Idaho is one of those states that has somehow managed to fly mostly under the radar. Unlike some of the more popular western states like Colorado or Oregon, it is still possible to find areas of Idaho that are relatively under explored. Ketchum and Sun Valley are NOT those areas. From the very beginning, the vision for Sun Valley was a resort town that would attract visitors looking for a mountain experience similar those found in the Swiss Alps. Fancy lodges and Inns were built, ski trails constructed, chair lifts installed, and the people started arriving.
If the multi-million dollar homes crowding the foothills and the downtown streets lined with expensive outfitters and high-end steak houses are any indication, the area has certainly succeeded in not only attracting people but attracting a pretty affluent type of resident/visitor. In a broad sense, downtown Ketchum was a bit too high end for our liking, but fortunately, the town is far from the only attraction.
Like most ski towns, Sun Valley and Ketchum are a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. With trails galore, we happily had our choice of challenging mountain treks, easy riverside walks, and both paved and dirt bike trails. Since we spent a full two weeks in the area, I won’t attempt to share the details regarding every outing, but I do want to tell you about our three favorite trails.
Pioneer Cabin Trail
The hike to Pioneer Cabin is included on every list of the best trails around Sun Valley and Ketchum. With sweeping mountain views, fields of wildflowers, and a rustic 1930’s alpine cabin, it’s not hard to understand the appeal.
This is a fairly challenging hike – especially if you do it as a loop like we did. The trail climbs steadily uphill for about 4 miles to the cabin, with a few steep sections thrown in for fun. After we reached the cabin, the expectation was that the back side of the loop would be all downhill. Well…after a few miles of knee and hip busting steep downhill, the trail pulled a fast one on us by heading back up a steep hill before reaching a ridge that took us all the way to the parking lot. Oh yeah, and during the last hour of the hike, the skies opened up and pelted us with cold rain while thunder boomed and lightning flashed all around (the chance of rain was 10%). Despite all of this, it was an incredible hike that has taken the top spot on our list of the best hikes in Idaho (so far).
This 4.5-mile trail is easily accessed from a Sun Valley neighborhood which made it a great after work hike. While not a long trail, it is a bit of work out with a lot of uphill and a very, very steep downhill at the end. The trail makes a loop that can be done in either direction, but I would strongly recommend doing it in a clockwise direction to avoid climbing up the steep section.
From the top of the trail (which doesn’t actually reach the peak of Proctor Mtn.), you can look out over the town of Sun Valley and the ski trails beyond. You can see both in the first two photos of this post.
Another hike that shows up on many “best of” lists, the trail to Norton Lakes is short, steep and rewarding. I say short, but I guess it’s all relative because I just checked and it’s actually 5 miles round trip. BUT…that 5 miles gets you to not one, but two alpine lakes! The hike there is not too shabby either with jagged mountains, sweeping views, and the ever present mid-summer wildflower display.
Camping in Sun Valley and Ketchum
During our two weeks in the Ketchum/Sun Valley area, we stayed in two places. The first was a national forest campground called Boundry Campground. It’s located on Trail Creek Road only a few minutes from town and convenient to a number of trails that go right past the campground.
A small campground with only 9 sites, no utilities, showers or really any amenities aside from a pit toilet, Boundary Campground tends to mostly attract people in tents or RVs passing through for a night or two. As a result, it was not the kind of no hookups campground where RVs are running generators all day or large families are taking over multiple sites. In other words…it was very quiet. Oh yeah, and the $10/per night fee was pretty reasonable. And no, I didn’t edit or crop any rigs out of this photo. You really couldn’t see anyone from our backyard!
After four nights at the campground, we moved over to a boondocking spot just north of town. I’m not going to share the exact location at this time because we still have friends in that spot, but if you look on Campendium you can see that there are a number of roads where boondocking spots are plentiful.
During the second week there, our friends Jen & Deas joined us. All the good spots on the road were already taken so we had them park right behind us. Plenty of room (and proof that you don’t need a small RV to boondock).
A few days later Kym and Kevin of 33 and Free came and parked across the street, Brandon & Kerensa and Dave & Kelly parked down the road, and the dynamic duo of Camp Addict, Marshall and Kelly had already claimed a spot up the road. Add in a few new people who were also camping on the same road and it looks like we have a party in the making!
From Ketchum we made our way north to the tiny town of Stanley where we’re gathering in an undisclosed area with friends for the eclipse. I probably won’t write another blog post before the “big event”, so I’m wishing you all happy viewing. (And if you’re in the path of totality — small crowds, and no traffic jams!) As always, I’ll be updating our Facebook and Instagram with photos if you want a little glimpse into where we are before the next blog post.