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Sara Sheehy worked in partnership with Visit Idaho to create this Travel Tip.

Soaring peaks, picturesque lakes, and hundreds of miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding—does it get any better than the Sawtooth Valley? Many visit the Stanley, Idaho, area in the beauty of the summer, but savvy travelers know that fall in the Sawtooth Valley is for dreamers, lovers, adventurers, and everyone in-between. Whether you’re in town for foliage, recreation, or relaxation, you won’t be disappointed. Here are some of the best ways to enjoy fall in the Sawtooth Valley.

river with mountains
Find fall adventures in the Sawtooth Valley. Photo Credit: Sara Sheehy.

Getting There

Stanley is the center of the Sawtooth Valley, and the only town in the area with both lodging and dining. Stanley is located 2 ½ hours from Boise, and an hour from Sun Valley. You can enjoy a scenic drive from either of these locations to Stanley.

Stanley has a small airport that can accommodate charter and private aircraft. You can also fly in to Friedman Memorial Airport (SUN) in Sun Valley and make the drive from there.

What to Bring

During the fall, the weather in Stanley can range from perfect 70-degree days to the first flakes of snow. Come prepared with layers of clothing to deal with the fluctuating temperatures, and don’t forget sunscreen and a warm jacket.

What to Do

trees with fall colors
Take a hike to find fall foliage. Photo Credit: Sara Sheehy.

The amount of natural beauty in the area—including the jaw-dropping peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains—make outdoor recreation the main draw of the Sawtooth Valley. Don’t worry if you aren’t an expert: new and experienced adventurers alike will find plenty to explore.

Hiking: From an hour jaunt to a multi-day backpack, the Sawtooth Valley has it all. Families will love the quick hike to Fishhook Creek, where the views far exceed the effort needed to reach them. For a bit more of a challenge, check out the 8-mile round-trip hike to Bench Lakes, which climbs above Redfish Lake and into the wilderness. Those looking to push their hiking skills with a trip to Sawtooth Lake will be rewarded with one of the prettiest alpine lakes you’ll find in the United States.

By mid-September, any hike in the Sawtooth Valley will be alight with the orange and yellow foliage of aspen trees, but be prepared for snowfall higher in the mountains.

alpine mountain lake
Take a hike for rewarding mountain views. Photo Credit: Sara Sheehy.

Hot Springs: Stanley is surrounded by natural hot springs, and there is no better way to forget the cares of the world than by sinking into a crystal-clear pool of steaming water. Free, public hot springs can be found throughout the Sawtooth Valley, and some of the most accessible are Boat Box, Snake Pit, and Sunbeam. Those looking for a more civilized (but no less beautiful) experience can check out the private pool available to overnight guests at  Mountain Village Resort.

Beaches: If you do only one thing in the Sawtooth Valley, make it a trip to one of the four vehicle-accessible lakes for a day on the beach. Redfish Lake is the most well known, and most visited, of the four. The others—Pettit, Alturas, and Stanley Lake—are quieter but no less beautiful. All of the lakes are surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains and are perfect for kayaking and canoeing, paddleboarding, picnicking, and relaxing. Those looking for changing leaves will have the most luck at Redfish Lake.

Where to Stay

mountain and river view
Stanley: Population 63. Photo Credit: Sara Sheehy.

With a year-round population of 63 people, not all of the hotels and cabins in Stanley stay open after the busy summer season. But don’t worry; there are plenty of options for those chasing the magic of fall foliage. Check out the Mountain Village Resort, located in downtown Stanley, for a hotel room and access to their private hot spring. Redfish Lake Properties—which owns summer favorite Redfish Lake Lodge—offers lodging at the Riverside Inn, High Country Inn, and Triangle C Cabins. Check each property for specific date ranges.

If you’re feeling brave (or have a camper with heat!), limited camping is available until the snow flies on National Forest land around Stanley and throughout the Sawtooth Valley.

Where to Dine

For an unforgettable breakfast check out local favorite Stanley Baking Company, open through the third week of October. The newly opened Redd Square restaurant in Stanley Town Square serves dinner nightly, and Papa Brunee’s Pizza and Subs serves casual fare for both lunch and dinner.

A trip to the Sawtooth Valley is one you won’t soon forget. Between the vibrant colors of changing aspen leaves, the quiet beachfront at Redfish Lake, and the relaxation of a hot spring after a day of hiking, you’ll be wishing for fall to last forever.

Sara Sheehy seeks adventure in the mountains of Idaho and beyond. She is the founder of Camp Academy, an online beginners guide to camping and hiking.


Published on October 2, 2018