In the warm summer months, Stanley, Idaho is a bustling little town at the base of Idaho’s jagged Sawtooth Mountains. Packed with adventure loving outdoor addicts, the sleepy little town turns into a busy base camp for backpacking excursions to the Sawtooth’s clear blue Alpine lakes, rafting trips down the roaring Salmon river, and casual family vacations relaxing on the shores of picturesque Redfish Lake.
Many who come to Stanley for the first time during these long summer days wonder how such a gem could only have a population of 62 residents, as the road sign leading into town claims. While warm and comfortable in the summer months, Stanley does an about-face in the darker winter days. Average daily high temperature in January? 26 degrees Fahrenheit. Average nightly low? -2 Fahrenheit.
So why would I leave the comfortable confines of my downtown Boise apartment in the dead of winter to make the short two and a half hour drive to one of the coldest places in the Pacific Northwest? Romance my friends, romance. Braving this frigid air in the name of romance wasn’t what I was expecting when I wrote about the 11 reasons why I moved to Idaho.
I will admit that I usually run the other way when I see the words ‘All Inclusive’ when booking my travel plans. On the road, I like to live moment to moment, willing to abandon ideas and plans as the adventure plays out, and usually on a shoestring budget. But when I saw the ad for the Stanley High Country Inn’s Winter Romantic Getaway, I was intrigued. My partner, Laura, had recently put in long days studying to get her massage therapy license, on top of her almost nightly job in a restaurant. So when she passed her exam, I thought a quick weekend getaway would be a nice way to celebrate, and those words, ‘All-Inclusive’ and ‘Stanley’ rang in my head. I quickly called and reserved a room, the ‘Ace of Diamonds’ suite, and just like that, our mid-winter romantic weekend to Stanley, Idaho was booked. But would braving some chilly nights be worth it?
Yes, yes, and yes. We had one of the most fun, adventure-filled and cozy weekends imaginable. Would I recommend it? Highly. Just be aware of where you are visiting (let’s talk about layers, people!) and enjoy a romantic winter weekend in Stanley, Idaho. Still need to be convinced? Here are 7 reasons why you should book a romantic, all-inclusive winter weekend at Stanley High Country Inn with some pretty photos to prove it.
There is no denying it. Whether it is 90 degrees or -15 degrees, the Sawtooth Mountains are some of the most photogenic in the west. And you won’t have to go far to see them, as there is no better view of these mighty mountains than from smack in the middle of town. But to get an even better view, and with some beautiful fences in the foreground, head up the hill to Stanley Pioneer Park.
Stanley isn’t a place to sleep in, however. The rising sun hits the Sawtooths, casting a beautiful early morning light on the snow covered peaks. And even though you won’t get light on the mountains at sunset from town, the winter sky often lights up in bright oranges, pinks and purples as the sun hits the horizon.
To get a view of the back of the Sawtooths with some late afternoon light, drive five miles west on Highway 21 to the hill just behind the turn off for Stanley Lake.
THE HOT SPRINGS
Idaho has the most usable hot springs in the United States, with 130 being deemed ‘soakable’ out of the 340 that dot the state’s landscape. And some of the best are in the Stanley region. If searching for primitive hot springs in freezing cold conditions along the Salmon River isn’t your thing, reserve the hot spring cabin behind the Mountain Village Resort for a hot soak with an unobstructed view of the Sawtooths.
Even though winters in Stanley are relatively empty, the hot springs are still popular with day trippers from Boise, so to find solitude, early morning soaks with a cup of coffee is a great way to guarantee that you will have the tub all to yourselves. And if you are really brave, there is no better place in Idaho to enjoy an adult beverage while stargazing. Just be aware, the temperature may be below zero degrees at night, which is fine when you are in the hot spring, but the wet walk back to the car may be a bit painful.
