Now I know for some of you that phrase conjures up fond or maybe not so fond memories from college days, Spring Break, or trips to Vegas. But when those 2 words dropped in to my cell phone via text message in early January from one of my riding buddies I knew it could mean only one thing… time for a snowmobile trip out of town.
So I quickly fired an email off to the band of sled heads I spend my winters with asking who was in and what our destination should be. I live in Utah and have incredible riding areas within a few minutes to a few hours from me… some of the best areas in North America in my opinion. So when I sent the email out to half a dozen guys asking for destination suggestions I fully expected to get 6 different options. Funny thing though, every single reply was for the same place: Stanley, Idaho.
Now for those of you that have been to Stanley, I’m going to be preaching to the choir. If you haven’t been there, I hope to put the bug in you to go. If you have been snowmobiling very long I’m sure you have seen a “Top 10 Destinations” list in more than one snowmobile publication. I’m willing to bet that just about every one of those lists has Stanley, Idaho on it. There are many reasons why Stanley appears on those lists year after year and in publication after publication.
Stanley is a little town of only a couple of hundred people located in Central Idaho, North-East of Boise. Its summer activities include world class fishing and river running, but its winter activities, especially snowmobiling, are what captures our interest. At first blush, you might think that it’s a pretty tough place to get to, there are no major interstates very close to it and it is in the heart of the Sawtooth Mountains. But that might just be one of the reasons Stanley is such a great place. You don’t just stumble on to Stanley, you have to have a plan to go there and it’s well worth it when you do. The town of Stanley lies at the north end of the Sawtooth Valley where highway 21 and 75 meet. But the Stanley area is really inclusive of the whole valley.
Because I’m from Utah my route brought me in to the Stanley area from the south through Sun Valley and Ketchum. I’m not a ski town sort of person so after fueling up the trucks in Ketchum we bombed over the top of Galena Summit and dropped in to the Sawtooth Valley. Our destination was Stanley proper with our rooms booked in the Mountain Village Resort. But there is lodging, food and gas on the south end at Smiley Creek and even if you don’t stay there we HIGHLY recommend making it one of your stops for breakfast. This isn’t the first time I’ve been in Stanley and I’ve stayed at several of the local hotels and inns… not a bad one in the bunch in my opinion. One thing you learn quickly is that the people of Stanley truly are excited and eager to have snowmobilers in their town and enjoying what their area has to offer.
Ok, so suffice it to say that you can get a good room and great food in Stanley. There is also a gas station and a small market and even snowmobile rental options. Hit the Chamber of Commerce website and pick a place and you won’t go wrong. So let’s talk about the riding.
As I mentioned earlier, the Stanley area is really a big valley that sits between 2 mountain ranges. The Sawtooth mountains has some of the most amazing scenery in North America. There are over 185 miles of groomed trails in the valley that you can move back and forth on to the different ‘jump off’ points for mountain valleys and vistas in all directions. The area boasts an annual snowfall of 220+ inches, with good snow from about Christmas through March in to April. We based out of the town of Stanley and rode right from our rooms every day. You can do loops out of town on the groomed trails if you like, but we simply rode the 5 minutes out of town on a trail, picked a direction and headed off cross country.
Stanley offers every type of riding you might want. You can play in open meadows, tree ride until your arms are pumped so badly you can’t hold on to the bars, or make a run up one of the many canyons out of the valley to climbing areas in the 10,000 foot elevation range. The Sawtooth Valley is fairly long, over 20 miles, so I do recommend that if you are staying at one end or the other you might want to trailer to the other end to enjoy a day’s worth of riding there if you don’t want to trail ride down through the Valley. The trials are super well maintained, so don’t be afraid of riding them.
A couple of things you should be aware of when heading to Stanley, maybe obvious, but worth mentioning. Stanley is in the heart of big mountain country. Check with the locals for current avalanche conditions. There are lots of areas to ride which are not prone to avalanches so if the danger is high, make wise decisions on where you ride. The other thing is that because Stanley is in a high mountain valley it can be cold, I mean really cold, in town. Don’t let this scare you, but be prepared. When the winter cold sets in and the Valley fills with cold air it is not uncommon for morning lows to be in the -30 degree F range… yes, you read that right. But because of the inversion, 5 to 10 minutes out of town, as you climb out of the Valley, the temps climb well in to the above zero range.
It can often be a bit intimidating or worrisome to try a new area to ride. Don’t be afraid of giving Stanley a try. The locals are great and if you ask at the gas station or town market you can find a local that will be happy to point you in the right direction for the type of riding you are looking for… but don’t be surprised if that same local says, “Wait 5 minutes and I’ll go with you”. Stanley has become one of the destination points for my winter travels. If you like diverse mountain riding, incredible scenery, waist deep powder, and no crowds then you should put Stanley on your list of places to visit. It’s also big enough from an area standpoint, that you can spend multiple days there and not ride the same areas. I’ve been on 5 day trips there and ridden a different area each of those 5 days. Yup, there are many reasons why Stanley, Idaho is on most all “Top 10 Destinations” lists.