August 2016 – Idaho is a gorgeous state that’s great for RV travel, and the National Forests offer up some stunning scenery. The folks that live in the beautiful communities of Sun Valley and Ketchum are very fortunate to have a playground of alpine glory right out their back door in the Sawtooth Mountains. We have been routing our summer travels to go through Sun Valley as often as possible since we started our full-time travels in our RV nine years ago.
In the summertime, the communities of Ketchum and Sun Valley spill out onto the sidewalks. Sun Valley, Idaho, is most famous for its ski resort, which gave the area its name, and it is loved for the fabled winter recreation that goes on in the surrounding mountains. But Sun Valley also thrives under the warm summer sun, and every eatery in town has tables with umbrellas out front.
Sun Valley is a relaxed community where life is lived at an easy pace. Yet what sets it apart from most small towns across the country is that it is a hideaway for the ultra rich and ultra famous. From Arnold Schwartzenegger to Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, lots of A-list celebrities have homes here, and they visit their alpine estates for a little down time.
For the rest of us, there’s no end of recreation opportunities around Sun Valley, even for those on a budget. Back when we first discovered Sun Valley for ourselves seven years ago, the Visitors Center published a booklet called 50 Fun Free Things To Do in Sun Valley. They were actually able to list 50 different things! We tried to tick them all off, and we made a good dent in the list, but there are still many things we haven’t yet done in the area!
From a trip to the historic Ore Wagon Museum to drinks at the stunning Sun Valley Resort to visiting Hemingway’s memorial to summer outdoor ice skating shows to enjoying the weekly Art Walk (with free wine offered at every gallery…watch your step!), it is impossible to get bored in this town. And when it’s time to slip away for some peace and quiet in the stunning Rocky Mountains out back, there are many wonderful ways to do that too…
Because of the many celebrities who love this town, there is a lot of money floating around and lots of rich living going on. But somehow there is an inclusive grace to it that lets everyone share in the spoils.
Sure, it’s common to see a Porsche on the streets, or even a Bugatti Veyron when the Sun Valley Road Rally takes place in July, and it’s not like we ordinary folks can tap on the window and say, “Hey, can I have a ride?”
But there are a few second hand stores in town that benefit the fabulous town library, and the cast-offs from the resident billionaires can make for some very interesting shopping!!
Perhaps the most wonderful thing that the very wealthy have given to Sun Valley and its summer tourists is the Sun Valley Symphony concert series that takes place each August.
Besides building an award winning performance Pavilion that is constructed of special travertine stone that was quarried from the same area in Italy as the stone used to build the Roman Colosseum, each summer for the last 32 years the wealthy of Sun Valley have funded a top notch symphony orchestra made up of musicians that are on summer break from the major orchestras across the country.
Best of all, the Sun Valley Symphony puts on a free concert almost every night for a few weeks each August.
Talk about a gift to the community!!
The cool thing about these concerts is that you can grab any open seat in the Pavilion if you want to watch the performance in a traditional setting. Or you can bring a picnic and sit out on the enormous, lush, grassy lawn where rows of loudspeakers broadcast the music and a massive video screen shows close-ups of the musicians playing.
We’ve enjoyed plenty of performances in the theater seats of the Pavilion over the years, but in reality, sitting out on the lawn is where the real action is!! For an hour or more before each concert begins, people show up with picnic blankets and get set up with their beverages of choice while the kids all run around on the grass.
Although some of the picnic dinners are humble affairs in Tupperware, an awful lot of people go all out and bring a deluxe spread that makes the neighbors at the next blanket quite envious.
The Sun Valley Symphony concerts are a very social affair, and friends enjoy each other’s company while the music plays in the background.
While the dress code for these concerts is decidedly casual, some people prefer to dress up for the occasion, and there are lots of party dresses to be seen.
Others just enjoy catching up with friends.
Still others take a load off on their nifty Thousand Trails picnic blanket and read the Symphony’s program notes that are published in a beautiful — and free — glossy book!!