For years, Stanley has been my heaven on earth, so if you had told me that my favorite moments from this trip would have been spent indoors, I would have laughed it off. But not the case during our stay at the Stanley High Country Inn, thanks to the mouth watering meals and wonderful service from executive chef TJ Degnan and his partner and restaurant manager Maggie Staas. As part of the all-inclusive stay, guests are treated to welcome appetizers on Thursday and a full dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. Oh, but did I mention three days worth of brunch as well? The meals were some of the best I have ever had, and I surely did not expect to get that in the dead of winter in the ghost town of Stanley. Even though we were the only guests, the level of care and detail that Degnan put into his creative dishes was extraordinary. Honestly, as amazing as the adventure-filled weekend was, I would have been perfectly happy eating everything TJ and Maggie could throw at us while sitting around the warm and inviting dining room fireplace.
While Stanley is surrounded by incredible mountains, none of the peaks are ski-able. There is no ski resort here, so one way to get out and enjoy some of the winter sun is to rent some snowmobiles from Todd, the friendly and knowledgeable owner of Sawtooth Traxx and get lost on the trails that take you to some of the frozen over lakes in the valley. We opted for an afternoon excursion to Redfish Lake Lodge, normally bustling with lake loving boaters during the summer. During the winter however, the road to the lake is closed and only accessible via snowmobile, snowshoe, or cross country skiing. With not a cloud in the sky and the sun shining bright, there was a number of people on the trail who opted to warm up their cold muscles via a snow shoe hike. While the temperatures were below freezing, you wouldn’t have known it from the smiles that graced the faces of the Saturday afternoon adventure hounds.
Once we arrived to the lodge, we walked down the pier and enjoyed and afternoon snack as we overlooked the frozen lake. With not a soul around, we listened to the silence as the afternoon sun began to disappear behind the Sawtooths. We headed back to town, and the four-hour adventure had us wishing we had booked the sleds for the entire day.
BLUE HOUR FAT BIKE RIDES
By the time Saturday afternoon had rolled around, the frigid air hardly seemed to bother us anymore, and we were anxious to stay outside in this winter wonderland for as long as possible. Luckily for us, the team at Stanley High Country Inn had two fat bikes for us to take out for a blue hour ride. Blue hour (the hour after sunset, which literally casts a blue hue in the sky) is maybe my favorite time in Stanley. And it’s even better in winter, as the snow shines bright as dusk descends. We rode our bikes up a small hill on Wall Street until we reached Stanley Pioneer Park and the snowmobile track entrance. We rode along the fence until we had wide open views of the Sawtooths as we peddled on the well groomed snow. There is something beautifully eerie about being on this track during blue hour. We zoned out and enjoyed the calmness, which lasted minutes before two friendly snowmobile riders zoomed past, encouraging us to race them out to the lake. The realist in me declined, but Laura doesn’t like to lose. So she gave it her best shot, until being left in the dusty snow about 7 seconds after the race started.
As I mentioned, Laura just started working as a massage therapist, so when I heard there was a well known masseuse in Stanley, even through the winter, I thought it would be nice to put her on the massage table for a change. And of course, while I was at it, I couldn’t say no to wrapping up a busy, adventurous weekend without getting one myself. And what a way to end the weekend it was!
Pamela “Noeau” Day trained and lived in Hawaii, so her massages all have hints of the famous Lomilomi style of long, flowing strokes. We felt as if we were in a different universe as Day did her magic. We left in a state of euphoria, and we both agreed that Day gave us one of the best, if not THE best massage both of us had ever had. Amazing how this massage wizard is living a quiet mountain life in the frosty Sawtooth mountains. Check out the winter spa menu on the Meadow Creek Inn website and make sure to treat yourself before you finish your romantic getaway to Stanley.
There are many reasons to love Stanley, Idaho. But perhaps my favorite is the quiet solitude that isn’t hard to find, even in the summer months. But if you want to disconnect and spend a romantic weekend alone with your partner, you will be hard pressed to find a better time or place than winter in Stanley, Idaho. As far as I could tell, we were the only non-locals in town that weekend, and given that there aren’t many locals either, Stanley can feel like a ghost town at times, which is more than welcomed when you live an often crazy and chaotic ‘normal’ life.
Life in Stanley, Idaho is different. Life in Stanley, Idaho in the dead of winter is very different. It isn’t for everyone. But if you are looking for a quiet weekend with your partner full of amazing food, beautiful scenery, a little bit of adventure and a lot of smiles, then spending a romantic getaway at the Stanley High Country Inn is just what you both need.