Best Things to Do in Sun Valley, Idaho

  • 5 min read
  • Aug 17, 2022

Best Things to Do in Sun Valley, Idaho

As we began our descent into Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, Idaho, a woman leaned over and said, “Idaho is like the new Colorado, and the Sun Valley is like the new Aspen.” “Everybody comes here now.”

Similar to Aspen — which has seen an unprecedented influx of links from around the country since the pandemic began — Sun Valley has served as Idaho’s venerable ski town since it was established as the nation’s first designated ski resort in 1936. The snowcapped mountains that people trek down all winter look stunning in the summer, surrounded by the nearby Sawtooth Mountains and nestled within the expansive Wood River Valley.

The mountains behind the lake
Peter Jacobson/500px Plus/Getty Images

Ever since Ernest Hemingway was invited to live and write at Sun Valley Lodge in 1939, celebrities, artists and passionate locals have long been part of the town’s fabric.

Many celebrities were invited to come for free. actor and Sun Valley resident Ali Larter told me at the Sun Valley Film Festival (SVFF) in April. Hemingway was one of the first famous people to come and help make this mountain town what it was, and that’s part of what made the valley a creative hub that continues even today.

Sun Valley Reserve is alive and well with a collection of laid-back locals, charming bars, restaurants, and the always-sunny vibe of Sun Valley. While the secret to this amazing mountain town may be out in the open, Aspen, I can assure you it is not. From spending time in the local hot springs to visiting Hemingway’s favorite haunts, here are all the ways to enjoy Hollywood’s favorite mountain town, no matter the season.

Woman walking on mountain path
Carl Weatherly/Photodisc/Getty Images

Walk in Hemingway’s footsteps or drink among the flowers

With 50 peaks, 300 lakes and rivers, and 250 miles of hiking trails, adventure is never far away wherever you are in the Sun Valley.

A good place to get bearings is the white cloud trail. One of the most popular hiking loops is a leisurely 2.5 miles, a short walk or bike ride from the Sun Valley Recreation Area. As you make your way along the trail, plan to stop by the Hemingway Monument, which is a great place to soak up some scenery.

About four miles down the Wood River Trail is the Sawtooth Botanical Garden, a lovely destination for biking. The garden is a beautiful place to spend a few hours, especially in the summer when there are many events such as tours, wine tastings and cocktail nights.

Woman in hot springs near river
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

Spend the morning soaking in the local hot springs or fishing for rainbows

Just 10 miles west of downtown Ketchum on Hot Springs Road, Frenchmans Bend is the perfect place to soak in the local hot springs. This shallow spring has long been a local hot spot of Sun Valley, though it’s pretty big Not Clothing is optional, so skinny people beware.

But warming up and pruning isn’t the only way to enjoy the water here. The 137-mile-long Big Wood River, which runs straight through Sun Valley, is a great place to go whitewater rafting near Stanley or try your hand at fly fishing.

If you want to get out and catch those elusive rainbows, try a guided fishing trip or even a female introduction to fly fishing clinic with Sun Valley Outfitters. Big Wood is known for its wild salmon, although Silver Creek Preserve is another great spot (and Hemingway’s favorite).

oyster bowl
Warfield Distillery and Brewery

Eat homemade food in cozy surroundings

Sun Valley’s food scene rivals any big city, starting with coffee and ham and cheese croissants at Konditorei. Otherwise, head straight to The Kneady for a rustic frittata and the ultimate Belgian waffle with whipped cream in downtown Ketchum.

Leave it all behind before heading to Warfield Distillery and Brewery, which serves up some of the best pub food in the highlands. The beautiful rooftop is perfect for drinking in views of downtown Ketchum and Mount Baldy. Don’t miss the Warfield Burger and Blue Ridge Bacon Salad, and if you can, save some for the carrot cake.

Tucked away on a side street in downtown Ketchum, The Covey’s stovetop-style menu offers more than just seasonal fare when it comes to homemade pastas and some of the best locally caught salmon you’ll ever eat. It also has a killer wine list and a wonderful outdoor garden to enjoy it all. If push comes to shove, don’t be afraid to post up at the bar, where you can chat with some of Sun Valley’s coolest local crew. and long time friends who own and run this great place.

Bowl of noodles
rickshaw

The rickshaw is cozy [read: tiny] The neighborhood joint to satisfy all your Asian fusion cravings. Korean Fried Chicken (KFC), Chiang Mai Curry Noodles, and Green Papaya Salad are cooked to perfection. Just be aware that this place fills up quickly and reservations can be difficult, so if you can’t find a spot, grab your food to go and post for a picnic at any of the nearby parks.

A can’t-miss while in Ketchum is the chance to get some screw-ups at Grumpy’s, a true Sun Valley legend. You can sit up front and enjoy chili fries and beer, but you’ll miss the interior of this time-capsule ski town dive.

Come nightfall, head to the Pioneer Lounge for margaritas, pints at the Cellar Tavern, a bite to eat and some Mama Tom’s at the Saw Club before an obligatory spin at the casino.

Mine Thrift gold wooden sign
Gold Mine thrift store

Gold strike to local thrift

There’s no shortage of high-end boutiques in and around Sun Valley Resort and downtown Ketchum, but for a true taste of local goodness, the Golden Mine Thrift Store is the best choice for all your thrifting needs. There are always gems to be found here and it’s an added bonus that all proceeds go to the neighborhood community library.

For all your outdoor gear and needs, head to Elephants. Or for some great local reading, look no further than First Chapter Bookstore on a side street off the main drag. Finally, The Farmer’s Daughter is the perfect place to stock up on charming, local Idaho art and home decor.

Hotel buildings
San Valley Resort

Sleep like a star at Sun Valley’s best hotels

Sun Valley Lodge is the best five star accommodation in Sun Valley. Dating back to 1936, it is the former residence of Ernest Hemingway, whose room here is said to still contain his typewriter.

The hotel’s pool area and bowling alley are always buzzing with activity, but if you’re in the mood, head straight to the Spa at Sun Valley, where you can take a spin in one of their ‘Experience Showers’. The dressing room is enough to make you believe in the power of a really good shower.

Just across the courtyard from The Lodge, the Sun Valleyn Inn is a bit more rustic than its glitzy counterpart – but recently renovated and offering all the same amenities as the Lodge at a fraction of the cost, this inn is more affordable. A way to stay in the resort area

Just off Main Street in Ketchum, the Limelight Hotel is a great pet-friendly place if you want to be in the heart of the action. As the wise say, book a room with a balcony view over Baldi, and don’t miss out on a dip in the pool and hot tub.

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Michelle Gross is a travel, food and lifestyle writer who loves the small town vibe. A University of Colorado Boulder alum, he spends a lot of time enjoying the outdoors. This summer you’ll most likely find him on his paddle board or on his porch in Beaufort, South Carolina.

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