Whether you hitch a ride on a Learjet or emblazon some cardboard with a Sharpie with "Sun Valley" or "Ketchum or bust," there is much to be gained from a mountain town visit on the cheap. Consider the price of a small tank of gas. It's not peanuts, by any means, but for the cost of 15 gallons of fuel, there is much a budget traveler can do in Sun Valley.
It's free to climb Dollar Mountain to get the lay of the land, and Baldy, too, for that matter. At 3,000 vertical feet, that's a big bang for zero bucks and a couple of energy bars, and lift rides down are free.
Down to your last dollar? Hiking a ski-lift line in the summer can yield some unexpected treasures that can equate at least to another meal. A hamburger at the Snow Bunny Drive-In at the gateway to Hailey is only $3.19.
Shoppers looking for a break from the sun can find bargains at the Barkin' Basement thrift store in Hailey and at the Gold Mine in Ketchum, where one's trash really can be another's treasure. Both stores donate their proceeds to good causes--homes for pets and books for the masses--so consumers can feel pretty good about the purchase of a $4 baseball cap to shield themselves from the ever-present sun.
The Wood River Valley is not really about the shopping in summer. It's more a matter of communing with nature, which is still quite affordable. While merchants will be happy to separate you from your savings, it's still quite possible to do Sun Valley inexpensively.
Shopkeepers are experts when it comes to offering advice and tools to help you follow your recreational passion. Trail maps--available at either end of the valley--link visitors to endless paths for contemplation. Test your muscle with miles of trekking or simply to vex fellow nature lovers with your endless knowledge of wildflower names and bird songs.
For those who schlep bicycles to Ketchum, the price for entry to the Blaine County Recreation District bike path or the 400 miles of single track is exactly zero, leaving gourmands more coin for local cuisine.
When it comes to human entertainment, paying for anything is almost against local etiquette in summer. There are free concerts from rock to Rachmaninov, and free art to view both on the street and in the many galleries, especially in Ketchum.
There is some street food during farmers markets and various festivals, and a quick and inexpensive picnic can be had at the Main Street Market in Ketchum en route to any adventure--like a fairly inexpensive concert hosted by the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, which in August includes Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Pink Martini and Bonnie Raitt with Mavis Staples.
Around town bus rides with Mountain Rides in Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley are free (one-way fares up and down the valley are $3, $2 for youths and seniors).
It's true that a single dollar in the Wood River Valley is quickly spent, but a good day can still be cheaper than a tank of gas, even for those who decide to stay the night. Camping in the public domain is, of course, free, although many of the improved sites in the Sawtooth National Forest have no cost.
• Pavilion lawn seating at the Sun Valley Summer Symphony Orchestra.
• A visit to Hemingway's grave.
• A boat shuttle back to Redfish Lake Lodge from the boat dock at the trailhead to the Sawtooth Wilderness and Shangrila.
• Tennis on public courts.
• Riding the bike path.
• Fishing the stocked pond at Lawrence Heagle Park in Hailey and Penny Lake out Warm Spring Road in Ketchum.
• Ketch'em Alive (Tuesday evenings in Ketchum's Forest Service Park).
• Free Wild Flower Walks at Sawtooth Botanical Garden, which offers hikes to plants in bloom Thursdays through the summer from 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
• Town Square Tunes on Thursdays from 6-8 p.m. in the Ketchum Town Square. Food and drink are available for purchase from local vendors.