Sun Valley

Overview

Introduction

Sun Valley, Idaho's most famous ski resort, was built in the 1930s by statesman Averell Harriman and is one of the nation's oldest and most elegant resorts. Since the first lift opened (the design was copied from a machine used to transport bananas onto fruit boats), the area, located 100 mi/160 km east of Boise, has attracted the rich and famous.

Sun Valley's original base lodge and some of the on-mountain restaurants are beautifully finished with etched glass and brass fittings. Skiing on magnificent Mount Baldy is outstanding: It has a vertical drop of 3,400 ft/1,035 m and runs up to 3 mi/5 km in length.

This sunny mountain (located in the Sawtooth National Forest) is primarily for advanced skiers: It has a variety of steep runs, moguled trails, deep powder and open bowls in a relatively uncrowded setting. In addition to the groomed trails, there are also vast unmarked areas on the mountain and in the backcountry. Note: When skiing the backcountry, out-of-towners should go with a guide.

For novice skiers, nearby Dollar Mountain has gentler terrain: It's used primarily as a teaching mountain. Additional wintertime activities at Sun Valley include snowboarding, cross-country skiing, helicopter skiing, ice skating and swimming. Two separate areas of the beautifully maintained Sun Valley village offer lodging, shopping and apres-ski amenities.

The area has long attracted the rich and famous, and some of them became at least part-time residents of Ketchum, Sun Valley's principal town. One of the best known was writer Ernest Hemingway, who bought a house in town in 1959 after being a frequent visitor for many years. Whiskey Jacques is a bar where the author used to tip a glass or two. Hemingway committed suicide at his Ketchum home in 1961, and his grave is in town. A Hemingway Memorial is located on Sun Valley Road.

The Ketchum area is now a lovely and lively vacation spot year-round. There are plenty of warm-weather activities, including golf, tennis, horseback riding and ice skating.

Annual summer events include the Sun Valley Ice Show (an outdoor spectacular with world-class skaters and a lavish buffet served prior to each weekly show); the Sun Valley Summer Symphony (weekly classical-music performances); and Jazz on the Green (weekly outdoor jazz performances). October's Trailing of the Sheep Festival celebrates the region's shepherding heritage with a running-of the-sheep event.

Where Highway 21 and Highway 75 intersect lies Stanley, a gem of the Rocky Mountains and a must-see for horseback riders, hikers, bicyclists and fly fishermen. It's about 45 mi/72 km north of Ketchum.

Hailey, a small former mining town 12 mi/20 km south of Ketchum, used to be a quaint afterthought. Recently, though, it's has rivaled Ketchum as a hot spot for Hollywood stars. You might want to catch a film at the Liberty Theater, a restored art-deco movie house. Hailey has a regional airport that's used by many who visit Sun Valley. Annual events in Hailey include Hailey Days of the Old West (parade and rodeo—July) and the Northern Rockies Folk Festival (concerts and art exhibits—August).

For a beautiful day's drive, head north out of Ketchum on Highway 75 to Challis, home to the Lands of the Yankee Fork, a state park that commemorates the mining era of the late 1800s. It includes two ghost towns—Custer and Bonanza—that are well worth seeing and also incorporates a 90-mi/145-km scenic drive.

Begin your visit at the park's interpretive center. Nearby is the Bison Jump, a cliff that the Shoshone used in hunting buffaloes (they stampeded them over the edge). The state park is surrounded by Challis National Forest, which contains Borah Peak, the tallest mountain in Idaho.

From Challis, go south on Highway 93 and then west on Highway 20 at Arco. Nearby you'll find Craters of the Moon National Monument. This moonlike area was used as a training ground for early astronauts. The landscape is rugged black lava, and it's truly eerie—a great place to camp at least one night.

Backcountry hiking trips can also be undertaken (permit required). Take along very warm clothing if you're planning to explore one of the caves. (Boy Scout Cave has ice even in the summer.) Cross-country skiing is possible in the winter. Take along plenty of film or extra memory for your camera.

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