The sun was just beginning to peek over the jagged mountain range to the east, and I already felt a sense of accomplishment for the day as I summitted the trail—a feat not unusual in the gorgeous, cultured corner of the world that is Sun Valley, Idaho. But a sunrise hike was just the beginning.
Getting a true “alpine start” my fellow early risers and I had set out from our hotel with the stars still faintly showing and closed signs still firmly in place in coffee shop windows. As we reached the apex of the Proctor Mountain loop, a local favorite hike with views of the town and surrounding valley, our playground for the day was suddenly bathed in the type of golden light that makes getting up in the dark worth it.
A short hike down to town we found signs flipped to “open” and a well-deserved breakfast with local ingredients and hand-pulled espresso shots at Konditorei. After refueling, the nearby mountain bike trails we’d scoped out on our hike beckoned. Then yet another gourmet meal (this time lunch on the river) at Cristina’s, followed by a swim. Post-ride beers in town at Grumpy’s were followed by an impromptu gallery walk, still muddy enough from the trails to blend in with the locals. In all, it was a winning summer day in the mountains with a bonus dose of culture.
Vacations are all about balance—finding just the right ratio between escape and adventure, rugged nature and a touch of indulgence, restorative calm, and a night or two out on the town. Sun Valley presents the rare opportunity to do it all in one day as yours truly managed to on more than one occasion but it’s worth taking your time. Sun Valley’s the Mindfulness in the Mountains initiative lays out how to get the most out of your trip by tapping into the slowed-down, alpine mindset and visiting with respect for the community and the environment.
Surrounded by wilderness in the Sawtooth National Forest of south-central Idaho, Sun Valley is sort of like the Beach Boys’ fictional “Kokomo,” get there fast(ish) then take it slow. It’s easy to get to this mountain equivalent of a tropical island, but it takes some intention. There are nonstop flights directly to Sun Valley (the airport is just 12 miles from town) via Alaska Airlines, Delta, and United. Meanwhile the area’s largest airport in Boise is only two-and-a-half hours away. Driving into Sun Valley in the summer is visually stunning as the Sawtooth National Forest gradually takes over the scenery. No matter how you get there, once you arrive the feeling of being fully enveloped by the wilderness is striking.
Immerse yourself in mountain landscapes on an expansive network of trails
With hundreds of miles of trails, Sun Valley is a bona fide paradise for those who love getting their heart rates up—whether mountain biking, hiking, or trail running. Arguably the best way to get a feel for a place, especially one with such varied terrain as Sun Valley, is by biking. The area is home to a world-renowned network of impeccably maintained mountain bike trails for all abilities.
To get the most out of your time on the trails, link up with the local guides and rent a bike at Sturtevants, located in the heart of Ketchum. For a convenient ride that’s just a mile outside town, head to Adams Gulch. Looking for a classic Sun Valley riding experience? Hit White Clouds, a flowy single track with incomparable mountain views and wide-open skies.
Five mountain ranges surround the Sun Valley area—the Sawtooths, Boulders, White Clouds, Pioneers, and Smokies—and all of them are within striking distance for a daily hiking trip. While many hikes are accessible without a guide, getting some local insights can make for an unforgettable experience in the high alpine terrain. With Sun Valley Guides you’ll experience serene hiking and likely score an afternoon dip in a lake that you’ll have all to yourself. For a quick hike near town, check out Bald Mountain and the Proctor Mountain Trail at Trail Creek.
For the quintessential American West experience, try riding horseback through single-track trails in the mountains. Sun Valley Stables offers private and group rides through the surrounding wilderness trails with options for instruction if you’re looking to improve your skills.
Slow down and settle into the mountain-town pace
For every trail traversed and mountain climbed, you’ll want a comfortable place to wind down, hearty meals, and a few activities that keep your feet on the ground. If you’re taking a day off hitting the trails at sunrise but still want to get moving, start your day with a vibey yoga class at Sacred Sound Yoga. Or visit Gather Yoga Studio in town where you’ll find a modern practice area with scenic views.
You don’t need to head to the mountains or river to find action in Sun Valley. Keep an eye on the events calendar where you’ll find a packed schedule year-round including Ketch’em Alive & Jazz in the Park concerts each week, the car lovers’ dream Tour de Force, nationally recognized Ballet Sun Valley, and more.
Sun Valley’s long history as a destination for creatives from the film and art world mean the town is filled with renowned galleries and is home to an impressive calendar of exhibitions. Book an exhibition tour at the Sun Valley Museum of Art and enjoy guided tours of the area’s finest galleries including Gail Severn Gallery, Friesen Gallery, Gilman Contemporary, and Broschofsky Gallery.
While the region hosts world-class art and cultural exhibits, one of the most remarkable visual experiences is on display every clear night: the stars. Ketchum is home to America’s first Dark Sky Reserve, the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve. A staggering 80 percent of U.S. residents cannot view the Milky Way from home, so take be sure to set aside a night for stargazing.
When it’s time to rest and replenish yourself, Sun Valley is rich with options for all tastes and budgets. While massive, sprawling log lodges are a hallmark of mountain style, we suggest checking out one of Ketchum’s modern boutique hotels. Comfortable, stylish, and within walking distance to acclaimed restaurants and nightlife, the Limelight Hotel and Hotel Ketchum are standout options.
There are dozens of worthy dining options around town, many with a focus on local and sustainable ingredients and eclectic global influences. Wake up to a lazy breakfast or lunch outside at Wildflour café and bakery then stock up on healthy snacks at NourishMe. Enjoy local ingredients prepared with Mediterranean and European influenced flavors (and an impressive wine list) at Town Square Tavern. And yes, an “après” after a day outdoors is essential at Lefty’s or Grumpy’s or enjoy a nightcap at the Warfield Distillery.
Enjoy the wonders of the water, alpine style
It wouldn’t be a warm-weather vacation without some time spent on the water. Sun Valley is home to some of the world’s most famous and sought-after fly fishing and whitewater rafting. Part relaxation, part unforgettable adrenaline-pumping experience, Sun Valley’s rivers and alpine lakes are not to be missed.
Legendary and larger than life novelist Ernest Hemingway spent many days casting in Silver Creek. His son would later work to protect the area when he became Idaho’s Fish and Game commissioner. Hiring a guide will undoubtedly bring more bites to your flies and the guides from Silver Creek Outfitters are experts are finding the fish on this iconic stretch of river. For a bit of cardio and trail time on either end of your fishing experience, try a hike-to-fish trip with Sun Valley Guides. You’ll hike to an alpine lake that’s filled with unsuspecting trout, clear water, and generally no one else around.
If you’re craving more action and adrenaline, head to Stanley, an hour north of Ketchum. Stanley is the main hub for whitewater activities in the region. The River Company offers a range of packages for day trips offering everything from family friendly scenic floats to full-on Class IV rapid runs that will no doubt be discussed over a beer or two back in town (and long after you return home).