When I think “summer,” I think of open road, car camping, swimming on a whim, cold ice tea, and days so long that they seem to stretch out to the horizon. And as I search for these touchstones, few places can hold a candle to the magical lands of… Idaho. I know it’s unexpected, but hear me out: Idaho’s wild spaces, particularly those found in the Sawtooth mountain range provide the kind of summer adventure you could spend a lifetime searching for — huckleberry ice cream, hot springs, and ribbons of stars streaking the night sky.
If you need an escape from Boise, the Sawtooth Wilderness — with a focus on Red Fish Lake and the nearby town of Stanley — is summer distilled. Located just three hours north of the city, it’ll give you everything you want in an adventure destination and a whole lot of what you need. Here’s how to get there, what to see, and where to eat for an idyllic getaway.
To access the Sawtooths from Boise, drive to Stanley, Idaho. There are two routes out of the city: west and east. The eastern route is a little longer but will take you through Idaho City. A quick stop to soak in a nearby hot springs makes the extra time in the car worth it. The two routes link up eventually anyway, arriving at the same place.
Plan to take your time — initiating yourself into a slower way of life.
Hot tip: About an hour before you reach Stanley (if you’re coming in on the 21) Kirkham Hot Springs is right along the side of the river — you’ll see it from the highway. This is a must stop destination.
What to bring:
A swimsuit, a few sweatshirts for evenings, and warm clothes for nighttime. Plus all your camping gear and a cooler if you want to camp. (Camping is going to save you a bunch of money, and is, in my opinion, the whole point of going to the Sawtooths.)
Where to Stay:
Camping is my preferred way to experience the Sawtooths. Sometimes that means car camping, but ideally, I like to hike in and tent camp far away from the rest of the real world, preferably near an alpine lake. There are scores of campsites in the area, but book ahead of time as they tend to fill up (especially on the weekends).
A personal favorite of mine is the Red Fish Lake Inlet. You have to hire a boat to motor you across the lake, but it’s so worth it. Once you’re there, does the rest of the world even exist?
If you’re looking for a cabin stay, then Red Fish Lodge is always fun but my destination of choice is undoubtedly the Rocky Mountain Ranch — a 900-acre ranch dating back to the 1920s. With its unparalleled views, primo food, epic mountain biking, and hot spring access, I’d live here if they’d let me.