Throughout it all, the the orchestra’s melodies float across the lawn on the late afternoon breezes.
These nearly nightly concerts in August are enough to get our hearts singing, and when we were debating which way to head after we traveled down Idaho’s panhandle and basked on the beach in McCall, there was no doubt in our minds where to go: Sun Valley.
Unfortunately, despite wanting to stay in Sun Valley for a few weeks or more, with dreams of going mountain biking and hiking every afternoon, and sipping coffee on balmy summer mornings at the jaw-dropping Starbucks / visitors center in town, Nature had other plans.
Throughout our stay in northwestern Montana and Idaho this year, a wildfire called the Pioneer Fire had been burning near the town of Idaho City about 60 miles from Sun Valley as the eagle flies. It had started on July 18th and had been growing rapidly throughout July and August and proving difficult to tame.
While there was no risk of flames coming anywhere near us, the smoke blew in and out of Sun Valley and the Sawtooth Mountains on a regular basis, burning our eyes and making outdoor activities less than healthy.
For those who don’t live or travel out west, the concept of wildfires can seem distant and unreal. But they are an integral part of every summer in the dry western states.
When we traveled to the eastern states last summer, we were amazed that we heard nothing in the news of any fires out west. Hadn’t there been any? Well, when we caught up with friends once we got back out west, we discovered it had been just as tough a fire season as any.
This year, as we dealt with smoke drifting into the valley so thickly that visibility was almost completely obscured at times, we followed the fire season’s progress on Inciweb. This government website tracks the hundreds of wildfires that are burning at any moment all summer long in the western states. Here’s a map of major fires that was on Inciweb in mid-August:
Of course, particulates in the sky are the very fabric of stunning sunrises and sunsets, and we enjoyed a few during our stay.
But when the smoke rolled in and we could taste it on our tongues, we decided it was time to leave. Sigh.
Wildfires are reported in the news in terms of acres, and dividing by 640 yields the fire size in square miles (i.e., a fire that is 100,000 acres is 156 square miles).
The Pioneer Fire which made us flee Sun Valley this year was 42 square miles when we left in mid-August. As I write this blog post four weeks later in mid-September, that same fire is now 290 square miles and is 56% contained, although there are hopes it will be fully contained by September 15th. It is not known yet what caused the fire, and it will keep burning and smoldering right up until it is buried by snow this winter.
We did get our Sun Valley fix this year, but we didn’t have a chance to explore any new grounds. However, we will definitely be back, as it is a town that totally enchants us every time we visit.
I mean, who can’t love a town so classy that the man hole covers in the streets are stamped with artwork featuring a musical G-clef?!!
We have enjoyed Sun Valley in the past so much that we have written articles about it for Trailer Life Magazine, Highways Magazine and the now defunct RV Journal! We hope you love it too, and to help with making plans for an RV trip there, we’ve got a few links below.
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More info about Sun Valley, Idaho:
- Sun Valley Tourist Info
- RV Camping in Sun Valley – The Meadows
- Sun Valley Summer Symphony Series
- Sun Valley Pavilion and Lawn
- Stone Work of the Pavilion
- “InciWeb” Government Wildfire Tracking Info and Pioneer Fire Info
- Location of Sun Valley Idaho
Our blog posts from our RV travels to Sun Valley:
- Sun Valley Idaho – in Trailer Life Magazine! 08/07/15
- Craters of the Moon + Cataclysms from Sun Valley ID to Alpine WY 09/02/14
- The Artsy Side of Sun Valley, ID 08/26/14
- Ice Queens of Sun Valley, ID 08/21/14
- Sun Valley Road Rally – Go Granny Go! 08/16/14
- Sun Valley Idaho – Music, History & Celebrities 08/15/09
- Sun Valley Idaho – RV Camping, Car Racing & Skating Legends 08/06/09
- Sun Valley & Ketchum ID – Beauty & Fun in the Mountains! 07/25/09
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