Sun Valley, Idaho
Sun Valley, Idaho is well-known as a star-studded winter wonderland for skiers, though the summer offers its fair share of outdoor activities in and around the Sawtooth Mountains. This quiet resort town in the Wood River Valley just north of Ketchum, Idaho is a hot spot for celebrities who have fallen in love with the skiing at Bald Mountain, the historic Sun Valley Lodge, and the aspen groves that skirt the mountains.
Sawtooth National Recreation Area
Drive an hour north of Sun Valley and you’ll find the expansive 740,000 acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which contains two wilderness areas and four glacier-carved mountain ranges. The winter offers world-class backcountry and cross-country skiing as well as plenty of snowmobile access. When the snow and ice melt away, it’s time for fishing, hiking, and backpacking.
You’ll find one of the most stunning views of the Sawtooth Valley 8,701 feet above sea level at Galena Summit on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway. Galena Summit is the highest summit on a highway in the Northwest and is a treacherous drive in the winter, so drive with care and plan accordingly.
On the way back down to Sun Valley, you’ll find the historic Galena Lodge. In the winter, Galena Lodge offers excellent hot food and drinks to cross-country skiers taking a break after venturing out on the immaculately groomed 50km of trails surrounding the lodge. Their restaurant has some of the best stew I’ve ever eaten, and on top of that, I was grateful for their ski shop when I needed a pair of light gloves for my trek. Forget something? They also have gear available for rent.
Postcard-worthy views await at the top of every hill. If you’re feeling brave, check out the black trails at Galena. They are the steepest cross-country hills I’ve ever seen, but the view at the top of Psycho is out-of-this-world beautiful. There’s no shame in taking your skis off to walk down!
The summer is equally epic at Galena; the same trails open up to hiking, biking, and fishing.
Stanley is at the northernmost tip of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, surrounded by the Sawtooth Mountains. The sparkling Salmon River offers a gentle soundtrack at the edge of town. Under 100 people call Stanley home, and you can walk through the entire hamlet in under an hour, but the few businesses bring warm, lively energy to the town.
Rafting outfitters in Stanley will take you down the rapids of the Salmon River in the summer. Hit the trail systems that run through the Sawtooths if you’re looking for an unforgettable day hike or a spectacular backpacking trip. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, plan a backpacking trip on the 62-mile Sawtooth Wilderness Loop.
Between Stanley and Sun Valley, you’ll drive past Redfish Lake, Pettit Lake, and Alturas Lake. Each of these lakes offers unique mountain backdrops despite how close they are. Redfish and Alturas offer groomed cross-country ski trails that allow you to access the frozen lakes.
Wildlife is plentiful in and around Sun Valley, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot mountain goats on the cliffs on Boulder Peak near Easley Hot Springs. The moose are as elusive as the mountain goats, but they also call these Idaho valleys their home. Keep your eye out for elk, deer, and antelope in the area. You’re less likely to find their predators: wolves, mountain lions, and Canada lynx.
When you head back to civilization, Ketchum will welcome you with abundant restaurants, shops, and art galleries. Outdoor adventure will take up much of your stay, but perhaps you’ll casually meet a celebrity at the Sun Valley Lodge on a much-needed rest day.