The History of Sun Valley
Sun Valley is a small city located in Blaine County, Idaho. But the term “Sun Valley” is more widely used to describe the surrounding region including the Sun Valley Resort, the ski areas of Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain, the nearby City of Ketchum, and the Wood River Valley which extends to Hailey and Bellevue. It became popular in the 1930’s when the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper frequented the area.
Prior to tourism, the area was a thriving mining and smeltering community. After mining operations subsided, the area turned to sheep herding. With the arrival of the railroad, the Sun Valley resort opened, and the area has been catering to tourists ever since.
I only spent a limited amount of time in Sun Valley and the surrounding area ten years ago while on a year long road trip in VANilla. I have now returned in VANgo and really enjoyed staying in and exploring the area.
Where to Stay in Sun Valley
In conversion vans, there are many places to camp, both dispersed and in campgrounds, within minutes of Sun Valley. Some popular options are Lake Creek Road, Warm Springs Road, Forest Road 146 and Corral Creek Road. There is cell service on portions of Lake Creek Road and Corral Creek Road. That said, Lake Creek Road, with wide open sites in a sage brush valley, was not appealing to me.
Forest Road 146, Warm Springs Road, and Corral Creek Road have more interesting spots. Cell service can only be found at the first spot or two on the latter options.
Camping at Lake Creek Road and Corral Creek Road was limited to three days though hardly anyone was there in May, so I don’t think it mattered.
Corral Creek Road is very close to town. I ended up tucked in an aspen grove in a designated dispersed site. We stayed there until it was supposed to snow. Then I moved to an easier in/out location just in case, the snow was heavy.
As far as hotels go, there are plenty. It depends on what you want. To be by tennis courts, golf courses and the like, stay in Sun Valley. To be by shops and restaurants, stay in Ketchum. That said, they are only about 5 minutes apart, so it doesn’t matter too much.
Things to Do in Sun Valley
Spend a Day at the Resort
The Sun Valley Resort has plenty to offer from tennis to golf and a relaxing day at the spa. It also includes an aquatic center, a gun club, restaurants, and neat old pictures of the celebrities that visited Sun Valley back in the 1930’s.
Pay Your Respects to Hemingway
As I previously mentioned, Hemingway was a frequent guest at the Sun Valley Resort. He liked the area so much, that he ultimately purchased a home here. I feel like everywhere I go there is a Hemingway reference: Cuba, Slovenia, and Florida.
Anyway, he ultimately committed suicide in Idaho and is buried in the Ketchum Cemetery. In my previous visit to Ketchum, I stopped by the cemetery. This time I went to see the memorial which overlooks the golf course on Sun Valley Road.
It is very close to Trail Creek Cabin, a place where Hemingway and his friends used to hang out. During the season, it is a popular dining location.
Cycle the Bike Paths
There are several bike paths in the area. Rent a bike in town and take the path from Ketchum out past Sun Valley and the Trail Creek Cabin. It is very picturesque. Annie and I walked this path, but road our bike up Corral Creek Road where we camped. This dirt road is popular among mountain bikers.
Visit a Museum
The Ore Wagon Museum provides the history of mining and smelting on boards outside a barn where the wagons are stored. The wagons were very important to the industry, and Ketchum holds a wagon days in September each year when they are out on display.
The Regional History Museum includes a permanent exhibit about the Sun Valley Area which discusses the mining and smeltering industry, the sheep herding industry, the railroad, and the Sun Valley Resort. It gave me a good grasp of the community.
Another building featured an Ernest Hemingway exhibit, a Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve exhibit, as well as an ice-skating exhibit. The museum is located in a small park in town. It is worth dropping in before or after a nice lunch.
Eat at The Kneadery
Speaking of lunch, The Kneadery serves breakfast and lunch. According to Trip Advisor, it is the #1 place to eat in Sun Valley. The service is friendly and fast and the servings are enormous! I got the Cuban with fries. It came with two pickles because I think it is meant to be split!!
Take a Hike
Work off those calories from lunch on one of Sun Valley’s trails. There are a plethora of trails in the Sawtooth National Forest. Oregon Gulch Trail, Taylor Canyon Loop, and Murdock Creek are all great early season hikes with nice views. Taylor Canyon Loop is loaded with wildflowers in May.
Explore a Ghost Town
While in the mountains, look for a ghost town. With the mining boom, came the bust. There are old mines all over the place. I visited a mine in Bullion, which is west of Hailey. It was about a five mile drive up a dirt road to see the open mine shaft and a few collapsed buildings. It was a bit rugged as is the Boulder Basin mine area.
There are better opportunities farther north toward Stanley like Custer and Bonanza. Just type ghost towns near Ketchum in google maps and plenty will pop up.
Soak in the Hot Springs
Frenchman’s Bend Hot Springs is located in the Warm Springs Creek 11 miles Southwest of Ketchum. Most of the drive is on a well graded dirt road. You will see signs that say you cannot park on the side of the road in this 1/4 mile. They are located next to the road in this area across from a large sign that you can’t easily see while driving. The springs heat up to 124 degrees. The temperature may be controlled by rearranging rocks.
The natural springs are free to enter. When I visited in mid-May, the high river made the springs cold. As a result, I didn’t do any soaking. Neither did the other two guys that came to check them out!
The Easley Hot Springs are a family friendly pool located 15 miles north of Ketchum off Highway 75 near the Easley Campground. These hot springs are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Adults pay $8 to enter and children over 2 cost $7. Passes, showers, and snacks are also available for additional fees.
While Sun Valley is a premier winter ski destination, there are plenty of things to do in Sun Valley in the summer too! ETB
Plan Your Visit
Use this interactive map to decide what you want to do and then plan your trip.