny home option right by the first two options above. These are all close to town too!
  • Option #4 (Stanley): A 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house in the heart of Stanley.
  • Option #5 (Ketchum): A studio in downtown Ketchum with 2 beds.
  • Option #6 (Ketchum): A great studio in downtown Ketchum.
  • Option #7 (Ketchum): A studio close to the ski area of Ketchum and downtown!
  • Option #8 (Ketchum): A 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom townhouse.

PS: If it is your first time staying at an Airbnb, click this link to get $40 off your first stay!

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Hotels and Cabins

Camping

One thing we loved about the Sawtooths is how much free, dispersed camping there is! These campgrounds often do not have any amenities, like bathrooms or even trash cans, so depending on if you’re in a van, like us, or tent camping, you’ll need to be prepared to pack out everything you bring. But to be able to sleep in the mountains, with incredible views, for FREE, it can’t be beat!

We love using Campendium and FreeCampsites.net to find free campgrounds. You’re able to read reviews to hear how others experiences were to hopefully avoid any surprises and find the right spot for you. Sometimes you’ll need to drive around to find a spot if campgrounds are already full, so make sure to have a Plan A, B, & C!

One of the spots we slept at that we really liked was Stanley Lake Dispersed. It is located pretty close to Stanley Lake (just a quick drive) and had quite a few spots to choose from. We arrived on a Sunday during July and found one in the afternoon.

Looking for more amenities at a campground or want something reservable? Check out:

Important things to know before you go

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There is no cell service. At least for us with both our AT&T phones and Verizon hotspot. We only had service in Ketchum and in Stanley. Anywhere between we had no bars, so make sure to plan ahead and download offline Google Maps so you can get around. We also recommend saving any trails to your AllTrails app so you can view the map on hikes.

There are limited amenities. Especially in Stanley. There is only one grocery store, but it’s pretty small, and just a handful of places to eat. We recommend stopping in Ketchum or Boise (depending on where you’re coming from) on the way to stock up on food, outdoor gear, etc.

2 days in Sawtooth Mountains itinerary

Ready to explore the Sawtooths? In this two day itinerary we’re sharing some of the best things to do in Stanley, including hikes, kayaking, food, and more! Looking for more ideas? Check out our “if you have extra time” section at the end of this guide!

Day 1

Sawtooth Mountains
  1. Kick off your trip with an epic hike! With over 40 trails in the Sawtooths, there are tons of different options to choose from, but here are some that we recommend. We’d suggest starting early so you have enough time to complete the trail and enjoy the scenery without having to rush. And don’t forget to pack a lunch! Many of these hikes will be an all day event.

    Alice Lake: With endless mountain views and a gorgeous lake, this hike is incredible! We backpacked this 12 mile (round trip) trail, but you could definitely do it as a day hike, as the elevation gain of around 1,700 ft is pretty gradual and not too difficult. However, if you do have an extra day in the Sawtooths, we’d recommend backpacking it so you can spend more time!

    You can also continue past Alice Lake for another 0.6 miles (each way) to Twin Lakes for even more gorgeous peaks and lake views!

    Sawtooth Lake: This 10 mile (round trip) trail has an elevation gain of 1,873 ft, making it a bit more difficult than Alice Lake, but also shorter. However, the lake at the end, surrounded by mountains, is gorgeous!

    Goat Lake: Goat Lake (plus Goat Falls) is another popular day hike in the area at 8.1 miles and 1,788 ft of elevation gain. Although it’s shorter than the previous two hikes we mentioned, it’s a bit harder due to the steepness and a rock scramble at the end. But the payoff is worth it!

    Bench Lakes: Want to see multiple lakes? Then Bench Lakes is a great option! There are a couple ways to do this hike. You can either start at the Fishhook Creek Trailhead for a 7.8 mile hike with 1,240 ft of elevation gain or you can take the boat shuttle across Redfish Lake.

    If you decide to take the Redfish Lake boat shuttle, you can either take it one way ($14) and then hike the whole way back to the Fishhook Creek Trailhead (or hike there and take the boat back) or you can take the boat both there and back ($19).

    If you take the boat just one of the ways, it still does require a hike from the boat to Bench Lakes, but it is a bit shorter at 3.2 miles one way and around 1,200 ft of elevation gain/loss. The hike in total will be around 7.1 miles.

    If you take the boat both ways, the hike will be about 6.4 miles round trip.

    Note: The boat runs until early to mid October and leaves on demand from the Redfish Lake Marina, but is only guaranteed to pick people up at 9 AM, 12 PM, 3 PM,  5 PM, and 7 PM (before Labor Day) and only 9 AM and 7 PM (after Labor Day). If visiting after Labor Day, schedule a pickup time if you plan to return at 12 PM, 3 PM, or 5 PM with the marina.

