Island to Inland PCS Road Trip | Day 5 | July 29, 2020 | Hiking Around Stanley Lake
3 years ago when we were moving to Hawaii, we had considered driving this route through Northern Wyoming and Southern Idaho. I did some research and asked friends for recommendations, and starred quite a few places on Google Maps. However, when it came time to make our cross country drive, we had to change our plans because of forest fires. It ended up working out, we were still able to do other hikes and we enjoyed our alternate route.
This year, because things felt so uncertain with the current pandemic, we didn’t do a lot of research before leaving Hawaii. We didn’t know what route we’d drive or how much we could actually do along the way. So at this point, we simply decided to use those stars on Google Maps to guide us to a hike for today. I didn’t remember exactly why I had starred any of the trailheads or what to expect, so we went into the day with an open mind.
We returned to ID-21 and continued our drive North. It wasn’t too long before we had our first vista of the Sawtooth range in the distance. The jagged mountain peaks looked so impressive from afar, we couldn’t wait to get a closer view. But as we continued driving, we rose in elevation and soon the sky above us became overcast with low-hanging clouds. We were disappointed that we likely wouldn’t have any better views than that one vista, but we also knew the clouds meant cooler weather, so we proceeded with our planned hike.
We drove to Stanley Lake and parked at the trailhead with only a couple other cars in the lot. We could see the lake right away, a deep shade of turquoise and surrounded by pine trees. We agreed to go for our hike now and would go walk around the lake later when we returned.
We studied the map at the trailhead, and while the entire 12 mile loop looked enticing, we knew Charlotte wouldn’t be up for that. We decided to go counter-clockwise and just go as far as we could. Luckily the beginning of the trail looked relatively flat and easy.
While we may have not had amazing views, we enjoyed this hike right from the start. The cool morning air, tall pine trees overhead, and lush scenery were a pleasant change from the heat and dryness we had been feeling for the past couple days. Curtis happened to have clues to a letterbox on the trail saved on AtlasQuest, so we made that our goal for the morning. It wasn’t very ambitious at only around 6 miles round trip, but it allowed us to not feel rushed, and we let Charlotte take her time.
The box was hidden near Lady Face Falls. Curtis eventually found it (with my help 😉 ) and we took a break here and had some snacks. There was another waterfall about a mile and a half up the trail, but we decided not to push Charlotte too much. Maybe someday we’ll return for the full loop, but we were happy to have found such a pleasant hike for today.
On our way back, we started seeing more hikers on their way up. Most were headed for the waterfalls, though there were some backpackers headed up as well. The sun started to peek through the clouds, and then the clouds slowly started to fade.
I happened to look back at one point, and saw something unexpected — a tall mountain peak standing high above the trees! “Curtis, look!” I exclaimed.
“What is it? An eagle?” He asked, briefly looking around.
“No, a mountain!”
He looked back again. “Oh…OH!”
All this time, we had been walking under some of those jagged peaks we had admired from the highway miles away and we didn’t even realize it because of the cloud cover! Suddenly the whole trail had a new look, and we couldn’t take our eyes off the view. I guess this is even more motivation to return someday and enjoy these views even more!
The surprises didn’t end there. When we returned to the trailhead and Stanley Lake, we were blown away by the beauty of the now bright blue lake surrounded by mountains. I now remembered why I had ‘starred’ this place! We put our hiking gear in the car, but continued our walk around part of the lake. The area was much busier now with hikers and people out enjoying the lake, but it wasn’t hard for us to keep our distance on the trail or find isolated places to enjoy the views.
Fully satisfied with both our hike and these incredible views we had enjoyed, we continued on our drive. We drove through Stanley, then accidentally went the wrong way on ID-75 for a few miles before realizing our mistake. Oh well, it wasn’t really a mistake because we got an extra county and enjoyed even more views of the Sawtooths from the highway! We turned around and took ID-75 North and East to US-93, then began heading South. We probably still could’ve reached our destination by taking forest roads, but we enjoyed this drive which is all that matters!
We enjoyed views of Borah Peak, Idaho’s highest point as we drove South. We thought it was cool that out of the 3 states we’d driven through so far, we had seen the highest point of all of them. While we’re nowhere near being able to conquer them, we did happen to find a great campsite near Borah that we can use as a base camp for whenever we are ready! It was located in BLM land off of Trail Creek Road. There were a couple others camping here, but it was so spread out and quiet that we wouldn’t have known had we not seen them. We settled in for a peaceful night of sleep.
If you’re interested, here is our trail recording from hiking around Stanley Lake.