A three-day road trip to central Idaho featuring Sun Valley and Stanley is the perfect autumn getaway. Channel your inner weekend warrior, pack your bags, and get ready for a jam-packed weekend.
Drive: From Boise, take Interstate 84 east. Take the exit for U.S. Highway 20 north toward Mountain Home/Fairfield. Turn left onto U.S. Highway 20 east, then turn left onto State Highway 75 north to continue on to Sun Valley.
Fly: Boise Airport (BOI) in Boise or Friedman Memorial Airport (SUN) in Hailey.
Stay: Ketchum, Hailey or Stanley.
Bike: Wood River Valley Biking Trails
Fall mountain biking promises clean mountain air and beautiful fall foliage. The Wood River Trail offers easy access to more than 30 miles of paved, non-motorized bike path commonly referred to by the locals as simply the “bike path”. Visitors will also find hundreds of miles of singletrack mountain bike trails to test their skills. With endless miles of trails, the Wood River Valley has no shortage of road and mountain biking options, and several trails stay open until the first snowfall. If you need gear or a little guidance, local shops, like Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports, are ready to help, offering equipment, guided tours, and rentals.
Hike: Draper Wood River Preserve
The Draper Wood River Preserve lies in the heart of the Hailey Greenway, a walking path along the Big Wood River running through the town of Hailey. The Draper Wood River Preserve is a protected 84-acres that includes approximately a half-mile of river and vital wetland habitat, making it a haven for wildlife. Bring a lunch to picnic under the pavilion before taking a stroll through the preserve. You may see a variety of wildlife, including moose which are often seen in this area. Croy Creek Wetlands Boardwalk, the Bow Bridge and the Heart Tree are a few other notable highlights in the Draper Wood River Preserve.
If you’re looking for a hike with more gain, here are some other recommended fall hikes.
Golf: Sun Valley Golf Courses
Sun Valley has three incredible golf courses, each with its own unique charm. Trail Creek, a par-72, is Sun Valley’s signature golf course and is best known for its ominous bunkers. White Clouds, a 9-hole, par-36 course, complements the Trail Creek course and presents contrasting play with more sand trap shots and blind shots. Lastly, Elkhorn, also a par-72, with a back 9 that has a water hazard on all but one of the holes and over 100 sand traps and bunkers.
Ice Skate: Sun Valley Outdoor Rink
Sun Valley Resort has one of the few year-round outdoor ice rinks in the country. This rink is the perfect place to stretch your legs with a few laps around the ice or just sit back and enjoy the resort views.
Game Night: Sun Valley Lodge Bowling Alley
A night spent at Sun Valley Lodge’s Bowling Alley and Game Room is a night well spent. As one of the Northwest’s oldest bowling alleys, it’s full of 1950s soul. Open year-round and recently renovated, it has six regulation-length lanes, video games, a bar, and food. Reservations are recommended at least 48-hours in advance.
Eat: Warfield Distillery & Brewery
After exploring all day and working up an appetite, head to Warfield Distillery and Brewery for local spirits, beer, and grub. Part historic landmark, part brewery, and part distillery, Warfield serves locally sourced, elevated pub fare, organic craft beers, and creative cocktails. Warfield is popular with the locals offering a diverse Happy Hour and dinner menu.
Admire: Stargazing in Central Idaho’s Dark Sky Reserve
More than 1,400-square miles of central Idaho, including the communities of Sun Valley, Hailey, Ketchum, Stanley, and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, make up this unique stargazing area. As only one of 13 in the world, and the only one found in the U.S., an evening spent looking at these dazzling night skies and counting shooting stars will be well worth it.
Day Trip To Stanley
Drive: From Ketchum/Hailey, take ID-75 north for 60 miles to Stanley.
Eat: Stanley Baking Company & Cafe
No trip to Stanley is complete without a stop at Stanley Baking Company & Cafe. Housed in a little log cabin, Stanley Baking Company is open from mid-May through the third week of October. There is often a line that stretches out the door, but don’t be deterred it’s well worth the wait. Breakfast, lunch and baked goods are served fresh daily, with gluten-free options available. If you have time, sit and enjoy a delicious scone and a steaming cup of coffee at one of the tables with a view of the peaks. Ready to hit the trail? Grab lunch to-go and enjoy a picnic at Redfish Lake.
