One Perfect Day in Sun Valley, ID

[Ketchum, ID, Sep 4, 2021]

After a full day in Boise, we were ready for some outdoor adventures in the Sawtooth Mountains, about 2.5 hours east of Boise. The most well-known area there is called Sun Valley, which can refer to the resort town itself or to the entire area, which includes the town of Ketchum.

When it comes to skiing, Sun Valley isn’t necessarily the first location that comes to mind, like Colorado’s Aspen and Vail or Utah’s Park City, but it’s actually quite popular for those in-the-know. It’s America’s original ski destination. Averell Harriman was chairman of the board of Union Pacific Railroad in 1936 when he created the resort and its centerpiece, the Sun Valley Lodge.

Bald Mountain, the main ski slope, attracts skiers and snowboarders with its constant-pitch terrain (non-stop incline from top to bottom) and lack of wind. It also boasts an impressive 3,400-foot drop from 10,000 feet to the base of the mountain through more than 120 miles of groomed runs. The smaller Dollar Mountain is perfect for beginners. Hikers and summer visitors are drawn to the proximity to the Sawtooth Mountain range. And book worms flock here to experience Ketchum, home of Ernest Hemingway in the last years of his life and his final resting place. A motivated visitor could make a full day out of tracking down his stomping grounds in the area.

Since we wanted to maximize our 2-day, 1-night stay in the area, we left Boise early on Saturday. The throng of balloons lifting off for dawn patrol were part of Boise’s annual Labor Day balloon festival, Spirit of Boise. The drive to Sun Valley itself was quite uneventful, bordering on boring.

Spirit of Boise balloon fest – dawn patrol

Our first order of business was to go up Bald Mountain using the Roundhouse Express Gondola lift. The gondola was built in 2009 from the River Run area at the base of the mountain. It runs half-way up the mountain to about 7,700 ft elevation. It deposits visitors at the Roundhouse Restaurant, which was built in 1939 as part of Sun Valley’s original development. We took advantage of its amazing patio, which had just opened for lunch, and enjoyed a sandwich and a beer. It was a perfectly clear day with sunny skies and warm temps in the mid 70s. We had a bird’s eye view of the Sawtooth range from up here.

The Roundhouse patio

This was as high as we originally planned to go. But from our seat the Roundhouse we spotted a classic chair lift going up even higher. It was free to get on since we had already paid for the gondola ride. It was a no-brainer.

Another 10 minutes and we made it to the very top of Bald Mountain at around 9,900 ft. We walked around a bit and marveled at the even better views from up here. Ski run signs were everywhere and they made me miss skiing!

With a few hours still to kill before our hotel check-in, we headed to the Ketchum cemetery to visit Ernest Hemingway’s grave. Getting to it proved a bit more difficult than we anticipated. Ketchum celebrates Labor day with the annual Wagon Days festival, which includes the largest non-motorized vehicle parade in the US, the Big Hitch. The main street in Ketchum was closed for it, so we had to make our way through several detours and congested side streets until we got close enough to walk. We crossed the parade route on foot and finally found some peace and quiet in the small cemetery. We got to spend some time at Hemingway’s grave all by ourselves. Prior visitors had left liquor bottles and cigars to honor him.

Although he only spent the last few years of his life here, from 1959 to 1961, Hemingway’s history with Ketchum began 20 years earlier, in 1939, when he visited for the first time. He kept coming back for hunting trips and to write. Much of his time here was well documented in the tiny Sun Valley Regional History Museum, administered by Ketchum’s Community Library. We stopped there after the cemetery, and, to our surprise, it was not without crowds and traffic, either. This time, we were in the midst of the throng of cyclers in town for the Rebecca’s Private Idaho bicycle ride. We almost gave up waiting for the museum to open. It had modified hours due to the holiday weekend, which we found out about from a note on the door. Luckily the person in charge finally showed up and opened up the place. The museum collection contained letters and manuscripts belonging to Hemingway, together with some personal items from his house here, now a writing residency and not open to the public.

After all this running around we were happy to finally check into our hotel. It was surprisingly close to the Roundhouse Gondola – we could even see it from the parking lot! After a quick shower and change, we needed a bite to eat so we stopped by the casual eatery Grumpy’s, a local institution. It has been in business since 1978 and is still going strong as a place for both locals and tourists to get a good burger and beer at an affordable price. Remember, ski resorts can be a little overwhelming for the wallet. Besides its reputation, we wanted to visit Grumpy’s as I affectionally call my boyfriend that.

The next stop on our DIY Hemingway trail was the Sun Valley Lodge. When it opened in 1939, it quickly drew Hollywood stars, international leaders and ski enthusiasts. They helped turn Sun Valley into the acclaimed resort it is today. Hemingway was one of the celebrities invited to stay at the resort as part of its campaign to lure tourists to the area. He spent the Fall of 1939 living there and wrote most of For Whom the Bell Tolls during that time.

Hemingway’s original room at the lodge was #206, which today is a non-descript room without a view. The lodge has since been renovated and, according to an online blog, his original room is now actually #338, the Marilyn Monroe suite.

It was a beautiful afternoon still, so we decided to enjoy a drink on the patio.

Afterwards, we headed for the Hemingway Memorial, which is just 1 mile from the lodge. Hemingway’s family erected the granite monument with the bronze Hemingway head on his birthday on July 21, 1966. It is a short walk from the parking lot and overlooks Sun Valley Golf Resort.

We had just enough time before our dinner reservations to duck back into our hotel for an evening hot tub.

Afterwards, we walked from our hotel to Enoteca, where we enjoyed delicious pizza and pasta. The evening was already much colder but the sunset on our walk did not disappoint!

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