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A Frontier Outpost Reinvented As Mountain Adventure Base Camp

By: Greg Randolph

Ringed by the jagged peaks of the Sawtooth Range, Stanley, Idaho is one of the last adventure outposts that modernity forgot. The remote town delivers beauty so stunning that to describe its pristine state has always given me faith in nature. To outdoor athletes in the know, Stanley is one of the premier multisport destinations on earth. Saunter through town on a summer day and you’ll see the trappings of adventure: Cars and trucks loaded with boats, mountain bikes, backpacks, river rafts, and kayaks line the dirt streets. But somehow Stanley remains a quirky, funky little mountain town of 300 people—depending on the moon phase.

The Sawtooths, with more than 100 high mountain lakes, hold endless miles of wilderness hiking trails. Across the valley rise the Salmon River and White Cloud mountains, both of which offer nearly limitless mountain bike trails, some accessible from the highway, others wildly remote. River folk come for the Main Salmon River, which runs directly through town—the Middle Fork of the Salmon and South Fork of the Payette are less than a 30-mile drive from Stanley’s single gas station. These rivers, legendary for their whitewater, are also home to prehistoric steelhead and Chinook salmon runs. The big fish navigate nearly 900 miles to spawn in Idaho’s crystal clear waters.

And why isn’t Stanley overrun? What’s kept the town intact might well be its reputation as one of the coldest places in the Lower 48 in winter. But even in the depths of a January freeze, many would still call it paradise.

If you go:

  • Hit up River Wear for whatever you forgot: sleeping pads, sandals, chain lube, or even a new whitewater boat. riverwear.com
  • To get a taste of Idaho’s most abundant natural resource—whitewater—sign on with The River Company for a day trip down the Main Salmon. therivercompany.com
  • While you’re floating the Main Salmon, be sure to pull out at Sunbeam Café for a burger and a cold beer. 208-838-2211
  • The breakfast line in front of the Stanley Baking Co. might be long, but that’s a testament to how good it is. (They turn tables quickly.) stanleybakingco.com
  • Looking to put up your whole posse for a few nights? Check in with Danner’s Log Cabins (pictured below) about renting the entire place. dannerslogcabins.com

Photograph by Woods Wheatcroft

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