Three (Glorious) Days in Sun Valley: A First Timers Guide

Three (Glorious) Days in Sun Valley: A First Timers Guide

Scenic image of Sun Valley's bike path heading down into Ketchum towards Bald Mountain

Welcome to Sun Valley! Paradise awaits – this version accessible by bike 

Welcome! Congratulations on  your choice to spend part of your summer in Sun Valley! Tickets are booked (or the car is packed), reservations secured, and you’re ready to see for yourself what a Sun Valley summer (a thing of legend) is really all about. You’ll want to make the most of your time in the Wood River Valley from the moment you arrive – there is so much to do and not a moment to waste – so we have prepared a three-day suggested itinerary as your guide. Please keep in mind that days are LONG here so pace yourself, take time out to just look at the beauty around you, hydrate, and don’t worry about missing something – you can (and should) always come back! 

Kids look out at the mountains surrounding Sun Valley from the Gondola

Getting the lay of the land during your first trip to Sun Valley means seeing it from altitude 

Day One:  Get the Lay of the Land

Welcome to paradise! Today is the day to acquaint yourself with your beautiful surroundings and have some fun doing it.

  • Fuel up for the day with breakfast at the Konditorei in the Sun Valley Village. If you are staying on property, it’s a short walk to this extremely popular Austrian-inspired bakery, coffeehouse, and restaurant.  In a rush? Grab a delicious coffee (the Sun Valley is my favorite) and a homemade pastry and you’ll be out the door in no time. Prefer to linger over breakfast? Secure a table inside the charming eatery or on the flower-filled patio and dig into fresh, locally-sourced, and carefully prepared favorites including Eggs Benedict, healthy omelets and oatmeal, and even a Schnitzel waffle (an awesome Austrian-inspired take on the American classic: chicken and waffles).
  • Once you’ve enjoyed the most important meal of the day, walk a few steps to vacation HQ: Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports. Here, you can rent bikes for the whole family, grab water bottles if you forgot them, (as well as almost anything else you may need to have fun in the outdoors), and chat with one of the store’s pros about exploring the area the best way possible: on two wheels. There’s no better way to familiarize yourself with Sun Valley while enjoying great views and getting some exercise.
  • If you decide on road bikes, cross to the bike path system directly across from the parking area of the Sun Valley Village and head in any direction that seems interesting. To the right, you can peddle out past the Resort, to the Hemingway Memorial, and out toward Trail Creek. A turn to the left takes you into Ketchum and its multitude of delightful boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, and attractions. Be sure to pause in Town Square to read a bit about the area’s rich history. From Ketchum, the bike path extends for miles and miles and miles both north and south of town. North takes you next to the Big Wood River and surrounds you with majestic mountain views. The trail south also leads along the river and about 12 miles later takes you to the charming town of Hailey. You really can’t go wrong no matter where you turn! If you can’t wait to get on some single track on a mountain bike, the White Cloud trail system directly across from the Lodge is a great place to start and the staff at Pete Lane’s can make other recommendations to get you out into what is known as mountain bike nirvana.
  • After your energizing bike ride, it’s time to see the area from a different vantage point – and that point points straight up. Make your way to the base of Baldy, our world-class ski mountain, pop into the River Run Lodge, get your lift tickets for the gondola, and get ready for some jaw dropping views and adventure! The ride (appropriate for all ages) takes you about two-thirds up the mountain and drops you at the historic Roundhouse Restaurant. From there, you can take another lift to get to the summit where you can hike around and see 360-degree vistas of the valley and all its mountain ranges. You can also choose to stay at the Roundhouse level – those views will also never disappoint. No matter what, be sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes, bring plenty of water, and layers, especially if you plan to go to the summit. It’s amazing how cool even the hottest summer day can feel above 9,000 feet! (note: if you love mountain biking, some of the best in the world is also available on Baldy. Check with the folks at Pete Lane’s in the Village or at the base of the mountain for information about lift-assisted biking, the flow trails, and everything you need to get your single track groove going on Baldy).
  • After exploring on Baldy, you’ve probably worked up and appetite and you are in luck. Roundhouse is not only the egress for the gondola, it is a wonderful restaurant with the best al fresco dining in town. They serve a delicious lunch daily, which is best taken on the vast deck overlooking Ketchum and the Pioneer Mountains. When you have had your literal and figurative fill, the gondola will whisk you back to the base of the mountain.
  • By now, you may need a nap or at least some down time. Before dinner, might we suggest some quiet time around the Olympic pool in the Village or a therapeutic soak in one of the two heated pools on property? Bliss.
  • Soon, it will be five o’clock somewhere and cocktail hour in Sun Valley. The place to go for a signature, hand-crafted cocktail (ask for Idaho vodka or gin) is at the famous Duchin Lounge. Located in the lobby of the Sun Valley Lodge, the Duchin has nightly live entertainment, a lovely patio, and a great vibe. Cheers!
  • Dinner awaits at any number of Resort restaurants, from fine dining to family dining. Both Gretchen’s at the Sun Valley Lodge and The Ram at the Sun Valley Inn offer spacious deck dining and delectable food. For groups or a more casual atmosphere, the new Village Station is the place to be. No matter what you choose, it is sure to be the perfect end to a perfect day ...
  • ….  If that day was ending yet! Dusk, or as locals call it, the golden hour, is simply stunning in Sun Valley. Before you turn in for the night, take a walk around the Resort, stopping at the swan pond, the Sun Valley Lake, lovely boutiques, and the Pavilion Lawn. Breathe deeply. End your evening on a sweet note with a shake or ice cream from The Chocolate Foundry, Sun Valley’s old-fashioned ice cream parlor in the Village.
  • Tuck into your luxurious bed at the Lodge, Inn, or Resort condos. Tomorrow will be a busy day.

