The Memorial Day weekend is upon us and with it, the promise of endless sunny days filled with, well, whatever makes you happy. Sun Valley summers are rife with possibility, whether your tastes tend to climbing mountains, biking single track, swinging at tennis or golf balls, sunbathing, stargazing … the possibilities truly are endless.
For my family, summer is all about being outside. When, in late June, the sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 10 p.m., there is time to indulge in everything that makes the season so memorable.
After much consideration and heated debate around the dining room table, here is a list of the top five activities that define our Sun Valley summers. It would have been easy to name 50, but the winners are:
My favorite way to enjoy the wilderness and scenic beauty of the Wood River Valley, the Sawtooth Mountains and beyond (and beyond and beyond) is on foot. Whether I have a two-hour window in my schedule or the luxury of a full day to get out into the woods, the possibilities for eye- (and lung!) popping hikes are as limitless as the amazingly well maintained, beautiful trail system that originates in our backyard. In-town hikes like Adams Gulch, Proctor Mountain and Chocolate Gulch offer diverse topography and challenge. A short drive from town gets you into the White Clouds, the Smoky Mountains, the Pioneers and the Boulders. Tucked among these mountain peaks are some of the most spectacular high altitude lakes you will ever see, and even during “high season,” many of these trails are surprisingly lightly traveled. My all-time favorite in the Smoky Mountains is the Norton Lake/Big Lost loop — spectacular and easily manageable in a half-day. Given a full day, the Sawtooths are my destination of choice, with trailheads in the Stanley area about an hour’s drive north of Ketchum. One of the destinations in that region isn’t called Shangri-La for nothing! Oh! And hiking up Baldy to Roundhouse for lunch and a gondola ride down is pretty terrific, too! And cresting the final ridge up to Pioneer Cabin is probably one of the most beautiful payoffs, beauty-wise, in the world. This list goes on and on!
As the band the Talking Heads sang in the 80s, “Take me to the river, drop me in the water,” and for our family, this is gospel, as long as we get to bring our fly rods. Sun Valley is surrounded on every side by some of the most pristine, productive trout water in North America. Steps from town, the Big Wood River fishes fantastically throughout the summer, tempting novices to get hooked and offering more sophisticated fishing to experienced anglers. For children, Penny Lake is fishing heaven and a great introduction to the lifetime sport. Over Trail Creek pass, Copper Basin and the Big Lost River beckon with some of the most spectacular scenery in the state and south of Bellevue, Silver Creek draws fly fishing aficionados from around the world with its notoriously selective natives that challenge and delight.
With two figure skaters in the family, much of our summer is spent at the Sun Valley ice rinks. But skating isn’t only for those working on their Double Salchow! Taking a few turns around the iconic outdoor rink that hugs the Lodge’s terrace is a fabulous way to spend an afternoon. In fact, it is the coolest place to be on hot summer days. Skate rentals, attire to make you look like a gold medalist and admission to general sessions are all available at the historic skate house, as is the opportunity to sign up for a few lessons with one of the rink’s highly accomplished pros. Then on Saturday nights, beginning in July, the stars of the skating world shine under Idaho’s canopy of stars in Sun Valley’s world famous ice shows. We love to enjoy the bountiful dinner buffet before the show or wrap up in a blanket on the bleachers to see, up close and personal, the finest athletes in the world. This year’s lineup includes luminaries like Evan Lysacek, Ryan Bradley and Ashley Wagner. This may be your last chance to glimpse future Olympic champions as they finalize preparations for Games in Sochi.
Dining al fresco
Dining outside is one of the great pleasures of life, especially when you live in a climate where it is only possible for a short window of time. Whenever eating out is on the calendar, we chose to go al fresco. At the Resort, dinner on the Ram terrace is our absolute favorite, both for the food and the terrific view of activity in the Village. The swan pond, surrounded by soft green grass, couldn’t be more picturesque if an artist painted it. Other terrific outdoor dining at the Resort includes the terrace at Gretchen’s restaurant overlooking the ice rink, light fare and drinks on the Duchin Room terrace and of course, my other favorite, outdoor dining at the historic Trail Creek Cabin. A short drive from Sun Valley takes you a world away to enjoy outstanding food as Trail Creek burbles nearby and the surrounding mountains look, at sunset, as if they are draped in velvet. Other al fresco dining opportunities also abound in Ketchum and Hailey when decks and patios are the place to see and be seen all summer long, whether you’re enjoying a burger or a gourmet four-course dinner.
Leisurely bike rides
Nearly every night of the warm weather months, my children and I hop on our bikes, hop onto the Rails-to-Trails bike path that runs right by our home and pedal the evening away. This paved path is appropriate for everyone as it gently leads past Hailey to the south and well past Ketchum to the north. The route often runs next to the Big Wood River and offers more than 32-miles of pedaling possibility. My advice? Don’t rush. This is a great opportunity to simply enjoy the surroundings and the company.
Summer possibilities are so varied, whether you are visiting for two weeks or have lived here for 20 years, there will always be new hikes to try, new mountain bike trails to explore, another stretch of river to fish or to whitewater raft, campsites you haven’t visited, a new stretch of beach at a mountain lake at which to picnic, a swimming hole to jump into, another opportunity to work on your handicap. Phew!
No matter what you like to do, though, the critical thing is to just get outside, be with friends and family and remember what summer is supposed to be about. Unplug, enjoy, unwind, explore. It’s summer in Sun Valley.