Sun Valley is a small resort town in central Idaho known for its world-class ski resorts, Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain, and an array of top-notch restaurants. The term “Sun Valley” is generally used to describe the region surrounding the city, including the neighboring city of Ketchum, and the Wood River Valley area that winds south to the towns of Hailey and Bellevue.
Sun Valley has been a seasonal home to the rich and famous since the 1930s when it was allegedly first brought to public attention by Ernest Hemingway. In summer, tourists flock to Sun Valley to enjoy hiking and biking miles of mountain trails, equestrian routes, and wildflower-filled meadows.
Sun Valley’s main town, Ketchum, has a population of just 3,500 (as of 2021). This vibrant mountain town, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, offers a lively downtown with various restaurants, shops, and art galleries. It is also home to numerous cultural events throughout the year such as the Sun Valley Film Festival.
Last year my family went on a week-long ski trip to Sun Valley and we fell in love with the small-town mountain feel of this beautiful area. Based on my experience, here’s my ultimate guide to Sun Valley.
10 Things To Do In Sun Valley, Idaho
Even though Sun Valley is a small mountain town, there is a lot to do and see in the area. Here are 10 fun things to do in Sun Valley during your winter or summer getaway.
1) Ski & Snowboard
With 3,400 vertical feet and over 2,400 acres of diverse terrain, Sun Valley offers something for everyone between Bald Mountain and nearby Dollar Mountain.
Bald Mountain’s consistent pitch, empty lift lines, and variety of terrain have earned it a reputation as one of the world’s best ski resorts. Bald Mountain offers 13 chairlifts and 65 runs await skiers and riders on both sides of “Baldy” (as the locals call it).
Dollar Mountain is a small mountain with easy slopes, better suited for beginners and children who are learning to ski, or teenagers who want to practice their park terrain skills. If you’re signing your children up for ski lessons when you’re in Sun Valley you will be bringing them to Dollar Mountain for ski school where they can enjoy mild slopes and a great magic carpet.
2) Sun Valley Film Festival
Since 2012 The Sun Valley Film Festival has invited guests to be a part of the legacy of storytellers, artists and filmmakers that have defined the town’s rich cinematic history. The next Sun Valley Film Festival will be held March 29th – April 2nd, 2023.
With over 4,000 yearly attendees, “SVFF” is quickly becoming known as a top-notch filmmakers’ event. Past festival guests include Hollywood legends such as Clint Eastwood, Jodie Foster, Ethan Hawke, Amy Poehler, and Woody Harrelson as well as writers and filmmakers like Eliza Hittman, Shaka King, and The Duplass Brothers.
3) Sleigh Rides & Horseback Riding
During the winter months, you can take a magical horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snowy hills. Each ride is approximately 40 minutes long. Blankets are provided but supplies are limited so they encourage guests to bring their own blankets and dress warmly. The price is $65 per person and kids under two are free.
In the summer months, you can go horseback riding and experience Sun Valley’s legendary Western heritage. Trail rides and wagon experiences are fun for the entire family, from the beginner to the experienced rider. The minimum age is 8 years old and guided trail rides start at $79 for an hour. Trail Rides are only available Thursday-Tuesday. Wagon Rides are available on Fridays at 10am.
Just outside of Ketchum, on the way to Dollar Mountain, there is a great sledding hill, perfect for taking kids sledding for an hour or two. You’ll see people sledding when you are driving to Dollar Mountain.
There is a parking area right across the street and you can buy a cheap plastic sled from a local hardware store or ski shop. I took my daughter here one afternoon and we spent hours hiking the hill and sledding down and playing in the snow.
5) Hiking & Biking
In the summer months, there is excellent hiking and mountain biking in Sun Valley. With nearly 400 miles of singletrack (biking trail approximately the width of a bike) and 30 miles of wider, paved, car-free trails for all skill levels, there’s something for everyone.
You can download trail maps and find out more information about the best trails at Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports in Sun Valley Village.
Sun Valley has been recognized by Golf Digest as one of the top 75 courses in North America. Trail Creek, Sun Valley’s signature 18-hole course, offers a challenging round of golf for every skill level in a gorgeous setting with a winding creek and a sweeping mountain backdrop.
3) Dinner at Roundhouse Restaurant
Located on the hillside of Bald Mountain, dinner at Roundhouse Restaurant is an experience not to be missed when you’re visiting Sun Valley. To get to dinner you have to take the Roundhouse Express Gondola up the mountain from River Run Plaza at the base of Bald Mountain.
My daughter Sadie, who was almost five at the time, absolutely loved this entire experience. She couldn’t believe we were taking a gondola to dinner! The food is average but the fun experience makes this a must!
