Well helllllooooo, Stanley, Idaho! We love your low valleys, soaring peaks, lush farmland, outdoorsy people and totally kick-back attitudes!
Stanley and Salmon are two of our favorite small towns in central Idaho … really small! Current CDC guidelines probably let more people than their entire populations into your favorite restaurant!
Unfortunately, like most of the West, right now it’s frequently filled with wildfire smoke. When the wind would blow just right and clear it out, however, the views were spectacular!
Stanley is situated at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains.
Can there be any wonder why they are called the Sawtooths?
Check it out. /class is adjourned/
Even though Stanley’s population is only 63, it swells into the tens of thousands during the summer, as travelers come for the beauty and the outdoor recreation, including high-altitude hikes to Alpine Lake, Sawtooth Lake, and the Bench Lakes.
The more-accessible Redfish Lake, 15 miles south of town, and its lodge, marina, boat rentals, restaurant and multiple campgrounds are one of the main hubs of the action.
From here, you (and your dog!) can take a short boat ride in a very small boat across the lake to some awesome hiking trails overlooking the lake.
Catch the boat back to the Marina when you are done exploring, or if you’re ambitious (not us, not anymore) you can do a challenging 14-mile hike all the way back instead.
The sparkling-clear waters of Redfish Lake were the clearest we’ve ever seen anywhere, including the glacier-fed lakes along the Icefields Parkway of Canada. So that’s really saying something!
Located at the headwaters of the Salmon River, Redfish Lake is perfect for kayaking with smooth water …
aaaah-inspiring scenery (so long as your paddling partner doesn’t block the view) …
… and picnic-perfect landing spots.
Besides the hiking at Redfish Lake, the Iron Creek trail to Alpine Lake and Sawtooth Lake is also spectacular, though difficult. The trailhead is only 5 miles from town.
Back in town, the Stanley Kasino Club has been the hub of the “action” (as it were, in a town of 63 hardy souls) since 1938. Most astonishingly, they had the first live music we’ve been able to enjoy since Covid ruined all the fun everywhere.
Not only is “dine-in” being allowed here … also “dine-on”!
Rightly or wrongly, masks are virtually taboo everywhere we’ve gone in Idaho so far. Even in the large grocery stores, only maybe 5% of shoppers were masked. But as we’re enjoying the great outdoors in solitude 95% of the time anyway, this works!
Remember the amazing Kirkham Hot Springs at our last stop near Lowman, Idaho?
Well, that was freakin’ cool … Lord of the Rings all the way! But the hot springs come in many shapes and sizes and varieties in Idaho! If quirky is your thing, how about a metal pot alongside the Salmon River! That’s right, it’s basically a cauldron!
“Philip Bisque,” anyone? The white pipe on the left dumps in hot, make that SUPER BOILING HOT, natural spring water.
That’s why the location on the river is important … you can use the attached bucket to add cold river water and make it just the right temperature for your tolerance!
Since the pot is very small, you’re either crashing knees with strangers, or limiting your time, or acting really weird so they forgo the cauldron and take one of the shallow spring pools instead.
If solitude is more your style, try Valley Creek Hot Springs, a little-known and very peaceful pool accessed on the road behind the Stanley Museum.
Also next to the Salmon River, it is cooler than the cauldron, but still pleasantly warm for a nice summer afternoon, and since the water is deeper than many of the other pools in the area, you can really sink down in and soak it up.
Moving on from Stanley to Salmon, Idaho, we experienced our favorite hot springs of all time! Goldbug Hot Springs is near Elk Bend, about 20 miles south of Salmon.
WOWZA! How ’bout that view?
A review of Goldbug Hot Springs noted: “if steep hikes, rocky paths, morning baptists, or evening hippies will deter you, then please, by all means, be deterred!”
We went early in the morning, avoiding most of the nudists, and grabbing the gorgeous morning light spilling over the mountains into the canyons with all of our newfound friends.
The 3.8 mile round trip hike starts outs as an easy stroll through mountain scrub.
And eventually escalates into steep climbing over boulders which spilled onto the trail during past rockslides.
Sitting on the edge of a mountain, gazing over the valleys below, made it TOTALLY worth the effort it took to get there!
Also nearby is the site of “Dick’s Dugouts,” with a single remaining cabin as the only remnant of a colony of beloved Idaho hermits from yesteryear.
During his 63 years living off the grid on the banks of the Salmon River, Richard “Dugout Dick” Zimmerman eked out a simple existence in hand-dug caves and structures built with cast-off junk.
He was ingenious in his use of junk yard scraps, like old tires and car windshields, to build his dugouts.
In the 70s and 80s, he started renting out some of his structures to curious visitors, and giving tours. He would entertain stoppers-by with songs on his old guitar, which he learned to play while riding the rails as a hobo in the 1930’s. Truth … stranger than fiction! The entire “complex” looked like this:
He never owned the land where the dugouts were located, essentially being a squatter, though a beloved, famous squatter, on BLM (that’s Bureau of Land Management, not Black Lives Matter) land.
As he grew older and more frail, he cut back on construction and had to endure stays in hospitals and nursing homes, which he hated and was always trying to escape. At age 94, he snuck out of a care center and hitchhiked back to his beloved dugouts, where he died a few days later.
After his death, the BLM destroyed all of the structures but one, out of safety concerns. This cabin and a foundation walls are all that remain of the life of the most famous Idaho Hermit, Dugout Dick.
The town of Salmon is perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of Sacajawea, the Indian lass who, at age 16 met Lewis and Clark and helped guide them on their famous expedition.
The less romantic portion of her story is that she had been captured and kidnapped at age 12 while hunting bison with her tribe. She was eventually traded to a French trapper, and in a tale as old as time, impregnated by him. Lacking a daycare option, she brought the baby along as a kind of Junior Guide.
Sacajawea was one of the most important members of the Expedition in 1805, guiding, translating and negotiating all along the way to the Pacific Ocean. A beautiful 70-acre Cultural Center here in Salmon highlights her extraordinary life.
The majority of Central Idaho is farm country, with abandoned farm buildings mixed in with the most modern machinery throughout the landscape. Here, somebody has carved a chair from a tree stump and left a table for your picnicking needs.
In town, your basic bar, “The Owl Club,” ….
reveals itself upon closer examination to be riddled with arrows. Ummm, why …? We find ourselves saying, “ONLY IN IDAHO!” over and over again.
Situated here on the 45th Parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole, this area has been full of mystery, history and beauty!
We’ll undoubtedly be back for even more hot springs mania! Until next time, Central Idaho!