There are two trailheads that access the Stanley Lake Creek canyon trail system. The Stanley Lake/Elk Mountain Trailhead is on the north side of the road to Stanley Lake and has ample parking (this is also the start of the Elk Mountain Loop bike ride). A new spur trail connecting this parking lot to the main trail was completed in 2013 and 2014.
The second (and original) trailhead is accessed from the “inlet” campground loop. Part of this road is often flooded, and the whole campground layout is scheduled for a major overhaul sometime in the future. The trail leaving this older trailhead has the advantage of following the beautiful meanders of Stanley Lake Creek for the first half mile.
The first mile of the Stanley Lake Creek Trail (from both trailheads) is ADA-accessible, and the path is also wide enough to accommodate a bike trailer so that families can stroll or tow their kids nearly 2 miles from Stanley Lake.
From the “inlet” trailhead (0.2 miles from the parking lot), the ADA-accessible trail follows a fence along Stanley Lake Creek before weaving through dense willows for 0.5 miles. It emerges into a field of stunning wildflowers set against a backdrop of snow-filled couloirs (this is where the spur from the new trailhead come in) for most of the next half mile to the junction with the Alpine Way Trail.
Continue through open forest to the north wall of the canyon where the trail begins a contouring climb up a subtle ridge. Look for a cairn and small sign where the main trail levels off, marking a spur that leads to Lady Face Falls. If you reach Stanley Lake Creek (another 0.3 miles further down the trail), you have gone too far.
The Stanley Lake Creek Canyon extends south for 7 miles to the Observation Divide. The trail follows an old mining road to the long defunct Greenback Mine. Claims on the property date back to 1903, but the majority of mining occurred in the 1950s.
The Alpine Way Trail leaves the Stanley Lake Trail a mile up the canyon. Destinations beyond Lady Face Falls include a walk to view Bridal Veil Falls, an exploration of Hansen Lakes (off-trail) and the McGown Lakes trail that connects over a divide to the Sawtooth Lake. Observation Peak offers outstanding views of the range to the south and is reached by a spur trail from the divide.
When the Sawtooth Wilderness was established in 1972, the boundary was drawn to exclude the road to the Greenback Mine. This means that mountain bikes and motorcycles can be ridden to the Wilderness boundary 5.7 miles out the canyon. All of the longer trips up the canyon can be “shortened” into reasonable day-hiking length by using a mountain bike. Other than a few sandy washouts beneath McGown Peak, the trail is rideable and quite enjoyable as an activity in its own right.
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