DESTINATION STANLEY IDAHO
BY STEPHEN W. CLARK
Ask anyone who as ever visited Stanley Idaho and it will likely rate very close to the top of the list of places they have ever been. There is something about the place that makes it really special. Situated in the Sawtooth Basin next to the Salmon River with the epic Sawtooth mountains as a backdrop, it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It isn’t really close to anywhere; no matter which route you choose you are looking at several hours of windy roads to get there, and it’s small with only a grand total of 68 people who are lucky enough to call Stanley home.
The town’s slogan is the Gateway to the Sawtooth Wilderness and while there is no mechanized access allowed in wilderness, there are still an incredible amount of roads and trails in the area for riding motorcycles. No matter what kind of bike you ride you are going to have a good time in the Stanley area. For the enduro crowd there is a lot of singletrack of varying levels of difficulty and for bigger ADV bikes there are some fantastic dirt roads and super windy flowing asphalt.
Idaho is best known for potatoes but what really makes it unique is the mountains, the center of which contains the largest sections of Wilderness in the country outside of Alaska. The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is over two million acres of untouched land. The only way to access it is either from the air, by floating down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River or by riding a few of the roads that have been grandfathered into the wilderness.
There are only a few of these roads and they have a wilderness boundary of 300 feet on each side of the road. USFS Road 172 is a gem of a road that follows a big arc up into the wilderness, crossing over two summits along the way. The highlight of the route is the Pinyon Peak Lookout that sits at almost ten thousand feet and offers spectacular three hundred and sixty degree views of the Sawtooths and Frank Church Wilderness.
If singletrack enduro is your forte’ Stanley has no shortage of legal singletrack trails in every direction; there is a lot of it and some of it is really technical. It’s hard to pick a favorite but one of the most beautiful trails in the area is trail 682 from Little Boulder Creek to Livingston Mill. Part of the Tour of Idaho, this trail runs along the East Side of the White Clouds Wilderness offering incredible views.
Trails and roads in this area are remote and many of them see little traffic so it’s important to be prepared. It’s not recommended to leave town without tools, tubes, plenty of water and food and some sort of satellite communicator like a SPOT or InReach. Many of the trails in the area are also mixed use so you may come across hikers and bikers closer to trailheads; remember to be respectful and try to avoid any type of confrontation.
Stanley is often the coldest place in the country and even in August the average low is in the thirties. It’s said that there are over 290 mornings a year with frost, so no matter when you go be prepared for cold mornings but also prepare for hot afternoons. In the summer, highs can be into the eighties. While the town itself has a small population, it is prepared for visitors. The Stanley Bakery makes an excellent breakfast and the Bridge Street Grill is great for dinner and drinks with a view of the Sawtooths.
Whether you make it a base camp and do loops out of there or make it a destination on a ride through Idaho, it’s absolutely worth visiting Stanley.