While the promise of art-filled galleries, high-end boutiques and world-class restaurants may be alluring, there's one feature of the Sun Valley area that refuses to be ignored: the breathtaking natural landscape.
From towering mountains to rolling hills to rivers that meander through groves of aspen trees, it's hard not to be lured outdoors when visiting the area. Our advice? Don't fight it. Dive in with all the power of your recreation dreams.
The area is a gateway to incredible hiking trails. Many think first of the Sawtooth Mountains, but the Pioneer Mountains to the east of Sun Valley, the Boulder and the Smoky mountains north of Ketchum provide easy and ample opportunity to get out in the backcountry.
Of course, the choices of trails and activities can be a little overwhelming, so here are some of our favorites.
Hiking Pioneer Cabin
Loved by locals, the four-mile Pioneer Cabin Trail is incredibly beautiful, somewhat challenging because of its switchbacks and steepness, and only a few miles from town. The cabin sits at 9,400 feet, just below a ridge opposite a view of the 11,000- to 12,000-foot-tall Pioneer Mountains. Reminiscent of a scene from the Sound of Music, you will never forget the sight.
The cabin the trail gets its name from was built by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1937, and the stories of the hikers and skiers are etched in the journals kept inside.
The more heavily used and recommended access is five miles east of Sun Valley, then about three and a half miles up Corral Creek Road. The trail climbs steeply at first, through beautiful old-growth fir forest, then winds along open ridges with wonderful views to the north of the Boulder Mountains. If your timing is right, you'll be able to see Indian paintbrush, lupine and penstemon, among the many wildflowers in the area.
The trail has a 2,500-foot elevation gain over four miles. But the reward is far greater than the pain. This is a favorite lunch spot for summer hikers in the Sun Valley area, so put it on your to-do list.
The Norton Lake trail is another quick getaway, this time into the Smoky Mountains. This is a good day hike for inexperienced hikers--only two miles one way. The beauty of the lakes is wondrous. The sheer rock cliffs surrounding this destination frame a backcountry getaway that is hard to beat. Bring your fishing rod because the lakes are full of trout.
To get there, drive north of Ketchum to Baker Creek Road (just more than 15 miles and turn left. Travel six miles on a good dirt road, and turn right on Norton Creek Road. From there, it's just more than one mile to the trailhead.
Boulder City and Boulder Basin
This hike is both interesting and historic. Boulder City is an old mining settlement in the Boulder Basin at the base of the Boulder Mountains north of Ketchum. It's accessible by foot, horse, mountain bike or a sturdy 4x4 vehicle. We recommend parking at the creek crossing, but the more adventurous can drive the rough, steep road to the trailhead and parking area at the mouth of the canyon.
Drive north of Ketchum 12.5 miles and turn right on Boulder Creek Road, located at the top of Phantom Hill. After one mile, turn right at the sign indicating Boulder Basin. Go another mile and you'll come to the creek crossing. You can park here or continue on to the trailhead and parking area at the mouth of the canyon another mile up the road. If it's early in the year, the water may be high on the trail, since Boulder Creek crosses the trail a few times. After some pine forest and meadows, you'll see a junction and an easy walking road to the left. This leads to the remains of the historic Boulder City, built in the 1890s, where old cabins and dilapidated buildings still stand. Beyond, the Boulder Basin winds up and around and is exceptionally beautiful.
Wood River Trails Bike Path
Known by locals simply as "the bike path," this system of paved bike routes links Ketchum, Sun Valley, Hailey and Bellevue. The old Union Pacific Railroad route paralleled Highway 75, but was retired in the 1970s. The Blaine Country Recreation District was formed shortly thereafter, which created a splendid example of "rails to trails" within the Wood River Valley. The best part of this system runs from Ketchum past East Fork Road south of Ketchum (about six miles). This portion of the route is mostly away from Highway 75 and runs near shimmering cottonwood and aspen trees. Two old railroad bridge crossings add to the diversity of this segment.
The other paved portions connect Ketchum to Sun Valley and Elkhorn. A new portion runs past Sun Valley up Trail Creek Canyon. For those who are seeking some hills for a workout, the view of the Boulders from the top of Elkhorn hill is spectacular.
Take the lift up and ride down from the top of Bald Mountain. At the top, wildflowers, breathtaking views and clean air await bikers. The trails are wide and not too steep, making the ride available for both experienced and novice riders. Single-ride lift tickets cost $15, or $20 for an all-day pass. Children age 12 and younger are half price.
Adams Gulch is a canyon just one mile north of Ketchum and is accessible both from Warm Springs Road and Adams Gulch Road. It's a sunny canyon with something for everyone: striking views, creek crossings, uphills, downhills, wildlife, wildflowers, beautiful homes, National Forest land, open hillside and dense forest. Two biking loops await, one 5.5 miles long, and the other 14 miles long.
If you're still confused about where to go, try asking at one of the local outdoors stores; the employees are full of information.