Kids enjoy ice cream at the counter at Chocolate Foundry

A sweet finish to your first day in Sun Valley can be found at The Chocolate Foundry, an old fashioned ice cream parlor 

Day Two: Get out into the Idaho Wilderness

Idaho is known as the Wilderness state for good reason – millions of acres of untrammeled beauty reach into countless sublime mountain ranges, across pristine trout streams, and deep into some of the most beautiful valleys anywhere. It isn’t a trip to Sun Valley without spending some time in the wilderness and today is the day. Unfortunately, you can’t do everything, but you should do at least one of these activities:

  • Rafting the whitewater is a quintessential Idaho experience. Navigating rapids, floating placid stretches, and jumping into icy rivers fed by mountain runoff is something everyone must do at least once. While many rafting trips can be booked for three days to weeks, you don’t have to commit to that timeframe in order to get your feet, er, wet. Many of our excellent local outfitters offer both half day and full day whitewater options, the perfect way to get a taste of this activity and to have a total blast. Please check with the concierge for recommendations and reservations, and if this option is of interest to you, it is one that you may want to book ahead. It’s very popular!
  • Another can’t-miss way to enjoy our wilderness is fly fishing.  Sun Valley is blessed to be surrounded by some world-class rivers and spring creeks including Silver Creek, the Big Wood River, and the Big Lost River. People come from all over the world just to fish here. But no matter if you are a complete beginner or can tie your own flies, time on the river is time well spent. Again, check with the concierge desk for half and full day options. If time permits, Silver Creek Outfitters also offers free casting lessons Tuesday through Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at the Resort. It’s a great way to learn how to throw some line!
  • Depending on whether you choose full or half day options for your wilderness adventures, you may still be able to fit in one additional ‘wild west’ option – a trail ride. Seeing the area from horseback is one of the best (and most authentic) ways to see the area and the Sun Valley Horseman’s Center can accommodate all types of riders, offering many trail ride options. Rides go out daily as late as 4 p.m. and on Fridays, there is even a scenic wagon ride at 5 p.m. Please call 208-622-2887 for availability and to secure your reservation.  Please note: children must be ages 8 and up to ride. Giddy up!
  • A day under Idaho’s bluebird skies and all that fresh air works up an appetite. If you had dinner at the Ram or Village Station last night, try the patio at Gretchen’s tonight (bonus: it overlooks Sun Valley’s iconic ice rink so you get entertained while you eat) or vice versa. There are no bad options. If you’re tuckered out and want a simple meal, the Lounge at the Ram and the Duchin Lounge also serve delicious bar fare, salads, and snacks.
  • Goodnight! Sleep well – you earned it.

