Exploring Sun Valley ID -> Hiking, Biking & Outdoors With Paws
Believe it or not we’re about to finish our 4th week in Sun Valley, ID. In the time we’ve been here I’ve teased you with sunrises, I’ve hinted at fun and exploration, but I’ve yet to go “in-depth” and give you the nitty gritty. That’s about to change.
To be honest it’s taken us these past 3 weeks just to scratch the surface here, and we are NO WAY near done. This area doesn’t look like much from the map, just a little 10 x 10 block town in the middle of no-where with nothing but open land around it, but man does it pack in a bunch. Our adventures have included biking, hiking, entertainment, eating and beer and we have literally been out exploring every single day. It’s rare for us to be out that much, but this place just seems to encourage that and there’s literally so much to see and do we’ve yet to run out of ideas.
Now obviously there’s no way I can cover it all, but what I’ll try to do is give you a summary of the BEST experiences we’ve had in the time we’ve been here, with a focus on doggie-friendly stuff (of course). Hopefully that’ll give you a guide on where to start should you end up here yourselves at some point. There’s so much to cover that it’ll take several blog posts, so get ready for a little mini-series. Our first installment “hiking, biking and the outdoors with paws”…
1/ Best Hiking Trails
I knew there was quite a bit of hiking when we first got here, but I don’t think I was prepared for HOW MUCH hiking there actually is aaaand how easily accessible it all is. Pretty much the entire area around around Ketchum is either National Forest or part of the 756,000 acre Sawtooth Recreation Area. It’s literally littered with trails and there’s a type for every taste and level.
Closest to town your options are rolling hills with wildflowers, streams and valley views. As you drive over the pass towards Stanley you start to access alpine lakes and if you go into the Sawtooth Mountains themselves you get craggy mountain wilderness and the desolate remoteness beyond.
While we were here we focused on 5-6 mile hikes and kept it close to Ketchum so that we didn’t have to leave Polly (whose leg isn’t healed enough to hike yet), too long. Several of these trails I did with Becky while she was in town, while the rest I did with Paul. These were our fav picks in the area:
- Adams Gultch Trail – This trailhead is accessed just north of Ketchum off the west side of Hwy 75 along Forest road #141. There are a network of inter-locking trails here, so you have your pick of either a shorter or longer route. Becky and I hiked a ~5.5 mile loop that took us up the mountain, through crazy gorgeous wildflower meadows and back down along the river to the car. It was a great workout & a top notch trail! For detailed trail info click HERE and HERE. Approx. coords of trailhead 43.704745, -114.388501
- Fox Creek Trail – This is another lovely mix of trails ~6 miles north of town. The trailhead is accessed off the west side of Hwy 75 from Fox Creek access sign. Becky and I took a beautiful ~6 mile loop that ran along the river and looped back up a scenic hillside. Although a little longer than Adams Gultch this hike was a little easier (elevation-wise) and equally beautiful. This trail is popular with mountain bikers too. For detailed trail info click HERE and HERE. Approx. coords of trailhead 43.757843, -114.401863
- Proctor Mountain Trail – This is a lesser-used trail on the east side of town towards Sun Valley. The trailhead is accessed from the end of Fairway Road (park at the little pull-out and hike from there). Paul and I hiked the ~4 mile loop up the mountain and back down the other side. It’s a little more barren and not quite as wildflower-crazy here (compared to Adams Gultch or Fox Creek), but you’ll some lovely views and you’ll (very likely) have it all to yourself. For detailed trail info click HERE. Approx. coords of trailhead 43.711608, -114.336925
- Norton Lakes Trail – Looking to hike a loop of spectacular high alpine lakes without driving over the pass? Then this is your spot! We found this hike thanks to blog reader (and local resident) Charlene who told us it’s her fav hike in the area. It’s a 22-mile drive to get there, half of which is on dirt roads (take Hwy 75 ~15 miles north of Ketchum onto Baker Creek Road (FR 162). Follow FR 162 for 5.9 miles to FR 170. Drive another 1.3 miles to the trailhead), but it is SO worth the effort. Do a quick ~4-mile out-and-back to Norton Lake or do the whole ~7 mile loop around all 3 lakes. What a trail! For detailed trail info click HERE. Approx. coords of trailhead 43.730993, -114.633097
PAW NOTES/ ALL hiking trails are 100% dog-friendly!
2/ Best Biking Trails
I’m what you call a wimpy biker. I enjoy moseying along on a relaxed trail on my comfy hybrid bike without the stress of street traffic or crazy mountain trails. So, when I can find a nice, paved bike trail that gives me those things I’m a very, very happy gal.
Before we came to Ketchum I’d read about the paved Wood River Trail and figured it would be right up my alley. I knew it started right next to the RV Park (1 block away) and went for ~20-miles between the towns of Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley. It was re-paved in 2014/2015 so it’s in near perfect condition and it’s well-marked and separated from the main highway the whole way.
And honestly, it’s been awesome!
Since we’ve been here we’ve biked the trail literally every single day. I love that I can step out of the RV, hop on my bike and do a leisurely 4-mile bike into town (for a coffee or beer, depending on the hour), or (if I’m feeling energetic) a ~15-mile loop with some decent climbs. There’s zero street traffic, no slippery dips or rocks, and lovely views the whole way. It’s Nina biking perfection!