    Fishhook Creek Trail: Looking for something easier? Fishhook Creek Trail is a great option! At only 4.4 miles and 275 ft of elevation gain, it’s a pretty flat trek with a river, meadow, and mountain views at the end. 
     
  1. After hiking all day, grab a bite to eat in Stanley! Here are some options:
  2. Need a sweet treat? Swing by Stanley Scoops! (Only open Thursday-Sunday)
     
  3. End the day by enjoying the sunset at Stanley Lake, which is an easy to access lake (no hiking required!) just northwest of Stanley. 

Day 2

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  1. Spend the morning soaking in a hot spring! Idaho is home to tons of hot springs and there are a handful close to Stanley, ranging from both natural rock formed springs and man made tubs. We experienced our first ever hot spring during our trip to the Sawtooths and y’all, they live up to the hype! Here are a few options close to Stanley.

    Kirkham Hot Springs: Located along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, Kirkham Hot Springs is technically not in the Sawtooths, but it’s about a 1 hour drive from Stanley and is 100% worth it! The hot spring pools are located right on the South Fork of the Payette River and surrounded by mountains (although, the road is right there too, so there will be road noise). But even with the noise, it’s absolutely magical!

    It costs $5 to access these hot springs (free with the America the Beautiful pass!) and they are open from 7 AM-9 PM, although the hours may vary depending on the time of year. Make sure to double check here before you go!

    After parking, it’s a quick walk down to the hot springs, which are made up of multiple pools and waterfalls, which vary a bit in temperature. The pools are right on the Payette River, so you have an amazing view of the rushing, cold water of the river as you soak in hot water. It’s so peaceful and relaxing!

    We hear that it can get popular, so we suggest arriving right when they open for the chance to have it all to yourself. We got there right before 7 AM on a Sunday in July and got to enjoy them without anyone else for an hour…woo!

    Boat Box Hot Springs: Less than 10 minutes from Stanley, this hot spring is very unique! Unlike Kirkham Hot Springs, it’s not a natural pool, but instead is a cool metal tub you get to soak in.

    The story behind this spot is that there used to be a large wooden box that held the hot water, which rafters would soak in after a big trip. The box kept getting damaged by floods and was finally replaced by the metal tub that is there now. The hot water comes from a metal tube that fills the tub with the hot spring water, but if you get too hot, don’t worry, there is a bucket you can use to add cold river water to the tub.

    This spot is popular and unlike Kirkham, which multiple groups could enjoy at once, only a couple people can fit in the tub, so arrive early to avoid having to wait around for it to be free!

    Mountain Village Resort: You’ve probably seen this hot spring on Instagram, as it’s a very popular photo spot in the Sawtooth Mountains. Located at the Mountain Village Resort in Stanley, this hot spring pool sits inside of a barn structure with the doors opened for views of the Sawtooth Mountains. It’s pretty spectacular!

    The hot spring is free for guests of the resort, but non-resort guests will need to call to reserve a time slot and pay a fee, which we hear is around $30/hour.

    And similar to Boat Box, there is only one pool and private soaks are not guaranteed. Between having to reserve a slot as a non-resort member, the cost, and the potential sharing of the pool, we’d pick the others over this one, but the idyllic setting makes it impossible to not include as an option.
     
  1. Grab a late breakfast and coffee at Stanley Baking Co! Everything here is amazing, but we especially loved their pancakes. The cinnamon rolls look delicious too!
     
  2. Spend the afternoon kayaking at Redfish Lake. This lake is absolutely gorgeous! With clear water, a beautiful beach (you can swim here too!), and crazy mountain views, it’s an epic spot to go kayaking.

    Kayak rentals cost $15 for 1 hour for a single or $20 for 1 hour for a double, but you can rent for half a day or a full day too. They also have SUP boards, motor boats, or paddle boats to rent.

    We planned to go out for a couple hours, but once we hit the water we became determined to paddle past a bend in the lake to see the full mountain views. What we didn’t know at the time is that it’s about 4.5 miles to the end of the lake, which is about where we paddled to. It was long and grueling paddling almost 9 miles round trip, but the views at the end of the lake are stunning! And you can treat yourself to a root beer float at the lake’s grill afterwards 🙂

    Not a kayaking fan? Check out some other activities in the area in our “if you have extra time” section below!
     
  3. For dinner, check out one of the spots you didn’t visit yesterday!

If you have extra time…

Looking for more things to do in Stanley or near the Sawtooth Mountains? Here are some extra ideas, including places to eat and fun activities!

Food

Coffee

Activities

Ready to explore the Sawtooth Mountains?

Pin this guide with the best things to do in Stanley to help plan your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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