Looking for a way to beat the heat this summer? Escape to Sun Valley, Idaho, where picturesque mountain landscapes await. Read on for our guide to spending summer in Sun Valley, Idaho.
The summer of 2023 was unbearably hot. On July 18, Phoenix reached a milestone: it was the first time the city had measured 19 days in a row of temperatures at 110 degrees, breaking a record set in 1974, as stated in the New York Times. The same heat wave hit Palm Springs, swept across Texas, and impacted many European cities. The weekly reports of suffocating humidity, high temperatures, floods, and wildfires have become common as climate change becomes a reality. I, like many tourists, find myself researching cooler destinations and discovering that the mountains can be a refreshing alternative to the plains as a travel destination.
Sun Valley, known primarily as a winter destination, has a picturesque mountain landscape that beckoned me to spend a couple of days hiking and discovering its environs. The city of Ketchum sits within this valley and is framed by five mountain ranges—Pioneer, Boulder, Smoky, White Cloud, and Sawtooth Mountain.
Exploring Bald Mountain During Summer in Sun Valley
Bald Mountain, known fondly as Baldy, is located adjacent to Ketchum and is a favorite local ski haunt as it rises to 9,150 feet. Baldy boasts 3,380 feet of thrilling lift-accessed biking and hiking trails in summer.
This past August, I took the Roundhouse Express Gondola and Christmas chairlift to the top of Bald Mountain, which runs from 9 am to 4 pm daily from July to September. As I explored the top, the mountain was awash with flowers: Ragwort, Milkweed, Yarrow, and Tumbleweeds alongside wild mustard and sage line every walk and hike. Later, I went back into town to do the suggested 3-mile Procter Mountain Trail, which offers fine views of Bald Mountain and Sun Valley.
If you have time just for one hike, do this one for its natural flora and fauna and its meditative peacefulness. My fellow companions on a Tuesday evening were grasshoppers and bees!
The City of Ketchum
Ketchum is a small, quaint, and walkable town. Since everything is within walking distance, I recommend staying in town despite the exorbitant lodging costs. I stayed at the no-frills Best Western Plus Kentwood Lodge. Next time, I plan to stay at the Sun Valley Lodge, a premier residence equipped with plush furnishings, a spa, an ice rink, and some must-see bygone-era photographs of visiting celebrities.
Dining in Ketchum
I suggest dining at Rickshaw, a casual eatery that serves creative small plates inspired by Southeast Asia. Everything on the menu is delicious, but I especially enjoyed their Chili Oil Udon Noodles topped with peanuts, scallions, and cilantro.
Another restaurant I enjoyed was Pioneer Saloon, a classic establishment known for its steak, Idaho potatoes, and mud pie. The restaurant is framed with period firearms and mounted game to give it a saloon atmosphere.
Other fine dining places include Gretchen’s at the Lodge and Grumpys for burgers and beer. For casual fare, I would recommend Nourishme for healthy soups and sandwiches. Tourists to Sun Valley must visit Java Coffee, where I tried the infamous Bowl of Soul, a refreshing cup of coffee made with hot chocolate, espresso, whipped cream, and cinnamon.
“A hell of a lot of state, this Idaho, that I did not know about.” —Ernest Hemingway
Trails in Ketchum
Some 90 miles of trails are located within a 5-mile radius of Ketchum. Stop by the Visit Sun Valley tourism office at 491 Sun Valley Road to get info on all the trails. The staff there are friendly and offer weekly sightseeing tours.
Visit Sun Valley staffer Paul Blair offers weekly birding and Hemingway tours. Blair took me and another visitor on a bike tour around Ketchum to visit Ernest Hemingway sites. It surprised me to learn that Hemingway, the global iterant traveler, arrived in Sun Valley in 1939 and lived there for a while. He wrote two of his books in central Idaho—For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Moveable Feast. Hemingway enjoyed hiking, bird hunting, and dining in Ketchum.
Tour highlights include visiting Hemingway’s grave in the Ketchum cemetery, browsing Hemingway’s memorabilia at the Community Library, and stopping at the Hemingway House, which sits along the Big Wood River and is now used as a residency for writers, scholars, and artists.
Visiting Shoshone Falls—The Niagara of the West
The following day, I planned to visit Shoshone Falls. Since the birding reserve was en route, Blair kindly offered to show me around the Silver Creek Reserve. The unique ecosystem—shrubland, riparian forest, and wetlands—provides cover and food for 170 species of birds. We saw blackbirds chasing a falcon during our walk, and Blair pointed out an eagle’s nest. Geese, ducks, Grebes, Coots, Flycatchers, and Shorebirds can often be seen at the reserve.
On the way to Shoshone, I stopped at the Shoshone Ice Caves, a natural volcanic ice wonder. Beneath the lava resides a small living glacier used as a natural refrigerator by Native Americans in the early 1900s. You must have a guide to enter the cave.
Shoshone Falls, located at the edge of Twin Falls, is also known as the Niagara of the West. The falls are a popular tourist destination, but when I was there, the water level was low, so check the website for water levels before driving out.
My trip was not a complete disappointment as the area has other attractions like swimming and kayaking. As it was a balmy day, I decided to spend the afternoon swimming in the adjacent Dierkes Lake, which was pleasantly empty but for a few children.
Sawtooth National Forest
On my final day of summer in Sun Valley, I decided to venture North into Stanley and the Sawtooth National Forest. The area has many high alpine lakes lined with colossal cottonwoods and graceful willows. The uplands are blanketed with lodgepole pine, and Douglas fir interspersed with whitebark pine, and the meadows are strewn with wildflowers. The wildlife in the area includes elk, deer, wolves, black bears, and cougars. Many biking trails and lakes offer angling and water activities like swimming, rafting, and kayaking.
Ketchum is an International Dark Ski Community, and the Sawtooth Botanical Garden hosts periodic night sky programs ranging from astrophotography to constellation mythology.
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As I returned to Ketchum, I understood why Hemingway loved this land. As his memorial states—he loved the mountains, the blue windless skies, and the fall with its leaves yellow on the cottonwoods and floating on the trout streams above the hills. We invite you to explore Wander With Wonder for more things to do when you visit Idaho.
Summer in Sun Valley, Idaho