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A spring road trip loops to Sun Valley to Stanley and back down Highway 21

Posted at 12:09 PM, May 18, 2023

STANLEY, Idaho — Spring is one of my favorite times of the year as everything starts over, the wildlife comes out, the rivers start to run and the crowds haven't made their way to Idaho yet.

Enjoying the outdoors before the crowds show up

In this edition of Idaho Backroads we take you on the classic loop along Highway 20 through Fairfield and up to Sun Valley.

We continue our journey over Galena Summit and down into Stanley before returning through Avalanche Alley on Highway 21. The entire trip from Boise takes around seven hours, but the views are well worth it.

a bald eagle soars near Fairfield

On the trip we saw an eagle and other birds feasting on a deer carcass, we saw a herd of elk near Sun Valley and Stanley, we also saw antelope roaming through the open country.

Wildlife comes alive this time of year, and so do the rivers, as we saw the headwaters of the Salmon River, one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the United States.
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An elk herd grazing near Ketchum

However, we also discovered the road to Boundary Creek is still covered in snow and not passable. This road takes rafters to the put-in for the iconic Middle Fork of the Salmon where 10,000 people will begin their venture into the Frank Church Wilderness this summer.

We went to Sun Valley because floodingfrom the Big Wood River has forced people to both evacuate and prepare to defend their homes against the rising water.

The Salmon River with the Sawtooths in the background

We visited Red Fish Lake in the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area. This is one of the most popular destinations in the area, though we did not see another person while we were there. The area campgrounds aren't expected to open until Memorial Day weekend.

The small town of Stanley still had the winter vibe with several restaurants being closed, but that will change this summer.

Red Fish Lake

On our way back down Highway 21 we passed through Avalanche Alley. If you have been following our coverage this winter you know that this section of road was closed multiple times because of slides.

We could still see the remnants where avalanches came crashing down, and if it wasn't for the hard work of the Idaho Transportation Department, Highway 21 would be closed all winter.

Highway 21 through Avalanche Alley

The top of Avalanche Alley is above 7,000 feet of elevation and as you drop down the grade near Lowman the snow disappears and it starts to look like spring again.

This loop will have many more amenities in the summer, but it will also be tough to enjoy the serenity of nature and the peace of quiet once the crowds start showing up on Memorial Day weekend.