Scenic Byways of the Sawtooths

How do you get to the most beautiful place on earth?

To answer this we ought to ponder a common truism: it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. What is it like to arrive to Stanley-a place a lucky few get to call home-? Because after coming home from a long trek to the Boise Winco, a new 10 mile hike in the Wood River Valley, or even just Challis, I certainly don’t feel tired.

Even in the fifth hour of driving, I feel exhilarated by that winding climb out of Lowman that gradually levels you out into the basin, by following the choppy waters of the Salmon river while squeezed tightly up against exposed bluffs, and by summiting Galena at the overlook after petering over those winding curves. Hours on the merry-go-rounds of 35 miles an hour blind curves with sparkling glimpses of the white caps of the Sawtooths make the long drive to Stanley not a slog, but a glorious welcome-home parade.

At the intersection of sage-blanketed rolling hills and cow-speckled meadows of the valley are three scenic byways that meet up together in Stanley. The Salmom River, Ponderosa Pine, and Sawtooth scenic byways are roads so beautiful that the state of Idaho has deemed them an attraction of their own merit. At 162 miles, 131 miles, and 116 miles, respectively, these roads are worth your while. Not only are they the most beautiful way to get to the Stanley Basin, but also some of the most practical.¹

For example, the Sawtooth Scenic byway is the only one of the three that is not only recognized by the State but also by the Forest service because of its historic value as an indigineous route that connects the Wood River and Sawtooth valleys, Highway 75 being only one of its many iterations in at least 1000 years of continued use.² It also claims the quirky distinction of being the 100th National Forest Scenic Byway. The Sawtooth Scenic Byway, one of 138 National Forest Scenic Byways, was designated by the Forest Service chief under criteria of the Scenic Byway (NFSB) program started in 1987. Each NFSB showcases at least one of the following qualities: scenery, public understanding, and recreation, increases use of forest, aids national scenic byway efforts, and enhances rural tourism.³

What is the significance of a scenic byway? It’s a formal designation that encourages people to travel, a status designed to promote local economies through tourism. Part of what makes Stanley such a popular place is that it sits at the crossroads of three of the state of Idaho’s most beautiful drives. In that sense, despite the locals telling you “Shh, don’t tell your friends”, Stanley is in part so welcoming, because it wants to be found.

  2. A History of Indians in the Sun Valley Area, p.5, Evans, Boyer, 2017

By Ana Sherer-Estevez, Historic Specialist