Hike: Marshall Ridge
Head to Marshall Ridge and experience new vistas every step of the way. Begin the excursion at Fishhook Creek Trailhead near Redfish Lake Lodge. This dog and family-friendly trail has incredible views of the Sawtooth Mountains, in particular, Heyburn, Iowa, Horstmann, and Thompson peaks. Marshall Ridge is located in the Sawtooth National Forest and is surrounded by an abundance of aspen trees, which radiate bright yellow during the fall. Marshall Ridge is approximately two miles one way (to gain Marshall Ridge), with a mere 700-feet of elevation gain. If a bigger adventure is on your radar, continue along the ridgeline to Marshall Lake or Thompson Peak.
Explore: Redfish Lake
Redfish Lake is a must-visit location during your day trip to Stanley. For mountain bikers, Stanley Basin offers access to one of the finest biking areas in the nation with trails for all experience levels. The trails higher in the basin are more challenging while the trails closer to Redfish Lake, like Fishhook Creek Trail, are great fun for all ages. Whether fishing, hiking, biking, or relaxing Redfish Lake is a dream location with amazing views. Note: Redfish Lake Lodge is open through Labor Day, so after that time, you’ll want to bring your own rentals or gear for exploration. You can also check-in at the Stanley Chamber of Commerce for information on nearby adventure options.
Drive: Return to Sun Valley from Stanley. Take ID-75 south for 60 miles to Ketchum.
Bonus Adventure: Enjoy the mountain views
Galena Summit marks the divide between the Big Wood River and Salmon River drainage areas. Stop at the scenic viewpoint at 8,400-feet for commanding views of the Sawtooth range to the northwest and the headwaters of the Salmon River in the Stanley Basin.
Grumpy’s has been proudly serving burgers and 32-ounce schooners since 1978. This locally-owned establishment started as a place locals could come to enjoy a beer and burger uninterrupted because they didn’t have a phone. Grumpy’s still doesn’t have a phone today, so if you’re looking for take-out, come in and order to-go. It’s an iconic Ketchum stop that touts arguably the best burgers in the Sun Valley area. The word is out, so come experience this local and visitor favorite.
Eat: Bigwood Bread Bakery & Cafe
Bigwood Bread Bakery and Cafe has been serving the Sun Valley area since 1997. At Bigwood Bread Bakery & Cafe, it’s all about the bread, which is handmade daily with nutritious, sustainably-sourced ingredients. Bigwood Bread Bakery & Cafe serves delicious, homemade breakfast and lunch, with gluten-free options available. Breakfast is served until 11:00 am at both the Downtown Cafe and Bakery Cafe located in Ketchum.
Enjoy History: The Hemingway Memorial
Ernest Hemingway first came to Sun Valley in 1939 and visited many times over 20 years until he eventually bought a home in Ketchum. There are several sites that commemorate Ernest Hemingway’s life in Sun Valley and Ketchum. Begin at the Sun Valley Museum of History with the “At Home in Idaho” exhibit, which covers Hemingway’s time spent in the area. From there, head north about a mile to the Ketchum Cemetery to visit Hemingway’s tree-lined grave. If you have the time begin at Sun Valley Lodge, and take the short path about a mile and a half to the Hemingway Memorial. Here, overlooking the gently flowing Trail Creek stands a granite column topped with a bronze bust of Hemingway’s head, and plaque inscribed with “Best of all he loved the fall, the leaves yellow on the cottonwoods, leaves floating on the trout streams, and above the hills, the high blue windless skies, now he will be a part of them forever.”
Wander: Wood River Trails
The Wood River Trail System is a year-round, multi-use, paved pathway that provides access to explore the Wood River Valley by walking, running, biking, and even nordic skiing in the winter months when the snow falls. The trails connect Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey, and Bellevue with over 30 miles of paved pathways. Pick up a free map and trail guide at the local chamber of commerce, Hailey’s recreation district office, or at local sports stores. Before you head out, check for any trail updates or closures on BCRD.com.
As the day draws to a close, spend a final few moments enjoying the mountain air and then start planning your return to this Idaho destination. It’s not goodbye, it’s see you next time.
Bonus Experience: Trailing of the Sheep Festival
The Trailing of the Sheep Festival is a celebration of lamb, wool, and the traditional sheepherding culture. Sun Valley and the surrounding cities of Ketchum and Hailey were once an epicenter of sheep ranching, so for five days every October, Idaho celebrates this pastime. At the Trailing of the Sheep Festival, experience lamb-inspired culinary offerings, the Championship Sheepdog Trials, Folkfair, and the Big Sheep Parade. The highlight of the weekend is the Big Sheep Parade, during which over 1,500 sheep are herded down Main Street in Ketchum as part of their annual migration to winter pastures. The parade is something festival-goers won’t soon forget.
Feature Image Credited to Idaho Tourism.