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This author is a paid content writer for Idaho Tourism.

The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. Now that school is back in session you may feel as though you missed your window to get outside and make some memories with the kids. But fear not, fall in Idaho is truly one of the most gorgeous times to strap on your hiking boots and head outside with the family.

A sweeping view of Redfish Lake as the sun sets.
A sweeping view of Redfish Lake as the sun sets. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

Central Idaho is a must-visit between the months of September and November – with towering trees boasting a dazzling array of autumn colors, from lush reds to bright yellows. Breathe in the crisp, cool air and fill your thermos with hot cocoa or cider and head up to Stanley for a family-friendly adventure your children will never forget.

What to Pack

Hiking Fishhook Creek Trail near Redfish Lake.
Hiking Fishhook Creek Trail near Redfish Lake. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

Although your journey to Stanley will be suitable for all ages and abilities, you can never be too prepared. Consider packing the following items for your outdoor adventure:

  • Topographic map
  • Compass
  • Snacks for the kiddos
  • Extra clothing
  • Firestarter
  • Matches
  • Sun protection
  • Pocket knife
  • First-aid kit
  • Flashlight

Getting There

No matter which direction you’re coming from, getting to Stanley is a rewarding adventure in and of itself. Stanley is surrounded by three scenic byways: the Ponderosa Pine, Salmon River, and Sawtooth Scenic Byways. Each route has unique views that showcase snow-frosted mountain peaks, meandering rivers, and wide-sweeping views of Stanley Basin and the Sawtooth Mountains.

A view of Mcgown Peak near Stanley.
A view of Mcgown Peak near Stanley. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

If you’re driving from Boise, take ID-55 to Banks. Turn right on Banks-Lowman Highway ID-17 going East to ID-21. Turn left on ID-21 to Stanley. You also have the options of taking ID-21 all the way, passing through historical Idaho City and Lowman.

Explore Bench Lakes and Fishhook Creek

The Sawtooth/Stanley basin is the ultimate hiking destination. It’s a part of the state that is often kept secret by Idahoans. Droves of pines cover the highest alpine peaks and the Salmon River tops off scenic views that are nearly too perfect to describe…. So we’ll just show you:

Fishhook Creek Trail near Redfish Lake.
Fishhook Creek Trail near Redfish Lake. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

If you’re journeying here for the first time, we’ll outline a few trails to try out with the kids and how to get there. The first one on the list is Bench Lakes – this is an outstanding hike for a wide variety of ages and abilities. You’ll start your trek at Redfish Lake which is just 15 minutes outside of Stanley.

Waves crash on the beach of Redfish Lake.
Waves crash on the beach of Redfish Lake. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

The trail you’ll hop on is well-maintained and runs parallel to the lake, winding through lush pine and cottonwood forests. You’ll be challenged at first with a short, gradual climb, but don’t let the beginning of the hike fool you, it’s not all uphill. The remainder of the trail is relatively flat until you reach the first of the three Bench Lakes (roughly 4 miles from the trailhead). You’ll be rewarded with amazing views during your hike, and the grand finale at the end of the trail is worth the journey.

A view of Redfish Lake from a trail on the shore.
Admiring the glass-like water of Redfish Lake. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

If a four-mile hike is outside of your comfort zone for you and the kids, we’ve got you covered. Fishhook Creek Trail is a much shorter, mellower hike, and stems from the same trailhead as Bench Lakes. However, instead of turning to follow the shores of Redfish Lake, you’ll head straight into a densely covered pine forest.

A group of friends hiking along Fishhook Creek Trail near Redfish Lake.
Traversing through the meadows along Fishhook Creek Trail near Redfish Lake. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

In total, this hike is four miles, the turnaround being at the two-mile marker – perfect for a short afternoon of exploration.

A group of friends hiking along Fishhook Creek Trail near Redfish Lake.
Hiking along Fishhook Creek Trail near Redfish Lake. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

Most people have to take extensive backpacking trips to experience views like the ones you get at the turnaround point, but here, you’ll trek near small ponds, beaver lodges, and waterlogged streams with a Sawtooth Mountain backdrop. Can you say, epic?

A group of friends hiking along Fishhook Creek Trail near Redfish Lake.
Soaking in the views along Fishhook Creek Trail near Redfish Lake. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

If you check both of these hikes off your list in the coming weeks, central Idaho has many more outstanding fall hikes. To find other trails near Stanley and Redfish Lake click here.


Published on October 18, 2016