On The Road In Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains
In collaboration with Backcountry
The Road Less Traveled
When I find myself at home between trips, most of my encounters with other people begin with a question about where I’m headed next. Without pausing for me to answer, this is almost always immediately followed by a common refrain, an unsubtle, sarcastic listing of exotic locations. “Bali? Maldives? Ooohhh… The Moon?” So, when my response was Idaho, I wasn’t surprised that the predominant response was confusion. Why? What would I do there?
Despite its stunning mountain ranges, world class outdoor recreation opportunities, and paucity of crowds, Idaho has managed to remain, relatively speaking of course, off the tourist radar. I think in large part this is due to the fact that the Sawtooth Range is remote, and it takes time and effort to truly do them justice. It’s not the type of place you just swing by. That’s not to say you’ll be the only person at some of the more picturesque spots. But you just might be. And that’s something I can’t say for many other places.
Which brings me to my last point. I’m dedicated to sharing beautiful places at home and abroad so that people might be able to foster the type of connection with nature that I enjoy. In turn it’s my hope that these connections will inspire others to protect this beautiful world that we all share. With that comes a responsibility to educate readers on how we can enjoy these places respectfully, leave places better than we found them, and always abide by Leave No Trace Principles.
Soak In Some Hot Springs
Better known for potatoes and hunting, Idaho isn’t generally the first place people think of when hot springs come up. Nonetheless, this largely forgotten state is a hot spring mecca. You’ll find no shortage of natural hot springs tucked away on mountain paths, down dirt roads, and even steaming off the side of the highway. So when in Idaho, make sure to schedule in time to explore these hidden gems, and get ready for some serious soaking!
Pine Flats Hot Springs
I was probably most excited for Pine Flats hot springs, and it did not disappoint. There’s just something about a natural geothermal waterfall cascading down into a rock walled soaking pool that really captured my imagination. I mean, who hasn’t dreamt of taking a “shower” under a waterfall? Throw in the views overlooking the South Fork Payette River, and there’s not much to complain about.
Mountain View Resort
Known as the gateway to the Sawtooth Mountains, Stanley Idaho seemed like as good a place as any to base ourselves for this trip. Wedged between the jagged peaks of the Sawtooth Range and the banks of the Salmon River, Stanley is nestled in an amphitheater of rarely found natural beauty. It’s also home to some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered while traveling. We stayed at the Mountain View Resort because it was the least expensive accommodation option available to us at the time. Little did I know when I booked the room, that it is also home to a nifty little hot spring located inside a cozy wood shed overlooking the not so distant mountain.
Time in the hot spring is complimentary if staying at the resort. Non guests can also reserve a time slot for the spring for a small fee.
Boat Box Hot Springs
Boat Box Hot Springs is located about 5 minutes outside Stanley, right off Highway 75. The pull-off can only fit about two or three cars and is easy to miss, so be on the lookout for steam rising from the direction of the river. This particular spring flows into what appears to be an old mining cauldron - it’s a COZY fit for more than a couple people. The water in the tub is scalding hot, so don’t just jump in! There’s usually a white bucket next to the cauldron that can be used to blend cold river water into the tub until it’s juuuust right.
This location is run and maintained by locals and is extremely small. Take extra care when visiting Boat Box and be courteous of others who may be waiting for their turn in the cauldron.
For more great Idaho hot springs inspiration check out Reckless Roaming’s Post!
You really don’t need much to enjoy hot springs, but there are a few essentials that will help you get the most out of the experience. I always take along a Hydro Flask full of cold water to stay hydrated, bathing suit, and my super soft Pendleton oversized towel. It just makes getting out a little bit easier!
To help you gear up for all your fall adventures, I've partnered with Backcountry to offer 15% off your first purchase! Just use code JESS15 at checkout. (Some exclusions apply. Good through 12/31/18). Below are some of my personal favorite items!
Take A Hike
Every time I visit Idaho I leave promising myself that next time I’ll give myself more time to explore the mountains. Some places are well suited to day hiking. And the Sawtooths are no exception. There are some beautiful day hikes. But to truly experience the remote solitude the Sawtooths offer, backpacking is the way to go. That being said, these two hikes will give you a good taste of what this extraordinary place has to offer.
Alice + Twin Lakes
The backdrop to Alice Lake is one of the most stunning in the entire Sawtooth range. For that reason it’s easy to understand why many people stop at Alice and call it a day. But if you’re up for it, just 400 feet higher, you’ll find Twin Lakes. The extra effort will earn you a little more solitude and equally awe inspiring views. If you have the time, it’s worth packing a tent and sleeping under the stars.
This hike was quite the odyssey because there was a fresh layer of snow covering the trail starting a few hundred yards below the first lake. However, under normal conditions this relatively easy hike takes you to a series of five alpine lakes set in a spectacular alpine environment. The main trail ends after the second lake, and many people turn around at that point. But the real show stoppers are higher up, nestled below the towering peaks above.
Alpine environments are unpredictable, and it’s important to always be prepared when you hit the trail - regardless of how long you plan on being out, or how easy you expect the trail to be. For a more detailed list of my favorite hiking and backcountry camping gear check out my Backpacking Gear Guide.
Pull Over & Enjoy The View
When I think about road trips, I think about spontaneous adventures, little known places, and the freedom to experience life at a slower pace. It’s important to allow time for making wrong turns and getting lost in all the right directions. The best moments are often the unplanned ones.
It’s hard to top the views at Redfish Lake on a nice calm day. Snow-capped mountains reflect in the crystal-clear water, surrounded by evergreen forest and hiking trails. In the summer you can rent any kind of water toy your heart desires from Redfish Lake Lodge, or access miles of backcountry hiking trails by taking a ferry across the lake. During the off season, you can more or less have the place all to yourself.
Located in the heart of Idaho's Sawtooth National Forest, like Redfish Lake, Stanley Lake is yet another alpine lake with possibilities for outdoor enthusiasts.
Although arguably less picturesque than Redfish or Stanley Lakes, Pettit Lake is still a beautiful place to hang out for the afternoon, or set up camp. And again, there are tons of recreational opportunities available on the lake.
Living on the road, even for brief periods of time, has its ups and downs. But most of the downs can be combated with a few simple items. First, a clean car is a happy car. The best way I’ve found to keep all my gear organized and in one place, is to consolidate it in one giant duffle like The North Face Base Camp Duffel. Having a cooler that will actually keep your drinks cold, and your food fresh for days, is also a must. Similarly, cozy blankets come in handy for chilly sunrise missions, backseat naps, and impromptu picnics - and the Rumpl makes the COZIEST blanket out there. Lastly, if you’re anything like me, sometimes you just need a little alone time. And when that’s not possible, a good pair of headphones can be a life saver!
Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission on any purchase made - at no additional cost to you. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. Thanks for your support!