There are plenty of other options in the area for the less wimpy:
- Mountain Bike Trails: If you’re the more adventurous biker-type, there are literally HUNDREDS of miles of off-road mountain biking trails where you can “cut the dirt” as pleasantly or as crazily as you wish. Your absolute best resource for this is the interactive BCRD trail map which not only lists all the trails in the area, but also their conditions, length, difficulty level and elevation profile. All the trails are an easy drive from town and there’s free parking at the trailheads.
- Downhill Rides On Bald Mountain: For folks who are even nuttier and just want to go fast downhill you can take the gondola with your bike ($39 fee) to the top of Bald Mountain and just zoom the maze of twisty trails all the way down. Only for the true crazies IMHO….
PAW NOTES/ ALL biking trails are 100% dog-friendly! The only place you cannot bring doggie is on the gondola ride up Bald Mountain.
3/ Best “No Effort” Outdoor Sightseeing
For those of you who like the outdoors, but prefer to experience it with minimal exertion there are actually several cool outings you can do with very little effort at all.
Auto-Hike To Stanley ID : My first recommendation is the “auto-hike” up Hwy 75 towards Stanley. It’s a drop-dead gorgeous drive with beautiful views of the Sawtooth Mountains as soon as you get over the pass. Stop in the little town of Stanley for a coffee or ice cream and make sure to visit the scenic lakes (Little Redfish, Redfish, Stanley & Alturas) on your way back. If you’re as crazy as me you can even get up at 3 AM and photograph the whole thing before sun-up. It’s an awesome experience! Definitely bring doggie!
Ride The Gondola Up Bald Mountain: My other recommendation is to take the gondola ride up to the top of Bald Mountain. We were given the opportunity to do this thanks to blog readers & local residents John and Gretchen (who work for Sun Valley Resorts) and honestly we are SO glad we did. For $25/person** you can take a scenic ride to the top of the mountain at a cool 9010 feet. Here you’ll enjoy a FULL panoramic view of the valley and Sawtooth Mountains as well as TONS of wildflowers (in summer). Stop at the Roundhouse Restaurant on the way down for a beer or burger with a view. It’s well worth the outing! NO dogs allowed on the Gondola, sadly.
Visit The Sawtooth Botanical Gardens: Another super easy and pretty visit is the Sawtooth Botanical Gardens just south of town. The gardens are super small (teeny really), but very pretty and they have a beautifully meditative area dedicated to the visit of the Dalai Lama called the “Garden Of Infinite Compassion”. Here you can turn a 400-lb hand carved Tibetan prayer wheel and enjoy the serenity of water trickling down a rocky waterfall. Bonus? It’s free to visit! NO dogs allowed in the Botanical Garden, sadly.
Go See Hemmingway: Did you know Sun Valley ID was Ernest Hemingway’s last home and resting place? Honestly neither did I until we came here and blog readers pointed it out to us. There’s not much in the way of Hemingway history here, but you can visit a small bronze memorial to him just east of town as well as his grave in the Ketchum Cemetery just north of town. Of the two, I think his grave is by far the most interesting. Folks leave coins, memento’s and (of course) alcohol for him. It’s a pilgrimage every writer should make. NO dogs allowed in the Cemetery, but you can drive through by car.
**NOTE/ If you hike up Bald Mountain, the gondola ride back down to the bottom is free.
4/ Best Outdoors With Paws
The BEST part of everything I’ve listed so far? EVERY single hiking trail, EVERY biking trail and EVEN the paved Wood River Trail is 100% dog-friendly. There are over 40 miles of dog-friendly trails located within a 5-mile radius of Ketchum and literally HUNDREDS of paw-friendly miles if you drive a little further. Plus as long as you have “voice control” of your dog, you can legally go off-leash almost everywhere. Sun Valley is literally one of the MOST dog-friendly hiking spots we’ve ever been to and we saw pooch’s out enjoying the trails everywhere we went.
If Polly had been hiking-ready we’d have taken her on every single one of our hikes & bikes, but sadly her leg hasn’t healed yet so we were forced to leave her home (and lavish love on all the other doggies we saw on the trails). Instead of hiking we took Polly on “auto-hikes” and short outings to the river to dip her paws and relax in the dirt by the water. Big Wood River runs all the way through town and is (by law) public access up to 10 feet above high water mark. So, almost everywhere along the river is accessible and dog-friendly. Most days we simply drove until we found a spot we liked, but if you want something easy the Sun Peak BLM Picnic Area just north of town is a nice, relaxing place to hang.
Plenty of other doggie-friendly green areas in town including a local fav, a little-known dog park located at the former Warm Springs Ranch (go 1.5 miles west on Warm Springs Road past the YMCA, then take a left on Bald Mountain Road. Park & cross the bridge to the park). Check it out!
That wraps up our best-of-the-best for Sun Valley outdoors. Overall this place gets a 4 paws up from doggie and 4 thumbs up from her parents too. We’ve rarely been anywhere where the outdoors is not only so dog-friendly, but also so accessible too. It’s a pooch-parent natural paradise!
Up next -> Beer, Food & Entertainment
Useful External Links:
- Sun Valley Sightseeing -> click HERE (Sun Valley) and HERE (Visit Sun Valley)
- Sun Valley Hiking -> click HERE (general hiking ideas, PDF doc) and HERE (Norton Lakes info, PDF doc) and HERE (general links)
- Sun Valley Biking -> click HERE (Mountain Biking interactive map) and HERE (Wood River Trail map & details)