As an escape from the searing summer heat in Washington, we took our RV towards the Rocky Mountains in Idaho. We stopped in McCall, a lakeside town we loved when we visited years ago. However, the heat was crazy there too, so we hustled down the road to one of our all time favorite destinations, Sun Valley, Idaho.
Sun Valley is a resort town that literally grew up around Sun Valley Resort. This resort is a skier’s paradise that was built to lure tourists to take the train to the end of a railway line back in the 1930s, a common marketing gimmick among American and Canadian railroad barons of that era. The next door town of Ketchum has a history all its own with roots in silver mining and sheep herding.
For us, Sun Valley / Ketchum has always offered a fabulous mixture of outdoor pursuits in absolutely stunning mountain scenery plus artsy events, some of which are world class, topped off with small town intimacy. We keep coming back and we keep finding new things to savor each time.
On our first foray into town, we were shocked by the extraordinary traffic. Every street was jam packed and there was gridlock at some intersections.
Later on, we discovered that a jazz band from New Orleans was in town and they had kicked off an afternoon and evening of music by playing in the town square. Then they walked through the downtown streets while they played until they came to another city park where they set up for the evening show. No wonder traffic was insane!
There was also a lot of construction. Several downtown roads were being resurfaced and a bunch of very fancy looking condo complexes were going up.
Sun Valley Resort itself was as peaceful as always, however, and we walked around taking in the beautiful architecture and landscaping of this iconic place.
There are paved bike paths everywhere, not just in the resort but all over Sun Valley, Ketchum and even down to the town of Hailey ten miles away. We’ve ridden and loved these bike paths in the past. On this RV trip we noticed that the paths were a lot busier with bikes than in the past because of ease of riding up and down the hills on an e-bike. We saw e-bike rental outfits in several places!
But it was the luscious gardens at every turn and the abundant colorful flowers throughout the resort property that really took our breath away.
Ketchum and Sun Valley are a special hideaway for the rich and famous, and plenty of A-list celebrities have palatial homes in the area. A quick Zillow search revealed 24 homes for sale for over $5 million in August 2022. Sun Valley and Ketchum have about 5,000 residents. There were two listings for under $400k, but they were under 400 square feet too.
Fortunately, the town is open to visitors of all stripes and the grounds of the resort are too. Families love vacationing here, and we saw some little girls feeding a pair of swans.
The heat we’d been escaping had pursued us all the way to the Sawtooth Mountain Range that surrounds Sun Valley, so we spent the hottest part of one day watching the figure skaters over at the outdoor Sun Valley Ice Rink.
Every weekend during the summertime there is an evening figure skating show at the outdoor skating rink. You can get tickets for regular bleacher seats or enjoy a meal rinkside under a shade canopy. 2022 Olympic Champion Nathan Chen had performed in the show just a few weeks prior. Darn — we just missed it!
If you don’t want to spring for show tickets, we were told that if you wander by the outdoor rink around noon when the rinkside restaurant serves lunch, you can catch the pros and coaches practicing (everyday but Sunday). So wander by we did — and there they were.
As we hung out watching the skaters, we started chatting with a woman standing next to us. It turned out that she was a personal assistant for a very wealthy person in town and she was taking a break between errands to watch some skating. She’d been in this line of work since she’d immigrated from eastern Europe several decades ago. I was all ears as I listened to her describe some of her jobs over the years.
“I worked for Calvin Klein for 14 years,” she said at one point.
“You mean the family?”
“No, the man!”
Wow! That’s the kind of thing that pops up in casual conversation in Sun Valley. It’s a rare and rarified place. She loved her work and loved her various bosses over the years. But in how many places can you strike up a conversation with someone standing next to you and discover they’ve been a personal assistant to a big name celebrity?!
On another day, out on a hiking trail, we heard a snippet of conversation where one person was eagerly telling another, “They need a caretaker!” Caretaking of property and wealthy people’s day-to-day living and chores is a common occupation in these parts.
As our conversation with Mr. Klein’s former assistant drew to a close, I noticed we weren’t the only ones watching the skaters practice. A group of kids watched intently as a pair team glided by doing a beautiful overhead lift.
