A good friend of mine moved to Sun Valley a couple of years ago with his girlfriend (now wife), which I can confidently say is one of the best places in the U.S. to have a free place to stay. Our friend group has organized trips to Sun Valley to experience one of the best ski resorts in the world during the winter months, and we were fortunate enough to make it out there in the summer for his wedding.
There is no doubt Sun Valley, Idaho, has it all, and each time we visit, we realize how fortunate the newlyweds are to have work-from-home jobs that allow them to live in such a special place. All jealousy aside, I am thrilled to be headed back out to SV in a couple of weeks, and here are the experiences I am most looking forward to.
10 Unique Activities To Try While in Sun Valley
Sun Valley continues to climb the ranks of top destinations for people looking for a mountain vacation. It is even starting to attract full-time dwellers such as digital nomads and lifestyle business owners.
The flight into the Sun Valley airport is a little more expensive than coming through Boise, but the views you’ll take in as you descend through the Sawtooth Mountains are worth the extra fare.
Here are 10 things to experience once you get there. To keep it simple, we will give you the winter activities first, then provide some warm weather fun on the back end.
Hit the Slopes
This has to be #1 on the list. The Sun Valley Resort is massive, and the snow is plentiful. With over 166” of average annual snowfall and an expansive list of slopes, it’s hard to have a bad day of skiing in Sun Valley.
The ideal start to a day of exploring the expansive terrain Sun Valley has to offer is to park at the base of the Challenger chairlift and walk over to the Warm Springs Day Lodge to get a lift ticket and any ski and snowboard rentals if needed.
From there, we recommend the Greyhawk lift for beginners; otherwise, the Challenger lift will give you access to about 90% of the mountain, including the open bowls for a wide open run as well as backcountry skiing if you follow the Challenger lift back down the mountain.
The Lookout Restaurant is also at the top of this lift and is a great place for a cafeteria-style lunch and some hot cocoa. The restaurant itself is huge and does a great job managing lines, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting a quick bite. The views from Lookout Restaurant are also spectacular.
A big bonus is the parking situation. Unlike most popular resorts, Sun Valley has a large gravel parking lot at the base of the mountain that is free to use and only about 50 yards from the ticket counter and lift. Check out the full resort map using this link.
Check Out the Hot Springs
This quickly became my ultimate apres ski activity. We got off the slopes after a full day of skiing and headed west out of town on Route 227. About ten minutes later, we arrived at the hot springs to naturally heal our heavy legs.
For those less familiar with hot springs, they are geysers of steaming hot water that release into Warm Springs Creek. Yes, you are sitting in a river that, in most places, sits at a glacial temperature but warmer in certain spots than your traditional hot tub.
For the most part, people have built up rock formations to create a tub for the hot springs visitors to enjoy. Unfortunately for us, the last spring that was unoccupied on that day was across the creek. I can promise you that is the coldest cold my feet have ever felt, but it was so worth it!
Sun Valley Suns Hockey
I might be biased here, considering I played hockey growing up, but hear me out. The Sun Valley Suns play in what’s called the Black Diamond Hockey League. The league itself may not be as official as it sounds, but the Suns have long-standing rivalries with teams from Aspen, Vail, and Jackson Hole.
If the Suns are in action while you are in town, do not miss this game. I was expecting a glorified men’s league, but instead was blown away by the talent level and even more surprised by the attendance. The arena was absolutely rocking! It was a packed house of people from all walks of life.
The Stanley Winterfest is like nothing I’ve ever seen before - it is supremely unique. Stanley, ID, is about an hour’s drive from Sun Valley, but of course, the views and scenery make it feel like a 15-minute ride. I’ll start by sharing the tagline for this event: Let’s Get Weird.
Well, the first thing we did when we arrived was throw a cold turkey down a frozen street towards a set of bowling pins with a mic’d up emcee cheering us on in front of a great crowd - Turkey Bowling!
Next, we watched the “Drag Race,” which consisted of 15 crossdressers running down that same street while wearing snowshoes. Finally, the event was capped off with the Outhouse Race, which featured a sprint of surprisingly well-crafted toilets. We got weird.
