When I see magazine photos of couples getting massages together, lounging at resort pools and having candlelit dinners in swanky restaurants, I feel like they live in a parallel universe of romance. When you marry a Sasquatch in human form, romance looks a little different.
My husband’s ideal vacation is hiking in the mountains with as few people around as possible. And what’s a vacation if you don’t bring the dog? So our destinations must be somewhere we can reach from Portland by car within a few days.
I'm more of a city person. I’ve spent more time admiring nature from scenic overlooks along the highway than trekking deep into the wilderness. And while Gideon has much in common with Bigfoot, my friends call me Countess.
However, that cliché about doing crazy things for love is true. Which is how I found myself in Stanley, Idaho in January. There, we discovered an unexpected romantic escape in the middle of winter.
Exploring Stanley Idaho
As we crossed the border into Idaho, we stopped at a visitor’s center to use the restroom. A friendly volunteer offered me a map and asked where we were headed. “Stanley,” I said cheerfully.
“Oh,” he said. “Get ready for cold.” Then he told me something I didn’t know: Stanley is the coldest place in Idaho.
Google confirmed his assertion. Further online research revealed perhaps the most anticlimactic history I’d ever read. Fur trappers came to the area in the 1820s but left because beavers were scarce. In the 1860s, John Stanley prospected for gold but didn’t find much. One hundred people lived in Stanley in the 2000 census. By 2010, the number had dwindled to 63. Stanley is only 61 miles from the extremely popular Sun Valley resort area.
So why visit? According to Gideon, who’d been there once before—albeit in summer—Stanley is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Located in the Sawtooth National Recreational Area, it has mountains, lakes, a river, and more elk than people.
A Cozy Cabin in Stanley Idaho
We’d booked a cabin online at Lower Stanley Country Store, Cabins and Motel. When we drove into the quiet town, I was relieved to see that despite the fact that half of Stanley’s 63 inhabitants seemed to be wintering elsewhere, the store was open and somebody was there with our key.
The green-trimmed log cabins were cute. Somebody had thoughtfully plowed a path through the snow to reach our door. A thick mat of snow covered the roof, and icicles hung off the eaves. Behind the cabin, mist swirled off the Salmon River.
Inside, our cabin had everything we needed. The large front room contained a table with four chairs, a couch, and a double bed. We shut the door to the small, cold bedroom, opting to sleep in the warmer main room. We unloaded our groceries in the kitchen.
Everything about the cabin seemed to shout, we’re in a rustic log cabin in Idaho! The interior walls: logs. The headboard and footboard: more logs. The lamps: made from logs. Framed prints of elk and mountains hung on the walls. My mountain man was totally at home. Our dog Rudy romped in the snow. I cranked the heater.
Snow Hiking in Stanley Idaho
Being more accustomed to urban exploration – museums, art galleries, restaurants – nature sometimes perplexes me. What does one do all day?
Gideon obsessed over hiking books to find the ultimate nearby destinations. His research led us to Park Creek, just 10 minutes west of Stanley on Highway 21. It was a beautiful sunny day.
We bundled up and strapped on our snowshoes. But the trails turned out to be groomed for cross-country skiers, so all we needed were our hiking boots.
We left our snowshoes in the car and set off on the trails of perfect, white snow glittering in the sun. Over the next few hours, we saw no one but a ranger out on her cross-country skis.
Visiting the Hot Springs
Our first night in Stanley, it was about zero degrees and totally dark when Gideon suggested we visit Sunbeam Hot Springs a few miles down Highway 75. “It’s just off the road,” he assured me.
I was a little nervous about this adventure. But not wanting to look wimpy I said okay, sure. We set out in the dark night till he spotted the dark place in the road that signified the hot springs. Flashlight in hand, we navigated a short, snowy trail to the hot pools beside the Salmon River. Nobody else was there. I struggled to quickly tear off my clothes and get in the hot springs before I froze to death. However, I broke a cardinal rule of hot springs: I didn’t check the temperature before getting in. Thus I managed to dip into the scalding water and immediately pop back up, balanced like a face-up crab with my hands and feet on the slippery edges of the pool, upper body exposed to the frigid air, butt broiling. A most undignified and frightening position. To Gideon’s credit, he somehow managed to help me struggle back to my feet—without laughing—and guide me to a pool of a more reasonable temperature.
I sat in the hot springs, silently freaking out from my near-boiling experience, hating him and hating nature for about two minutes. But then my body stopped shaking and I really noticed where I was: in an incredible natural hot spring, on a starry night, with my sweetheart beside me. The Salmon River rushing by, coupled with a breeze, sounded like distant music. Had I ever been anywhere so beautiful?
Perhaps romance is opening yourself up to the things somebody else most treasures, and together expanding your horizons. We discovered an unexpected romantic escape in Stanley, Idaho.