Not only does Sun Valley have classy outdoor figure skating shows in July and August, they also have a world class orchestra that performs in a gorgeous indoor/outdoor concert hall — for free — a few nights a week from late July to mid-August.
You can sit in the theater seats inside the Sun Valley Pavillion (which was built from the same marble used to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome) or you can sit on the lawn and have a picnic. Huge loudspeakers bring the music from the Pavillion out onto the lawn and a large screen shows video closeups of the musicians as they play!
As we wandered through the crowd on the lawn, we saw all kinds of enticing foods being shared among friends and family. This isn’t just a cold chicken and potato salad kind of affair. Fancy dips and crackers and bottles of wine were being passed around on one family blanket after another.
Some folks kept it simple, though, and brought their favorite pizza!
The theater seating is first-come-first-serve (except for one section that’s reserved for donors), and the Pavillion cash bar and seating opens an hour before the concert begins. On our first concert night, we were surprised that not only the parking but the lawn and theater seats were nearly filled to capacity half an hour before the concert began! Thank goodness for the little Polaris RZR that can tuck into a small parking space!
I have loved Beethoven’s symphonies for all of my life, but after listening to this special concert, his Pastoral Symphony (the 6th) will be forever elevated to the ethereal realm for me.
Sitting in a seat near the top and back of the Pavillion, I had a perfect view of the aspen trees peeking under the canopy rooftop across the way. As the melody soared, the aspen trees began to shimmer and dance, and Beethoven’s vivid depiction of the beautiful sounds he heard on his beloved walks in the woods came to life. The orchestra sounded like one instrument as they played this truly angelic music, and a reverent hush came over the entire crowd both inside the Pavilion and out on the lawn. It was pure magic.
Brahms is my favorite composer, though, and this summer the Sun Valley Symphony brought in one of the worlds finest pianists, Russian superstar Danil Trifanov. to play Brahms’ first concerto. Just gorgeous!
Sun Valley is a really musically oriented town, but classical music isn’t their only gig. Besides the jazz band from New Orleans that had brought traffic to a standstill, we also bumped into a fantastic free jazz festival in Forest Service Park. The place was going wild with people dancing to the tunes, kids jumping around, food vendors selling all kinds of goodies, and again, lots of people enjoying a picnic on a blanket in the grass!
It’s also a dog oriented place, and we were astonished at how many trails allowed dogs to be off leash. One of our favorites was the hilly and shady Corral Creek Trail, a perfect spot for a hike on a hot summer afternoon.
Buddy liked the shade and the soft crushed pine needle trail so much he just quit hiking and laid down for a little breather right in the in the middle of the trail. Another hiker caught him in the act on her cell phone.
Another shady trail we loved runs alongside Trail Creek. We did this hike a bunch of times and Buddy made a ton of new friends.
The creek has some nice big gravel beaches where dogs can play in the water or get a drink (this stream comes down from the mountains, so it’s safe). Lots of dogs we met were soaked through, and one dog owner was wet and muddy too!
Pretty wildflowers were blooming here and there.
In many ways, though, just as Sun Valley is an outdoor lover’s and music lover’s and art lover’s paradise, it is a dog’s paradise too.
People we met kept asking us if we’d been to the Dog Park. No, of course we hadn’t been to the Dog Park. Why do that when you have all these wonderful off-leash trails you can hike on together?
Well, we finally went to the Dog Park and we found out WHY all these people had been asking us if we’d been yet.
The whole Sun Valley area is swimming in money, and the residents love to give back to the community. Sun Valley Symphony is but one example of the wealthy folks funding something astronomically expensive and giving it to the residents and visitors for free.
The Ketchum Dog Park is another.
A former golf course, this 65 acre property has an intriguing history that we learned from a real estate appraiser who had lived in Sun Valley since 1969. While his dog played with Buddy, he told me the tale.
Purchased for $13 million way back when, the owner at one time had the parcel up for sale for $50 million. He sold off a few lots at one end for a few mil apiece, but he wanted to do something special for the town since he’d already made more than enough money for himself during his life.
