City Guides » Wood River Valley Summer Guide

Ketchum on a Budget

Best bets for big fun and little money

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Sun Valley has an image of glitz and glamour a beautiful, but expensive area that only the rich and famous can afford. But it's well within reach of a savvy, budget-conscious traveler. Whether you're into roughing it or hanging in town, there are options for every taste. Here are some of our favorite ways to get out of town without heading to the poor house.

Timing is everything. First, bribe your boss and leave work early for an extended weekend--you'll beat the traffic and be able to roll into town in time for dinner.

The key thing to remember about Sun Valley is that it's not the only town in the game. Hailey and Bellevue are just down the valley, and often offer more affordable options, albeit not at the base of the ski hill.

One of our favorite just-rolled-in dinner spots is South Valley Pizzeria, half a block from the center of Bellevue, next to the Silver Dollar Bar on Elm Street. It's a family friendly sort of place where pasta goes for as little as $7 for marinara spaghetti or fettuccine alfredo, and the pizza has been named "Best in the Valley" for eight years running.

Now that you've eaten, you've got to find a place to lay your head. The iconic Sun Valley Lodge is an option during the off season--spring and fall--when the lodge offers highly discounted rates on both rooms and activities like golf and tennis. But in "high season," the lodge may be out of many visitors' price range.

Instead, summer deals can be found among the many condos, cabins and rental homes that dot Ketchum, Sun Valley and even Hailey. Vacation Rental By Owner (vrbo.com) allows you to deal directly with a condo owner instead of a property management agency. You'll likely get a better price, especially if you stay for a week instead of a weekend. In fact, you can always ask for a lower price than what may be listed on the Web site.

Instead of a hotel room for around $130 per night, you can get a one-bedroom condo that sleeps four, and you'll have your own kitchen to cook in. You might even score the elusive private hot tub and other amenities like a barbecue and a deck. Renting a condo or cabin also has the benefit of offering a much more private and at-home experience.

Your best deal, of course, is to dig out the tent and camp. However, you have only a couple of choices within a few miles of Ketchum. Boundary Campground is just two miles past Sun Valley, making it the closest to town. But, unfortunately, it has only six campsites and is usually full on weekends.

The North Fork and Wood River campgrounds--which have 57 campsites between them cost $10 each--are located eight miles north of Ketchum, off Highway 75 past the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters. Lesser known campsites include Murdock and Caribou campgrounds near the SNRA HQ. You can reserve a space by calling 877-444-6777 or trying recreation.gov.

Finally, if you have a camper or RV, try the Meadows RV park for $25, just three miles south of Ketchum.

It's hard to resist shopping when you're in Sun Valley, where classy boutiques beckon from every street.

While designer labels might not be in your budget, there's always the Sun Valley institution: the Gold Mine. It's the thrift store that attracts both tourists and locals alike, and sales from the store benefit the Ketchum Community Library.

In a town like Sun Valley, there is always gold to be found among the piles of donations. From a terrific Patagonia shell, a wacky hydra-headed floor lamp and woven baskets to killer ladies cowboy boots, Japanese dinnerware sets or even classic albums and ski boots, you can find nearly anything if you take the time to look.

Since many visitors to the Sun Valley area go for the outdoor recreation, there are a few shops that cater to the adventurous with sales that won't damage your wallet too badly. Try Backwoods Mountain Sports, Elephant's Perch, Bob Gordon's Formula Sports (all in Ketchum) or Sturto's in Hailey.

When you finally get hungry again, you don't have to be stuck with Ramen noodles. Instead, try Despo's (formerly Desperado's), which offers Mexican cuisine with numerous vegetarian specialties and is the only restaurant in Idaho certified by the Green Restaurant Association. For wraps, salads and lighter lunch fare, try Wrapcity Cafe. And if you miss KB's in downtown Boise, visit its parent locations in both Ketchum and Hailey.

But, because you have taken the trouble to go all the way to Sun Valley, why not treat yourself to one good meal out? We recommend the iconic Pioneer Saloon, which has been serving up massive steaks grilled over the flames since 1950. There are taxidermied animal heads in the wood-lined saloon, plenty of meat and potatoes in the restaurant, and it's well worth the extra cash. Besides, you'll probably leave with leftovers.

If you've blown your budget by now, check out one of the free summer music series in the area. For a full listing, check the music story and calendar listings.

After all this free and low-cost entertainment, you'll be able to head home without any traveler's remorse weighing you down.