Grumpy’s is the favorite local watering hole for a post-activity beverage. This place is full of character and happy times. They are proud to offer “Burgers & Beer, Not Steak & Lobster,” and a bartender was overheard saying, “We serve everyone from Tom Hanks to the Town Drunk.”
Grumpy’s is the mid-afternoon place to go if you’re looking to quench your thirst. Their signature offering is the Schooner, which comes in a uniquely shaped 32-ounce mug.
Shifting into more warm-weather activities, Redfish Lake is the largest lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, located at the headwaters of the Salmon River. The water is crystal clear and has an almost tropical look to it.
Redfish lake is a great place to go hang out on the beach for the day or take on other activities such as fishing, boating, kayaking, and swimming. If you feel so inclined, there are also endless camping opportunities in the vicinity of this pristine body of water.
Sun Valley is the only place I’ve been where you can ski down a world-class mountain and do some equally world-class fishing. The Big Wood River runs almost directly under the ski lift, which is filled with a variety of trout species.
Of course, the Salmon River isn’t far either, which received its name for good reason. Every June, the Salmon run up the river to spawn, and the river was named so due to the people saying that you could walk across the river on the salmon’s backs. That’s how many there were. Less these days, but you get the point.
Hiking & Biking
There is a trail within minutes of wherever you might be in Sun Valley. Check out some of the great hiking trails for some of the most beautiful views you’ll find in the world. As for those of you with mountain biking experience, utilize the lift access to Bald Mountain for 3,400 vertical feet of gorgeous trails. Note: Cross-country skiing is off the charts as well!
It feels criminal that rafting is so far down the list. Six of us decided to jump in a raft down the Salmon River, a trip I will never forget. The scenery is stunning and only slightly more impressive than the wealth of knowledge our guide shared with us throughout the 3-4 hour trip.
As far as difficulty, more than half of us had no rafting experience and had no trouble manning the boat. I’m sure there are some more treacherous trips if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush.
It pains me to admit I haven’t had a chance to hit the links in Sun Valley. There are three courses to choose from - Trail Creek, White Clouds & Elkhorn. I’m not sure we saw the Elkorn course, but Trail Creek and White Clouds appeared to be spectacular.
Golf Digest ranks Trail Creek, Sun Valley’s signature course, as one of the top 75 resort courses in North America. The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones, whose RTJ courses are world-renowned among golf enthusiasts.
Where To Stay
Sun Valley has plenty of lodging options to choose from, depending on what type of accommodations you are looking for. The Sun Valley Lodge and Sun Valley Inn offer a more traditional hotel stay, and the Sun Valley Resort website offers plenty of additional options, including cottages, deluxe condos, townhomes, and village condos.
For those of you looking for home rentals or a longer-term stay, a complete list of rental companies can be found using this link.
How To Get to Sun Valley
We mentioned this briefly, but the Friedman Valley Airport (SUN) is the most convenient option to fly into, and the views coming into this one-way-in, one-way-out airport are stunning, assuming you aren’t coming through a snowstorm. The airport is located in Hailey, Idaho, which is only about a 10 to 15 minute drive from Sun Valley.
The Boise Airport (BOI) is another option that is typically more economical and is about a 3-hour drive to Sun Valley. The drive can be a bit treacherous in certain areas, so if you’re traveling from far away or aren’t the most comfortable driving at night, we recommend planning to make the trip during daylight hours.
Whatever you’re looking for in a vacation or casual travel destination, Sun Valley has something for you. It’s a quaint town without the nonsense of a more commercial resort and is worth the trip no matter what time of year you’re able to visit.
In the event your travel dates are flexible, I highly recommend you schedule your trip with the Stanley Winterfest dates, and a Sun Valley Suns home game is a big bonus if the stars align. We hope you found this article helpful and inspiring, and don’t hesitate to reach out for more info on SV. Safe travels!
This article originally appeared on Savoteur.