He offered the land to the town for $9 million with the idea that it would be a nature preserve for people, families and their dogs. Unsurprising for a very wealthy town that is full of dog and nature lovers, the $9 million was raised in just two months!
The property was set aside as the Warm Springs Preserve and is now a place where dogs can run free and people can play frisbee golf, have picnics, host family outings and generally relax in the outdoors.
There are vast open fields, towering pine trees, several trails, a stream, and lots of really happy dogs.
One thing that we noticed in Ketchum / Sun Valley is that because there are so many places for dogs to be off leash, there are tons of dogs that are very accustomed to being off leash. They behave well with other dogs and, for the most part, they come back to their owners when called.
The friendliness between the dogs and dog owners on the trails and in this park were very heartwarming. We really enjoyed the people we met, and Buddy was in seventh heaven and made all kinds of friends too.
A stream runs through the Ketchum Dog Park, and one day a group we’d joined up with went down to a sandy beach so the dogs could play in the water. These guys knew the territory well. In no time the dogs were lining up to jump into the water from a log! They were just like kids!
Buddy watched all this with wonder in his eyes – as did we! He’s not a swimmer. He loves the water and eagerly wades in up to his armpits, but he doesn’t venture in beyond that!
The Shady Side Trail at Adam’s Gulch was another great spot for a cool stroll in hot weather, as was the Draper Wood River Preserve in nearby Hailey, Idaho. This is the town where Bruce Willis and Demi Moore raised their children and bought all the downtown buildings in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Rather than walking in the shade of tall pines like at Corral Creek Trail, we found ourselves under the delicate leaves of deciduous trees.
Again, there were lots of friendly dogs and people. At one point we heard voices and then noticed a group of people floating down the river!
One of the highlights of this trail is the unusual Bow Bridge that spans the Wood River. Definitely unique and photo-worthy!
This was our fourth RV trip to Ketchum / Sun Valley, and the area captivated us once again. We not only had a chance to enjoy some of our favorite Sun Valley activities from the past but we discovered a bunch of new ones too!
Never miss a post — it’s free!
More info about these highlights in Ketchum / Sun Valley:
- Sun Valley Music Festival
- Sun Valley Ice Skating Shows
- Ketchum Dog Park
- Sun Valley Pavilion’s Marble – Same Quarry As St. Peter’s in Rome
- RV Parks in the Area
- Location of Ketchum / Sun Valley Idaho
- Locations of these places within Ketchum / Sun Valley, Idaho
- Location of Draper Preserve in Hailey, Idaho
- Homes for sale in Ketchum / Sun Valley
Other blog posts from Idaho:
- A Backcountry RV Roadtrip in SE Idaho – Quiet Splendor!
- An Idaho Panhandle RV Trip on US-95: Sandpoint, Moscow & McCall
- An RV Cruise Along Idaho’s Salmon River on US-93
- Bovill, Idaho – An Early 20th Century Classic
- Craters of the Moon + Cataclysms from Sun Valley ID to Alpine WY
- Ice Queens of Sun Valley, ID
- Idaho Falls River Walk – A Glorious Garden Stroll by the Snake River!
- McCall, Idaho – Summer Beach Fun on Pretty Payette Lake
- Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, ID – Pretty Waterfalls
- Movin’ On Up to Sun Valley, ID
- Nature’s Capriciousness in Idaho – Streams, Mountains and Storms!
- Northern Idaho – Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes
- Sawtooth Scenic Byway and Stanley, Idaho – Picturesque!
- Sun Valley & Ketchum ID – Beauty & Fun in the Mountains!
- Sun Valley Idaho – An RV Traveler’s Delight in Ketchum, ID!
- Sun Valley Idaho – Music, History & Celebrities
- Sun Valley Idaho – RV Camping, Car Racing & Skating Legends
- Sun Valley Road Rally – Go Granny Go!
