Skiing and Hiking in the Rockies
Jul 24, 2020 at 8:00 AM by
The combination of a high desert climate and a very manageable elevation of just under 6,000 feet make Sun Valley, Idaho and the surrounding area an especially attractive play land for all kinds of outdoor activities throughout the year. Add to that the fact that these locales are in the Rocky Mountains, which means a delightful combo of sun and snow, and also that much of the area is protected from the wind, it comes as no surprise that this central part of Idaho draws visitors from around the world.
Beautiful Bald Mountain looms large over Sun Valley, Ketchum and Elkhorn like a beacon to outdoor enthusiasts enamored with all that mountain life represents. Known affectionately as Baldy, this monolith ranks as the main ski mountain, boasting some 100 trails with a super consistent vertical drop of 3,400 feet. There’s something for everyone from beginner to expert although you won’t have to deal with long flats and plateaus (a snowboarder’s nightmare!). Nearby Dollar Mountain offers a more gentle skiing and riding experience and, in fact, that’s where many people go to do their first turns. It’s also home of America’s largest super pipe and lots of other cool terrain park fun. You’ll find a tubing hill there, too. Fun fact: it’s also where the world’s first chairlift was installed in 1936.
Snowsport enthusiasts and sightseers alike revel in dining at the Roundhouse Restaurant, an historic establishment built midway up the mountain in 1939. Take the Roundhouse Express Gondola–with or without skis and boards–to enjoy a fine meal in a superlative setting.
Backcountry skiing and riding is big in these parts, however, you definitely want to hire a guide, especially in the winter. (You don’t want to be caught in an avalanche!) Many companies offer a variety of options for touring the Sawtooth Mountains winter, spring, summer and fall. Sawtooth Mountain Guides, Sun Valley Mountain Guides and Sun Valley Trekking are among the best known.
For a more dialed down–yet considerably more aerobic–winter experience check with the Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center. Here you can enjoy one heck of a workout within an hour or two and then have plenty of time left for a sleigh or wagon ride or horse back riding with Sun Valley Stables. Lots of people also mix it up at Sun Valley Ice Skating.
There are lots of places to go on and off the mountain to buy and rent gear. Most of these establishments also sell and rent bikes during the fair weather season. (OK, you can find some big fat tires in some of these shops during the winter, too, because this being the Great American West and arid Sun Valley, you can often do a good ride on the valley floor while others might be ripping it up on the ski hill.) PK’s Ski and Sports, Sturtevants and Four Mountain Sports are among the best known, however, there are many more.
People have been fishing in the Big Wood River and Trail Creek long before they donned a pair of skis. Today people do it more for recreation than to go catch the night’s dinner. You want to make sure you find the right fishing spots despite the fact that the scenery ranks supreme throughout. Enlist Silver Creek Outfitters, Lost River Outfitters or Sun Valley Outfitters to set you up with a memorable fly fishing experience.
If you’re more about kicks and giggles on the river, go big on the Salmon River in a rafting trip with The River Company, White Otter Outdoor Adventures or Backwoods Mountain Sports. Depending on the water flow, they’re great for kids and adults, and, of course, very refreshing since today’s water is often last night’s snowmelt in the Rockies.
If you’re into good, classic outdoor fun, you can hit a few balls at Sun Valley Tennis and also line up a golf game at Bigwood Golf Course or one of the Sun Valley Resort Golf Courses. The latter is distinguished by the eighteen-hole Trail Creek championship course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and also a nine-hole White Cloud course that offers spectacular panoramic views of the Wood River Valley. Note that The Sun Valley Club is open to the public and it also features a nice restaurant and bar in addition to its sports facilities.
Kids are a big part of the scene in Sun Valley as well. Sun Valley Resort offers an increasing amount of activities for the wee ones winter and summer as do many of the top places of lodging. You can also sign the kiddies up for programs at Galena Lodge & Trails as well as at the Wood River Community YMCA.
Budding botanists will revel in the many activities offered at the Sawtooth Botanical Garden, including play in the sandbox. Located just south of Ketchum, it’s a lovely place to explore for big and small and certainly an unexpected discovery to find within the majestic Rocky Mountains.
Nature surrounds you in Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey and the outlying area. You’ll find it particularly sweet at Howard’s Preserve, a protected Wood Land River Trust in Bellevue–just south of Hailey–where you can go to fish, hike or just marvel at the outdoor life that punctuates this beloved urban preserve.