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Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide

Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

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Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide

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  • Stanley Lake Creek.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Mountain bikers can ride 5.7 miles to the wilderness boundary up Stanley Lake Creek, though it the riding gets pretty difficult at the 4.5-mile mark.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) grows abundantly in the 2006 Trailhead Fire scar at the head of Stanley Lake Creek.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Fall colors highlight the underbrush beneath blackened and dead tree stumps.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • The Trailhead Fire burned intensely in the upper Stanley Lake Creek basin.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Old trail sign at the junction at the Observation Divide.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Fall colors decorate the headwaters of Stanley Lake Creek.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Looking down Stanley Lake Creek with McGown Peak towering high above the drainage.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Observation Peak offers great views of Mount Regan.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Looking south across the Trail Creek drainage with Warbonnet Spire and Tohobit Peak in the far center distance.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • The north face of Pig Baron Spire and El Pima (Fishook Spire) in the Goat Creek drainage.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Warbonnet Spire and the north face of Tohobit Peak can be inspected from the summit of Observation Peak.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Mount Regan from the Observation Peak Trail.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Looking across the badly burned Trail Creek drainage (Trailhead Fire in 2006) to Mount Regan (left summit).- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Moonrise over Mount Regan.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Sunset from Observation Peak.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • A sunset view of the impressive granite spires along the head of Baron and Goat Creeks.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • Fall colors at the end of the day near the summit of Observation Peak.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
  • A hiker walks by headlamp to an overlook near the Observation Peak Trail.- Stanley Lake Creek , Observation Peak + Divide
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Stunning views. Trail to summit. Wildflowers. Waterfalls.
Cons: 
Mosquitos. Motorized use. Sandy terrain. Fire scars.
Region:
Sun Valley + Sawtooth Mountains, ID
Congestion: 
Low
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Net Elevation Gain: 
2,664.00 ft (811.99 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Summer, Fall
Suitable for:
Hiking, Horseback
Total Distance: 
16.20 mi (26.07 km)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
6,537.00 ft (1,992.48 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Contributor

Observation Peak is the only summit in the Sawtooths with a trail all the way to the top. It is accessed from a spur trail at the Observation Divide, which itself is several miles beyond Bridal Veil and Lady Face Falls. The views looking north at McGowan Peak, onto Trail Creek Lakes, and into the headwaters of Baron Creek are stunning. It is a long way to the summit, but the trip can be “shortened” by riding your mountain bike several miles into the canyon.

In 2006, the Trailhead Fire burned the headwaters of Stanley Lake Creek. Nearly the entire drainage uphill from the wilderness boundary was severely charred. Visitors to the area now have a chance see the recovery process firsthand.

Observation Peak and Divide

Beyond the Bridal Veil spur, the trail crosses several open slide paths beneath the west face of McGown Peak. Decomposing granite accumulates at the bottom in a loose, sandy soil that is a mere hindrance to hikers but quite challenging to ride a mountain bike through. The trail steepens after these slide paths, becoming rocky and technical for mountain bikers. The junction with the old Elk Creek Trail is marked by two silver-plated signs that are bolted to a tree, and this is a logical spot to stash your bike. 

It is possible to continue riding through two switchbacks, into the burn, and all the way to the wilderness boundary at the bottom of the old Greenback Mine road (the wilderness information board is posted in the middle of the roadbed). The Trailhead Fire in 2006 burned hot, leaving nothing but a silent forest of blackened trunks. It is an eerily beautiful landscape to hike through as the trail climbs ever more steeply, crossing several small creeks to the Observation Divide. Look for the spur trail to the right that climbs through numerous switchbacks to the summit.

Hiking distances and ascents are as follows:

• From Stanley Lake Trailhead to Lady Face Falls: 2.4 miles, 273 feet.
• From Stanley Lake Trailhead to Bridal Veil Falls: 3.7 miles, 416 feet.
• From Stanley Lake Trailhead to Observation Divide: 6.6 miles, 1,581 feet.
• From Stanley Lake Trailhead to Observation Peak: 8.1 miles, 2,264 feet.
• From Stanley Lake Trailhead to McGown Lakes: 8.7 miles, 2,266 feet.

Additional Adventures

From the Observation Divide a second spur trail leads to McGown Lakes and over a divide to Sawtooth Lake.  To the south, the trail drops steeply down the Trail Creek drainage (with a spur to Trail Creek Lakes) all the way to the Grandjean Trailhead on the South Fork of the Payette River (see the Taylor Springs adventure)

Mountain Biking

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.

Wilderness Regulations

The headwaters of Stanley Lake Creek lie within the Sawtooth Wilderness.  Please observe the following regulations:
• Mountain bikes are not allowed past the wilderness boundary.
• Self administered wilderness permits are required and available at the trailhead.
• Dogs must be on a leash between July 1 and Labor Day.
• Camp 100-feet from trails, lakes and streams.
• Pack out all garbage.
• Human waste should be buried and well disguised in a cat hole 6-8 inches deep. Pack out all toilet paper.
• Campfires allowed ONLY in a backcountry pan or fire blanket.
• Campfires are NOT allowed at some lakes and in some drainages in the Sawtooths. Please review the campfire restrictions at individual trailheads.

Reference: All content excerpted from Exploring the Sawtooths - A Comprehensive Guide by Idaho River Publications.

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Published in collaboration with Idaho River Publications

Our mission is to inspire adventure with beautiful, comprehensive and waterproof map-based guidebooks.  Owner, publisher, and photographer Matt Leidecker, grew up exploring and guiding on the rivers in central Idaho.  His award winning Middle Fork of the Salmon River – A Comprehensive Guide is the standard by which other river guidebooks are measured.  Printed on virtually indestructible YUPO paper, IRP guides are truly unique all-in-one resources for adventure.  Each book is loaded with full-color maps, stunning photographs, and information on the history, geology, and wildflowers.  Visit Idaho River Publications to explore our guidebooks to the Rogue River in Oregon and the mountains of Central Idaho.

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