- The Artsy Side of Sun Valley, ID
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This post brought back some great memories, Emily. Alan and I spent several weeks exploring Idaho last fall, fell in love with the Sawtooths, and truly enjoyed the time we spent in the Ketchum/Sun Valley area. They’re such charming and vibrant communities. The beautifully designed memorial to Ernest Hemingway on Trail Creek was a favorite spot, but we missed the dog park entirely. It doesn’t take much to entertain us, and we probably would have passed a couple of hours enjoying the entertainment as the “kids” took turns diving in the creek. The fact that we don’t currently have a dog wouldn’t have stopped us. Ear rubs to Buddy who, it seems, is the star of the show wherever he goes!
We were so amazed that we found new special places in this area, Mary. There’s such a variety of places to go and things to do. Next time you go, definitely check out the dog park. It is utterly unique, and the dogs that are there are having so much fun. Who knows, you might come away wanting to get a pup! Buddy sends tail wags. He had a busy morning this morning, running full speed between me and Mark as we took pics at sunrise. So, he’s napping and recharging his batteries at the moment!
We’re still following you guys. We were there last year boondocking a little north of Town. (We moved up to Redfish and Stanley for Sherry’s BD.) That whole Valley area is quite spectacular. You three have fun and be safe.
Dave & Sherry
You’re so right, David, the Sawtooths are stunning all the way to Stanley. We thought of you guys when we went through Jacob Lake and wondered how you were doing. After leaving Sun Valley, we contemplated your recommendation from a few years ago at Spirit Lake in Ashley National Forest but ended up further east. Next time! Thank you for continuing to follow us. We’re thrilled to be back on the road for the summer and sharing our adventures!
What a spectacular post, Emily and Mark ! Your longtime love of the area shines through and the pics back it up. The variety is unreal..so much to do and see ! Of course, loved the skating references….mecca for champions. Will pass it on to French friends to marvel at the everlasting beauty in theses United States…
The skating venue and restaurant next to the ice are just wonderful. It reminds me of the Olympic venues from the 1960s and earlier where the figure skating was held outdoors. We’ve been to Sun Valley so many times now that we recognized the pro doing the spread eagle from a prior visit. One of the gals I competed against, Lisa-Marie Allen, has strong ties to Sun Valley but I’ve never run into her at the rink there. They don’t play the Sonja Henie movie any more, but the spirit of the place is as charming as ever. I had a long conversation with a local fellow who suddenly said, “Sun Valley isn’t really America.” And I said, “But it is…it’s a very special part of America that is utterly unique and can’t be found anywhere else!”
What an awesome place. Definitely worth returning to over and over again.
It truly is!!!
I love reading the posts, I’m adding to my lists of destinations but am missing the other stuff that I found fascinating reading in your early years…the details; how you find your boon-docking spots, the research, the problems and the solutions, all those problems that you solve effortlessly now that they don’t get any billing. These things that I can learn from before my adventures begin. Thanks for bringing us along!!
Thank you for following our journey, Clark. Our trip is so short this year and our rig is so new to us that I’m saving the problems and solutions for tackling over the winter when we’re not in the midst of traveling. With a mere 3.5 months on the road, I’m trying to minimize my computer time and maximize my sightseeing time! Fortunately, we’ve had very few problems so far. We’re also still pondering which upgrades would give us the most bang for the buck. I will be writing a detailed review of our rig and presenting the pros and cons of its various features. I’ve written a few article about boondocking here, here and here, and our approach is still the same. We’ve always found our boondocking spots by driving down interesting looking dirt roads and now we use the RZR for that. As for research, we seem to get the best info when we talk to other travelers. Happy trails!
That’s a favorite area for us too! You pointed out a couple spots we haven’t seen yet. Including the dog park.
Whether you have a dog or not, ya gotta go! It’s a very nice park just for walking around, but the dogs make it extra special!!
We love you guys,and thank God Buddy is ok now…your letters are so inspiring and make us so happy.
We have two rescued dogs and a cat that travel with us everywhere. Would love to meet you someday.
Brad and Tosh Lawrence
Thank you, Brad & Tosh. You’ve put huge smiles on our faces tonight! We’d love to meet you and your furry friends someday. Happy trails and thanks for coming along on our adventures.