Steeped in history and nestled in the scenic Smoky Mountains, Sun Valley and neighboring Ketchum, Idaho boast all the quaint trappings of a ski town: charming storefronts, sweeping views, and the requisite skiing. Make no mistake, though—it’s not your standard resort town.
Established in 1936 and modeled on the fashionable ski resorts of the Swiss Alps, the Sun Valley Lodge was the first of its kind in the United States. The world’s first chairlifts opened that same year on Sun Valley’s Proctor and Dollar Mountains, drawing skiers and celebrities, including one Ernest Hemingway, who finished For Whom the Bell Tolls during a 1939 stay at the lodge. Though the resort and its namesake town have modernized in the decades since, Sun Valley has retained its rustic elegance.
With 3,400 feet of vert, tons of varied terrain, and a remarkable absence of wind, Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain—”Baldy” to the locals—has an international reputation for some of the best resort skiing you can buy, and the fun doesn’t end when the snow melts. During the summer months, the Sun Valley area turns into a veritable hiking mecca. Here are some of our favorite treks to choose from.
1. Oregon Gulch Loop
Distance: 10 miles
Easily accessed from one of three trailheads just a handful of miles from Ketchum proper, the Fox Creek Trail System features sweeping views of the Boulder Mountains, and the Oregon Gulch Trail is a local favorite for good reason. Keep an eye out for beavers and moose, and plan your hike to coincide with wildflower season, when Oregon Gulch shows its true colors.
2. Kane Lake
Distance: 7 miles
Don’t let the first few miles fool you—most of this hike’s 1,600 feet of elevation gain are waiting for you in the last mile and a half to stunningly blue Kane Lake. It’s not an easy hike: creek crossings can be dicey during the high flows of spring runoff, and expect boulder hopping and a little route-finding on the way into the cirque of 11,000-foot peaks surrounding the lake. In fact, it’s challenging just to get to the trailhead—a 4WD vehicle is recommended.
3. Pioneer Cabin
Distance: 8.5 miles
The wildflower-draped trail to the Pioneer Cabin can be hiked as a loop or an out-and-back, but either way, be prepared for 2,400 feet of elevation gain over nearly two dozen switchbacks. The US Forest Service still maintains the 1937 cabin, where hikers can spend the night on a first-come, first-serve basis. Peak baggers should plan plenty of time for this trip: the surrounding Pioneer Mountains offer myriad hike-able summits.
4. Baker Lake
Distance: 5 miles
Close to town and with less than 900 feet of elevation gain, Baker Lake is the perfect outing for the whole family. The trail to Baker Lake is carpeted with lupine and Indian paintbrush. Pack a picnic—there’s plenty to keep everyone entertained once you arrive: the trout-stocked lake is a local favorite fishing destination.
5. Alice Lake
Distance: 10 miles
The hike to Alice Lake presents just 1,600 feet of elevation gain, but hikers should plan to cross several notoriously chilly creeks. The lake itself is known for its fishing—get your license from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game—and sits below spectacular El Capitan, which, like its Yosemite namesake, will leave you speechless. Intrepid hikers can tag Twin Lakes, just above Alice, in an additional four roundtrip miles.
6. Norton Pass
Distance: 6.8 miles
For a relatively short hike, Norton Pass is an alpine playground. Many hikers end their trip at the scenic Norton Lakes, but the view from the pass is worth the extra effort: get ready for views of sparkling Miner Lake, as well as the craggy ridgelines of the Smoky Mountains. For an added challenge, follow the faint trail from the pass just under 500 feet to the summit of Norton Peak.
7. Proctor Mountain
Distance: 5.5 miles
A local favorite, Proctor Mountain is popular for lunchtime runs and a taste of local history: you’ll pass remnants of the original 1936 Proctor Mountain chairlift, as well as views of iconic Bald Mountain, the bread-and-butter of the Sun Valley ski area. First-timers should bring a map or guidebook—several of Proctor Mountain’s trail junctions are unsigned.
8. Summit Creek
Distance: 13 miles
In an area known for its stunning vistas, you’ll have to work a little for a break from the crowds, but the Summit Creek Trail to Devil’s Bedstead is worth the effort. The climb heats up around mile 5, and at the Devil’s Bedstead summit, hikers are rewarded with panoramic views, including, on a clear day, Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain.
9. Sunnyside Trail
Distance: 2.5 miles
The Adams Gulch Trail System, situated just a mile and a half from Ketchum, offers a wide variety of trails, including the kid-friendly Sunnyside Trail. Expect to share this popular trail with trail runners and equestrians; beginning mountain bikers, too, will be right at home here or on the adjacent Shadyside Trail.
10. Bald Mountain Trail
Distance: 5 miles
Visitors to Sun Valley can see Bald Mountain from anyplace in town, which makes it all the more fun to stand atop its summit. In summer, the lifts access hiking and mountain biking trails dotting across the ski runs, but dauntless hikers can make it the 3,200 to the top under their own power, too—then ride the lift back to the base.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated.
Featured image provided by Miguel Vieira