Stanley Lake Camping Trip

Since I was unemployed and there was a free weekend before the start of the fall semester, we decided to go camping in the Sawtooth Mountains. We chose to go Thursday through Saturday to capitalize on our current freedom and give Zach Sunday to do some work before his orientation the following week. I received an offer letter the morning we planned to leave which plunged me into a semi-stressed state as I decided what to do. I sent my acceptance as we drove out of town turning our trip into my last hoorah as well.

We’ve been to the Sawtooths a number of times, but this was our first trip as Idahoans and our first time driving from Boise. We were accustomed to the southern entrance through Ketchum and over the Galena Pass, a spectacularly scenic drive. Driving from Boise was different. Not as jaw-droppingly scenic, Highway 21 winds through the Boise and Challis National Forests with lots of switchbacks and hairpin turns. It’s less shocking and more quietly beautiful. There aren’t many view points for all the trees, but it’s an immensely pleasant drive.

One of the few viewpoints

Since we were arriving on a Thursday, we thought we’d try our luck with the campgrounds at Stanley Lake, west of Stanley. As expected, they were full, but we were able to find a fantastic dispersed spot just far enough off the main road not to be disturbed.

Redfish Lake Lodge

Eventually, we decided to venture out to Redfish Lake for a beer and snack at the Lodge. The Lodge was surprisingly calm; there were few people about and it was quite relaxing. We had fries and a beer then walked along the lakeshore. We discovered the designated dog beach and tried to coax Tru into the water. He wasn’t very interested in swimming.

We continued along the shore until it began to curve toward the campgrounds. We retraced our steps back to the Lodge as the sun dipped lower and lower behind the mountains. We returned to our campsite to cook up some chorizo tacos, only then realizing we hadn’t replenished some of our camping supplies since we returned from Canada. We made due and enjoyed a relaxing evening fireside, listening to the calls of the sandhill cranes nearby and watching the light fade to near black.

The next morning we planned to hike to Bridal Veil Falls. Since the trailhead was just down the road, we weren’t in any rush to get started. Zach made breakfast tacos, and we prepped for our hike. On our way to the trailhead we stopped by Stanley Lake for the first time. It was larger than we expected and tranquil in the soft morning light. Only a handful of paddleboarders and kayakers were out enjoying the still waters.

The trailhead was nearby at the end of the lake. There weren’t many cars in the lot which made me feel better about our later start. The trail briefly shared a forest service road and then branched off toward a meadow with a stunning view of Mt. McGown. We signed in at the trail register and continued down a mostly shaded path.

We enjoyed the languid stroll to our first stop, Lady Face Falls. Only a quick detour from the main path, it was ultimately a bit disappointing. The falls weren’t visible though we could hear them. The steeply sloped canyon walls prevented us from getting a good view. I managed to get a photo of the creek, but that in itself was a little perilous. I assume some people bushwhack their way down to a view of the falls, but I wasn’t interested in doing that.

We resumed hiking toward our primary target, Bridal Veil Falls. The rest of the trail remained well-shaded and fairly level making it great for Tru. There was only one creek crossing which we easily conquered via an elaborate log bridge already in place. Tru initially started crossing on his own, much to our surprise, but then freaked out and halted. I carried him the rest of the way.

Changing his mind

When we reached the sign for Bridal Veil Falls, we followed the spur trail to a view of the falls (sort of) at the edge of the creek. Disappointed by this view (and Lady Face Falls) I wanted to go further than our guidebook mentioned.

Can you even see the falls??

We could see what we thought was a trail across the mostly dry creek bed, so we walked over to investigate. We followed it away from the creek as it began to climb steeply. Even though it was an established, worn trail, I was nervous about taking it. As we kept going farther, the trail steepened dramatically to the point where we stopped to reassess. Our view had not opened up at all, and I thought we should consider turning back. Just then an older couple – 65 & 70 – came down the trail. We were able to ask them if it was worth continuing. They offered a resounding yes, but cautioned us to be careful scrambling close to the falls.

You can see how steep the trail was

As it turned out, we were very close to the falls and only hiked another five minutes before we could see why they had warned us. The last bit was even steeper and comprised mostly of loose rock; it was difficult to find sure footing. I ended up stopping with Tru at a tree where we could comfortably rest while Zach went closer to the falls. From my perch I had a great view of the lower cascading falls and a more obstructed view of the upper falls. We hung around for half an hour or so, admiring the beauty and isolation we’d found, grateful to have continued rather than turned back.

Me & Tru
Bridal Veil Falls
Nice view across from us

Because we were hiking back in the early afternoon, the trail was less shaded and much hotter. We kept Truman in the pack on our way down, but let him finish the rest of the hike even though Zach carried him in a few spots to give him a break. By the time we made it back to the trailhead, nearly nine miles later, we were all tired and ready to rest.

Interested in a snack and a cold beer, we drove out to Sunbeam Cafe. We had missed out on a visit last summer because they were already closed by Labor Day weekend. Happy to catch it open this year, we enjoyed lounging in the shade with beers and fries and played a couple rounds of cornhole before heading back to our site to relax some more.

In the evening we returned to Stanley Lake to warm up our dinner at a picnic table and then walk along the lakeside trail. It was a beautiful evening, lively and peaceful as we walked past campsites near the shore. We retreated to our oasis to repeat the previous night’s ritual of campfire and nature noises.

On Saturday we were up at 7am to have breakfast at Stanley Baking Company, another favorite of ours. It was 33 degrees (F) when we arrived in town, so I left Truman bundled up in a blanket in the car. We timed it well with only two people in line ahead of us. After a filling breakfast, we lingered over our coffees before giving up our table to other hungry campers.

The Sawtooths as we entered Stanley Saturday morning (full moon still up in the corner)

Since we did a long hike the day before, I chose a short and easy one for Saturday morning. The sky had turned slightly overcast making it cool and pleasant by the time we got started at 9am. Fishhook Meadow is a popular hike – due both to its proximity to Redfish Lake and its ease. It’s a level, two-mile hike to a meadow crowned by stunning peaks. The parking lot was crowded with weekend backpackers, but as we set out down the trail we found ourselves alone.

The trail follows Fishhook Creek – loosely at times – as it weaves through a forest to the meadow. Save for one couple on their way out, we didn’t see another soul. We had the entire place to ourselves.

We arrived at the meadow sooner than I expected and were greeted with complete solitude. The view from the trail was great, though somewhat obscured, while the view from alongside the creek was phenomenal. Even with an overcast sky, the view didn’t suffer. The craggy peaks stood imposingly over the meadow beckoning us to explore further. I wished we were doing a longer hike in that moment.

We stayed in the meadow for a while and relished the general silence (with the exception of Truman each time he noticed a ground squirrel). On our way out, we passed A LOT of people hiking in and we felt even more grateful to have had the meadow all to ourselves.

Fishhook Creek

Back at the parking lot, we drove opposite of everyone else out for their Saturday excursions. We returned to our site to pack up and left, driving back to Boise, back to our new realities that hadn’t sunk in, unsure of what lay ahead.

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