Updated on 7/13/2021
Have you heard of Stanley, Idaho? Maybe if you have read some of my previous posts, live in the surrounding area or have randomly been here. A lot have not. Situated in central Idaho, this beautiful area and town of 65 is seemingly Idaho’s best kept secret. A location that most don’t seem to think of as a vacation destination, but it has some of the most beautiful hiking and lakes in the state, or the US.
Exploring these lakes made me appreciate the area so much more. An hour away from Ketchum (Sun Valley) and just over three hours away from Boise, it’s still a small country town surrounded by mountains. It gives you the ability to immerse yourself in nature and breath in that fresh air. People are nice, welcoming and laid back. Don’t expect luxury amenities, here. You come for the rawness and forget about the grind.
We grew up in Minnesota. The land of 10,000 lakes, but actually it has more than 12,000. I grew up on a lake and my lake was surrounded by many others. I always thought that they were beautiful, but a lot of lakes in Minnesota are brown, filthy and always have a lot of boats on them. Until you get to Northern Minnesota, to the Boundary Waters and a nature oasis awaits you. These lakes are beautiful, with views of Canada, clean water and if you are a lucky a loon. Lakes weren’t a priority or a thought really. I didn’t even think of them as being that much of a destination for me. That changed when we got to Idaho and I learned of these alpine lakes.
We first experienced this area the year before. When we were in Ketchum we thought that this area had one lake, Redfish lake and so that is where we did a day trip to. That was it. That was the extent of Stanley, Idaho for us. Nothing else here. This year, it was very different.
The total eclipse and a group of nomads brought us to the area. Which we are so happy that our friend Marshall (Finding Marshall) talked us into coming up early. We had originally planned on driving up the day of and then leaving that evening to go back to Ketchum. Instead, we were in Stanley for an entire week. So the research started and then we realized everything that was in the area. It was decided: we would explore as many hiking trails and lakes as we could. Here is some information on the lakes we went to and photos to peak your wanderlust or motivate you to check out this awesome area! It truly is a hiker or backpacker’s or nature lover’s paradise.
There are two options: 1) Hike to Amazing Alpine Lakes or 2) Drive to Amazing Alpine Lakes. You don’t need to do the strenuous hikes to get to some of these beautiful lakes, but if you can, it is worth it.
Hike to Amazing Alpine Lakes
The longest hike we did was 13 miles round trip. You are in the mountains so expect elevation gain, but surprisingly, it’s not as strenuous as you may think. Just be prepared, take your time and enjoy yourself.
I could argue that this was our favorite lake in the area. A challenging hike, an insanely beautiful lake with glaciers and having good friends by our side. The distance was not long, but the elevation gain was packed in a short distance. Some say not to do it because it can be hard to find the lake, but we rose to the challenge and found it wasn’t that difficult to find, but there were small challenges getting there. Read our post for exact directions to get to the lake: Hike to Goat Lake
This was our longest hike for the reward of a beautiful lake and it sure was worth it. One of our favorite hikes to date, it had it all and doing it with new friends was the cherry on top. The colors of the water bold and the views of the mountains humbling. If you missed it, here is the post about the hike: Alice Lake
Parking coordinates for the trailhead: 43.984339, -114.871847
Not Alice Lake
Just before Alice Lake, we were pleasantly surprised to come across this lake. It was a bonus and it made the last half mile of the 6 miles to get to Alice Lake, pretty spectacular. I would have been happy if this was Alice Lake. It is much smaller than Alice Lake, but uniquely beautiful in it’s own right. Small little islands and that deep green water. There was also a little waterfall to marvel at.
Alpine Lake was a popular lake to hike to for camping and fishing. A moderate hike before you hit Sawtooth Lake. The elevation gain to this point is gradual, nothing strenuous. Only a quarter mile off the trail that takes you to Sawtooth Lake, it’s easy to add on if Sawtooth is your destination. I highly suggest stopping, it’s beautiful!
A total of 10 mile round trip hike (this includes stopping by Alpine Lake), there is definitely some elevation gain. Moderate to Alpine Lake, the elevation gets steeper after this. Less camping in this area, but fishing and views as far as the eye can see on a clear day down the mountains. This is one of the more popular hikes in the area. Right before you arrive at this lake there are pretty meadows, flowing creeks and patches of snow or wild flowers depending on the season. This trailhead is the same as the start for Goat Lake.
Parking Lot Coordinates: 44.198649, -115.013719
*NEW* Imogene Lake
A total 18 mile hike round trip, this lake is worth every step. Known to the locals as the best lake in the area, it lived up to the hype. We always thought we would have to do a backpacking trip to do that many miles in a day, but with recent new life events we were able to take our time on a Wednesday morning. This hike takes you past two other lakes as you make your way to Imogene. Both are great in their own right. One has no name and the other is Hell Roaring Lake. If you make it on a calm morning you will get reflection lakes from both.
Drive To Amazing Alpine Lakes
Enjoy a day trip to one of these lakes or stay at the lodge on Redfish, camp next to Pettit Lake or boondock near Stanley Lake. They are all amazing with options! Our favorite? Stanley Lake.
Redfish lake is the most popular. There is a lodge, docks for boats and a beach. There are also multiple campgrounds here and some extra parking for rigs with a dump site. You can also take a boat to the other side of the lake and it has some beautiful hikes that start there. When we have been here it’s been packed. The day use area did have a parking fee if you didn’t find a spot at the lodge. During the summer there might be live music at the lodge, so enjoy sitting out on the lawn with a beer. While beautiful and some great views of the Sawtooth Mountains, it was a little too busy for us.
Redfish Lake Lodge Parking: 44.142825, -114.923503
Day Use Parking: 44.139114, -114.925514
Our favorite of the drive up lakes. No boats, only kayaks, SUPS and swimming. The views were better, the area quieter and we had the beach to ourselves. Of course, the best thing, being able to have our dogs with us too! There is camping further down the lake and mountain biking trails close by. It had a little of everything and the parking was free!
Where we parked to have a beach day: 44.247970, -115.056806
Another lake that you can have boats on and it’s quite large so you can be at one end and not see the boats. There is one campground here and it starts the hike to Alice Lake (around 13 miles) or the more known Alice Toxaway Loop (around 18 miles). We opted for Alice Lake only, but next time plan on doing the loop to see 2 or 3 more lakes! Definitely not as busy as Redfish or even Stanley.
Parking for lake or trailhead to Alice: 43.984339, -114.871847
Have you been to any of these lakes? We have been told that we need to make it to 4th of July Lake. Which was your favorite and what should we not miss next time?!
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