My sister was married a few years ago on Redfish Lake in Stanley, Idaho, and I thought it was one of the prettier places I'd been to. Besides that I'd never traveled in Idaho, so after going to Yellowstone this summer, my wife and I decided to head through the mountain roads of the Gem State on our way to Oregon and the West Coast. We planned to stop and spend a day at Craters of the Moon, a National Monument, as well as spend a few days on Redfish Lake and the Seven Devil's Recreation Area.
The road to the Craters of the Moon goes right through the desert of Southern Idaho, and it is a wide, sparse, hot drive. This is an easy stretch of road to drive on however, especially compared to the windy mountain roads, I-75 and Highway 90, that would come later. When we got to the Craters of the Moon, a sea of black, dry lava rock (which, as you imagine, gives off a lot of heat in the summer), it was the morning of a beautiful day, and we were already melting from the heat.
Although I would definitely suggest visiting the Craters, which really seem like they belong somewhere like Mars, rather than Earth, I wouldn't recommend spending more than a day there. The preserved area covers more that 400,000 acres, but you'd have to bring a lot of water if you wanted to explore the land beyond the visitor's center. The visitor's center was great and informative, with interesting walks and film screenings, but we were ready to go after a day and a night.
After the Craters of the Moon we went up Idaho Highway 75, and into the mountains. Idaho has an immense amount of land designated as National Forest, mostly located in the middle, mountainous part of the state. The drive is beautiful, as you can tell by the name of Highways 75, “Idaho Scenic Byway.” On the way to Stanley and Redfish Lake, you have to pass over Hailey and Ketchum, upscale towns with great restaurants and attractions…if you'd like to unload some cash.
Then it's on to Galena Summit, the highest point of any highway in the Northwest. Although you'll have to crank down your gears and slowly scale the steep road, it's definitely worth the view at the top, from which you'll be able to see the tiny town of Stanley in the valley below, with the jagged, ruggedly beautiful Sawtooth Mountains towering above on the other side.
Redfish Lake is nestled into the Sawtooths outside of Stanley, and it is a stunning destination, so you will certainly want to book in advance, which you can do at recreation.gov. We spent several days camped at the lake because there are plenty of things to do there and the surrounding area. After swimming and exploring the second day, we spent a day hiking to Sawtooth Lake, an Alpine Lake which still had ice on it in July (!) as well as half a day in Stanley at the Trillium coffee house, which has free wireless.
After Stanley we'd planned to head up through Garden Valley and up Highway 90. We wanted to hike in the famed Hells Canyon, but decided instead, since our visit was in sweltering June/July, simply to stop over at the Seven Devils' Recreation Area on our way to Oregon. We didn't stay because there is no RV camping, but the stop was worth it because of a little hike we took to Heaven's Gate Lookout, from which you can see four states on a clear day.
My trip through Idaho made me wonder why more people don't travel to this beauty of a state. My wife and I plan on going back soon because of the very lack of the crowds that are the bane of popular destinations like Yellowstone. My suggestion is, take the back roads, take the scenic route, and travel through this oft-over-looked, beautiful Northwest state.
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