Our Own Private Idaho

I readily admit to being less-than-excited about Mr. Maven’s choice of Stanley, Idaho, for his birthday fishing trip this year. Google satellite-view showed Stanley as nothing more than a podunk town surrounded by something akin to Dorothy Gale’s view out her Kansas window. This would be the ultimate example of taking one for the team – or so I thought.

The drive began as a less-than-thrilling cruise through the smoke-filled hillsides of Washington with a quick stopover in the cowpoke town of Pendleton. Heading northwest of Boise into the mountains, however, brought a beautiful cruise through southwestern Idaho’s scenic Payette River Scenic Byway. Although usually not one to admit my shortcomings, the moment we entered the scenic valley north of Stanley with views of the Sawtooth Mountain range, I quickly exclaimed, “This is nothing like what I’d imagined!” And it only gets better from there …

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Accommodations are plentiful in Stanley, despite a year-round population of only 63 residents. Charming lodges, luxury inns, roadside hotels and rustic cabins abound. We found two of the latter which became our home – one on the scenic Salmon River for the first four nights, and another nestled in the treeline at the shadow of the Sawtooth range’s Thompson Peak.  The first was a roomy, rustic log cabin in the Little Casino Creek area 4 miles east of Stanley and just steps from the river’s edge. The decor told stories of family love and local lore with whimsical pillows and an unusual taxidermy overhead. If there’s a quintessential Idaho cabin, this must’ve been it!

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Halfway through the week we moved to our second cabin aptly named ‘Almost Heaven’. Views out a wall of towering windows through lodgepole pine onto the Sawtooth range welcomed each day. And of course there’s no shortage of wildlife in Idaho – what initially looked like a  coyote off our front deck ended up being my first sighting of a huge fox (easily identified by its bushy, white-tipped tail). The cabin’s contemporary style, roomy well-stocked kitchen and warm colors immediately made us feel at home for the remainder of our stay.

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We stopped at McCoy’s Tackle Shop on our initial trip through town for our fishing licenses. The friendly local staff were a wealth of information – sharing fishing stories and favorite holes. Fully geared-up, we quickly made it out on the river immediately once we arrived at our cabin. Within minutes we’d caught enough trout to make a hearty breakfast the following morning. Eight consecutive days of fly-fishing on the Salmon and Big Lost rivers, Basin, Loon, Marsh and Blind creeks reaped more Rainbow, Brook and native Cutthroat trout than could be counted (along with more than one story about the “one that got away”!).  Fishing, rafting, horseback riding and mountaineering guide shops dot the landscape of downtown Stanley making it a true holy grail for the outdoor enthusiast. One of my favorite waiters at the Bridge Street Grill mentioned that a man could “spend a lifetime exploring the mountains ranges to the north, east and west” in the area. This was certainly no exaggeration! Bumpy roadways lead in every direction to parts unknown. Not the adventurous type? The many lodging options locally offered beautiful views with nothing more to do than sit back with a good book and relax!

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Along with the surprising beauty of the area was the unanticipated caliber of dining options. Although plenty of opportunity for “misses” seemed likely, with very little research I was able to hone in on plenty of delicious options when I didn’t feel like cooking on my own. The Redd (tucked in a teeny-tiny red log cabin in the heart of Stanley) offered one of the best menus in town – and changed daily (because otherwise the “chef gets bored”, according to our charming waiter). Unexpected dining choices included non-traditional empanadas (with roasted corn, peppers, potatoes and cilantero) and a leg of lamb with deliciously-spicy (and perfectly-seasoned) Israeli couscous rank among my favorite things on this trip. A close second was Bridge Street Grill’s cajun blue cheese burger (with added bacon for the pork-lover in me). Along with being a delicious burger, it was served in paradise: on a deck over the Salmon River with views of the majestic Sawtooth mountains. Paired with Payette Brewing’s Mutton Buster brown ale, I doubt that life gets much better than this. I’d be remiss in not mentioning the Stanley Baking Company. I’d love to say it’s a hidden gem, but based on the number of folks lined up outside their door in the morning, it’s obvious we weren’t the only folks who appreciated their delicious coffee, hearty breakfasts and home-baked goods.

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The drive to Stanley is just over 10 hours from Seattle. We broke it up with our Pendleton, OR, overnight stay on the way in and a quick pitstop on the way home in Walla Walla. As a side note: A delicious respite after an afternoon of wine tasting in Walla Walla should include either the prix fixe dinner at the Marcus Whitman Hotel‘s ‘The Mark’, or a more casual dinner at the fun and slightly-edgy Public House 124. Their PBLT (read: PORK BELLY!) may end up on my favorite-eats-of-2014 list! Yakima’s Sunday Farmers Market was also a welcome diversion from an otherwise long drive. With the brilliant colors of summer fruits and veggies at nearly every booth, reasonable prices direct to farmers and fresh goods, this makes a perfect stop for dinner back home!

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