Sara Sheehy worked in partnership with Visit Idaho to create this Travel Tip.
A hush falls over the dense crowd lining the sidewalks as 1,500 sheep tentatively round the corner onto the straight drag of Main Street in Ketchum. Sheep, not bold creatures by nature, are gently coaxed by sheepherders and border collies. The lead sheep double-back to avoid the scrutiny, creating a rotating mass of animals proceeding slowly down the wide, paved street.
Main Street’s tall brick buildings echo the collective sound of thousands of tiny hooves. The crowd chuckles and points when the sheep get turned around and start running in the wrong direction. Volunteers form a chain at the end of the sheep band, ensuring that all animals make it safely from one end of the street to the other.
The Trailing of the Sheep Festival, a celebration of sheep and the historic sheepherding culture in the Sun Valley area, has been delighting visitors for the past 22 years. Named one of the “Top Ten Fall Festivals in the World” by MSN, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival is as unique as Sun Valley itself.
While the highlight of the festival is the Big Sheep Parade in downtown Ketchum, where the 1,500 sheep make their way through town toward their winter foraging grounds, the festival is a five-day feast for the senses. Here is a beginner’s guide on how to make the most of your time at the Trailing of the Sheep Festival.
If you love lamb…
Dinners, cooking classes, and lamb tastings proliferate at Trailing of the Sheep. To kick off the festival in style, join local sheep ranchers at one of the four-course Farm to Table dinners at the Sustainability Center in Hailey. Tickets sell out, so be sure to purchase in advance.
To dive deeper into lamb cuisine, sign up for a cooking class with local and visiting chefs. Classes are focused on creating a complete meal, with lamb as the center dish. The classes are offered throughout the valley on the Thursday and Friday of the Festival.
For the Love of Lamb is a true community celebration, with restaurants in Ketchum offering samples of unique and delicious lamb dishes. Sampling tickets allow you to experience a variety of flavors and preparations. In addition, lamb-centered specials are available at restaurants throughout town, and food-truck style lamb dishes can be found at the Folklife Fair on Saturday.
If you love history and culture…
The Trailing of the Sheep is not only a celebration of sheep and lamb, but of the men and women who have raised sheep in the Sun Valley area for generations. Join in a sheep rancher question-and-answer session, a “sheeptales” gathering of folklore and stories, and a sheepherder’s hike.
One of the main events of the festival, the Folklife Fair, takes place in nearby Hailey. The Folklife Fair is alive with shearing demonstrations, music and dance performances by representatives of the Basque, Peruvian, Polish, and Scottish cultures, food trucks, and vendors. Budget a full day for exploring the Folklife Fair, and you won’t be disappointed.
The culmination of the Trailing of the Sheep Festival is the Sunday morning “Big Sheep Parade” where, following music, dancing, and rolling sheep camps, a band of sheep “trail” down Main Street in Ketchum.
If you love wool…
From dying to weaving to knitting, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival offers classes for those who love working with wool. Over a dozen classes will run throughout the festival, and can sell out. Be sure to register in advance to get your top picks.
During the Folklife Fair competitive wool judging takes place near the fairgrounds. Feel the differences in weight, texture, and density of different wool sheep breeds before and after the judging.
If you love dogs…
Each year the Trailing of the Sheep Festival hosts the Championship Sheepdog Trials at Quigley Canyon Ranch in Hailey. Experience the relationship of border collies and their handlers as they herd small bands of sheep through a course of fences, paddocks, and poles. Bring $3 cash per person, a chair, binoculars, and a camera.
At the Big Sheep Parade, be sure to keep an eye out for the working border collies as well as the guard dogs, usually a mix of Pyrenees or Akbash breeds. These gentle giants stay with the sheep as protection and are so close to their bands that they are sometimes hard to spot.
The Trailing of the Sheep Festival is a celebration of history, sheep, and the culture around sheepherding and lamb ranching. At the Festival you can experience the deep roots of sheepherding in the Sun Valley area, eat great meals, watch shepherds and champion dogs, listen to live music, and feel the vibration of thousands of hooves as a sheep band runs down Main Street. It’s an experience not to be missed.
Feature image credited to Sara Sheehy.