Roundhouse Restaurant is popular so make reservations well in advance. Book an early dinner to take in sweeping sunset views during your gondola ride up the mountain. And drumroll please… Roundhouse will allow you to take to-go drinks on your way home. For winter, I suggest hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps to help you stay warm during the chilly ride back down the mountain.
8) Fly Fishing
There is incredible fly fishing to be had in the rivers and creeks in and around Sun Valley. Idaho is sunny most of the year making it an excellent fishing destination. Also, and this is huge, Idaho state law designates the land within a navigable river’s high-water marks as public trespass right-of-way. So once you’ve entered a river from an appropriate access point, you can wade as far upstream or downstream as you like.
There are an array of excellent places to fly fish in Sun Valley. Here are a few: Big Wod Rivers, Warm Springs Creek, Lost River System, Silver Creek, and Salmon River. For more information check out this Ultimate Guide To Fly Fishing in Sun Valley.
9) Sun Valley Lake
Located a short walk from the Sun Valley Lodge and Inn, Sun Valley Lake offers a fun escape from the heat in the summer months. Sun Valley Lake is closed during the winter but in the summer you can rent paddleboats, kayaks, and paddleboards for $30 an hour and enjoy some family fun on the water.
Sun Valley Lodge has a bowling alley in their basement, offering fun for the whole family. We spent an evening here with my daughter and two other families and we had a blast. There is also a bar and drinks and snacks for the kids plus an arcade area that they loved.
The bowling alley is open 3pm-9pm daily and does not take reservations. It can get pretty busy on the weekends and holidays so if you don’t want a long wait time I suggest arriving right at 3pm to snag a lane for your group.
Where To Stay In Sun Valley
There are tons of hotel options in and around Ketchum, which is the main town in Sun Valley. Here are 10 great hotels in Sun Valley to stay at year-round.
- Sun Valley Resort – This is the most popular place to stay in Sun Valley. Featuring an outdoor pool and a spa and wellness center, this European-inspired resort even has a bowling alley in the basement.
- Limelight Hotel Ketchum – Located in downtown Ketchum, this hotel is in a great area, walking distance to restaurants, bars, and shops.
- Hotel Ketchum – Amenities include pool, hot tub, firepit, free WiFi, free parking and ski rental discounts. The perfect launching pad for all your Sun Valley adventures.
- Best Western Plus Kentwood Lodge – Offers an indoor pool, an on-site restaurant, and Ketchum town square is 7 minute walk away.
- Knob Hill Inn – Graciously appointed guestrooms with stunning Sun Valley views, indoor pool, pet-friendly.
- Tamarack Lodge – Located in downtown Ketchum, pet-friendly, indoor swimming pool and a hot tub. Sun Valley Resort is a 2 minute drive away.
- Best Western Tyrolean Lodge – Austrian-style lodge located in Ketchum, .3 miles from the River Run Ski Lift and Wood River Trail System. It features a heated outdoor pool, a game room and free Wi-Fi.
- Elkhorn Village – Just half a mile from Dollar Mountain Ski Hill. Each homey apartment at Elkhorn Village has a fireplace and a balcony. The kitchen is fully equipped with an oven, a full-size refrigerator, and a dishwasher plus the property has a pool and hot tub.
- Fun In The Sun Valley Hotel – All rooms at this hotel offer a seating area and a TV. Every room includes a coffee machine and a private bathroom, and some rooms have kitchens.
- 580 E. 5th Street – 5 Bedroom / 5 Bath modern, chic vacation home rental in Ketchum.
- Find the best prices on hotels and vacation rentals in Ketchum
The Best Restaurants In Sun Valley, Idaho
Downtown Ketchum is known for having a multitude of top-notch restaurants. We dined out every night of our week-long Sun Valley vacation and every meal was fantastic. Based on my experience here are 12 of the best restaurants in Sun Valley.
- Pioneer Saloon – This is hands down my favorite restaurant in Sun Valley! Restaurant and bar serving prime rib, filets, and seafood in a lively dimly lit, Western-themed setting. Opens at 4pm daily, kid-friendly, does not accept reservations so go early to get your name on the waitlist. Great food.
- Roundhouse Restaurant – Nestled on the side of Bald Mountain. Great spot for lunch during your ski day or a fun dinner idea. The food is okay but the experience of riding the gondola up the mountain at night and dining on the slopes is so fun!
- Michel’s Christiania – Classic French cuisine in a relaxed, ‘ski-mountain active’ setting. Better suited for an adults-only dinner but the bar area is good for a family meal. The food is excellent.