A person casts a fly rod in the river

No trip to Sun Valley is complete without some quality time in the wilderness. Make this your plan for Day Two 

A group is led on horseback by Sun Valley Resort wrangler

On your third day in Sun Valley, make sure you take advantage of resort activities like horseback riding or ice skating – they’re what make Sun Valley, Sun Valley 

Day Three: Enjoy quintessential Sun Valley

Ok, you’ve gotten the lay of the land, you’ve had a big adventure, now, Day Three is all about enjoying what makes Sun Valley Sun Valley. There are so many options to choose from but here are some favorites.

  • Today, be sure to have breakfast at Gretchen’s. Their attention to detail (handmade English muffins for the Eggs Benedict), and locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients, make for a cut-above-the-rest experience. Plus, the room is airy and charming and you can take in the history of the Lodge while you wait for your food (the hallways are lined with photos of the movers and shakers who have spent time here).
  • You really can’t come to the Resort and not ice skate. Home to the largest sheet of year-round outdoor ice in the country, the rink next to the Sun Valley Lodge has been featured in movies, television specials, and nearly everyone’s home videos. Why? Because skating here is beautiful and affordable, and fun whether you are an absolute beginner or working on your double axel. The friendly folks at the skate house will set you up with rental skates (helmets are also available) and send you out to enjoy one of the general sessions that run throughout the day. It’s the coolest way to enjoy a summer day in Sun Valley. Please call 208-622-2194 for more information.
  • Lunchtime! Head over to the Sun Valley Clubhouse and you won’t be disappointed. This spacious, sun-filled restaurant also has a huge deck overlooking the golf course and Dollar Mountain and serves some of the best lunch options in town. They are famous for their Crab and Shrimp Louis salad but also make outstanding sandwiches, burgers, and entrée specials. Oh, and did I mention the full bar?
  • Since you’re there … it may be time for some golf. Depending on how much time you have and the size of your group, play 9 or 18 holes or challenge yourself at the Sawtooth Putting Green – fun for all and not a huge time commitment. For more information about Sun Valley’s famous golf, please call 208-622-2251.
  • Golf not your thing? You still have time to fit in some major relaxation! The luxurious, spectacular, pampering Spa at Sun Valley offers a seemingly endless variety of spa menu items – custom massages, radiant facials, acupuncture, body treatments and soaks, spa manis and pedis. It’s just what you need to wind down your very busy Sun Valley vacation. Be sure to leave extra time no matter what service you book, though, to enjoy the steam room, sauna, and gazillion-head showers. Please call 208-622-2160 to secure your booking.
  • You may be ready for dinner and bed, but before you turn in, be sure to check with the concierge because, chances are, something you won’t want to miss is happening. From outdoor concerts, to gallery walks, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony season, Saturday night Sun Valley on Ice Shows, lectures by fascinating people, world-class ballet performances …  there is always something going on in Sun Valley you won’t want to miss. Venues are intimate, getting you up close and personal to the band, speaker, skater, dancer, artist, in ways you just can’t anywhere else. Check out the current events lineup HERE.

Guests enjoy an outdoor concert at River Run in the summer

Plan to leave some time for one of the summer’s countless special events – from concerts, to ice shows, to free summer symphonies -- chances are something awesome will be happening during your visit

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, but we wish you happy trails and hope we will see you again soon! Three days isn’t nearly enough to enjoy everything that makes Sun Valley the ultimate destination resort – but it’s a good start! Chances are your first trip to Sun Valley won’t be your last and there are so many things left to discover (sport shooting, hiking, bowling …. and so much more). See you again soon!