- The Sawtooth Club – Upscale, rustic, lively ambiance, serving healthy salads, mesquite grilled seafood, ribs, chops, pasta, award-winning wine list, dining daily from 5:30pm.
- Limelight Lounge – Located in the limelight hotel, this is a fun lively spot to have a family meal and drinks. They serve dinner daily from 4:30-9:30pm and have live music Thursday – Monday, 5:30-8:30pm.
- The Cellar Pub – Great for a casual fun night out, serving British-inspired fare like bangers & mash and fish & chips, their legendary Moscow Mule, served in a copper cup, is a must-try, walk-ins only.
- Grumpys – Great lunch spot, home of the “best damn burgers in town.”
- The Kneadery – Cozy breakfast & lunch spot, hearty, homestyle fare amid kitschy Western decor. We ate breakfast here on our last day in Sun Valley and it was so good!
- Il Naso – Organically driven, Mediterranean-inspired fare, dinner Thursday – Monday from 5:30pm.
- Sushi On Second – Established in 1994, this is Sun Valley’s oldest sushi restaurant. I didn’t get a chance to eat here but I was told it is very good by friends who have.
- The Grill At Knob Hill – Upscale eatery at Knob Hill Inn with outdoor seating, offering a Northwest-inspired New American menu. We had a great family dinner here with several other couples and their kids and we all loved it.
- Ketchum Grill – Celebrating 30+ years of serving locally sourced, comforting fare in a Ketchum historic house, open nightly for dinner starting at 5pm.
The Best Bars In Sun Valley
Sun Valley has a lively nightlife scene offering an array of fun watering holes in downtown Ketchum. We didn’t go out to many bars during our trip (since we had our 5-year-old daughter), so I consulted my friends in their 30s who visit Sun Valley annually. According to my “bar experts,” these are the 10 best bars in Sun Valley to grab a drink at.
- Pioneer Saloon – The mountain, western vibe at this spot makes it a fun place to get drinks, but it gets packed so go early and be prepared to wait for a place at the bar.
- Warfield Distillery & Brewery – Ketchum’s only distillery and Sun Valley’s largest brewery!
- Sawtooth Brewery – Brews signature Sawtooth Beer from the Mountains of Sun Valley. Also serves burgers, bratwurst, and other bar food in a casual, laid-back setting.
- Whiskey Jacques – Trendy bar in downtown Ketchum, showcasing live music, wood-fired pies, and drinks in a lively space with eclectic decor, and is a good late-night hangout.
- The Cellar Pub – Casual hangout for pub fare & draft beers, video games, shuffleboard, TVs and an outdoor patio.
- Casino – Established in 1936, this legendary watering hole on Main Street in Downtown Ketchum has become renowned for its excellent bartenders and old-school, fun vibe.
- Grumpys – Serving gigantic beers and awesome burgers.
- Duchin Lounge – Open 11am – 11pm, this legendary lounge serves up cocktails, and regional craft beers on tap, and has an extensive wine list.
- Limelight Lounge – If you have children in tow, this is a good, kid-friendly place to grab a drink, located conveniently in the Limelight Hotel in downtown Ketchum.
- River Run Day Lodge – Located at the base of Bald Mountain by the main gondola, River Run Lodge has a good-sized bar and lounge area, making it a convenient place to grab drinks after (or during) your ski day.
Thank you to my bar experts for their suggestions: @Peter_John11 and @JoshLumer and @LaurenColahan
How To Get To Sun Valley
One of the great things about Sun Valley is that it is fairly easy to reach from most places in the US. There are multiple direct flights daily from LAX, ORD, SFO, and other major airports to Friedman Memorial Airport (SUN).
Friedman Memorial Airport is small but it has several rental car options on site. From the airport, Sun Valley’s main town of Ketchum is just an easy, 20-minute drive.
Best Time Of The Year to Visit Sun Valley
Sun Valley is a great destination year-round but the ideal time to visit is during the winter ski season (December – February) or during the warm summer months. Between June and September, you can enjoy concerts and festivals in Sun Valley with temperatures that average 70+ degrees during the day.
As with any destination, try to avoid visiting during the holidays when accommodations are extra expensive or sold out. In shoulder months (such as March and April), you can usually still enjoy good snow conditions without paying premium prices.
Sun Valley Ultimate Guide Wrap Up
I hope you’ve found this Sun Valley guide helpful. If you have questions about Sun Valley or have tips for our readers please leave these in the comments below!
And if you’re interested in visiting other areas in this beautiful state, you can check out all our Idaho articles for other destination ideas.
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Sun Valley, Idaho. If you have any questions or advice to share with our readers, please leave these in the comments below.
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