The Secret Season

Many here call autumn the “secret” season. I’m not sure if that’s because people who don’t live here simply don’t know how beautiful this time of the year is in the Wood River Valley, or if everyone who does live here wants to keep that fact a secret! Regardless, the fall months in Idaho are pretty spectacular. Most days are filled with hours and hours of warm Sun Valley sunshine and almost everything you love to do in the summer – from hiking, to biking, to fishing, and golfing – is still at its best, minus any crowds.

The view from local hikes like Chocolate Gulch is pretty great this time of year, as are the sunny days, cooler temps, and quiet trails

In the fall, the pace here is a bit slower. People linger to chat when they pass on the sidewalk and lots of plans are made for ways to get out and to continue to enjoy the trails or the links. For me, fall is my very favorite time of year to get into the mountains, especially those that closely ring Sun Valley. There is no need to go far to enjoy gorgeous views, a great workout, and stunning foliage. This time of year, many locals make a point to be outside during their lunch hour, after dropping children at school, or after work for even an hour or two with the understanding that these gorgeous days are fleeting!

Hiking or biking through an aspen grove where leaves sparkle like gold coins is one of the gifts of a Sun Valley fall

A few go-to hikes this time of year are in-town hikes. These include Proctor Mountain, the site of Sun Valley’s first chairlift. With easy access from the Hemingway Memorial on Trail Creek Road (right up the street from the Sun Valley Village), there are countless ways to hike this mountain with many intersecting trails. Another fall favorite is the Chocolate Gulch hiking area. This can be accessed from Fox Creek, Chocolate Gulch Road, Oregon Gulch, among other trailheads because the vast trail system that runs from Adams Gulch well north is seemingly endless. My preference is to start at Chocolate Gulch Road north on Highway 75 (another fall bonus – parking is much easier this time of year), hike to the summit, and then loop back along the Big Wood River. It is beautiful all the way. A scenic, not-too-steep and lightly used option is to veer off the Chocolate Gulch trail to the Saddle Trail that connects to Oregon Gulch. Shuttle two cars for this one, or simply hike out and back.  In town, a great fall choice is to hike the bottom third of Bald Mountain (from the River Run side) to a lookout with stunning views of town and informational signage about the area’s history.

Pioneer Cabin is one of the most popular and ‘worth it’ hikes in the region. It’s a perfect fall hike both because of its beauty and the season’s less crowded trails

One trail that is super popular in the summer and much quieter in the fall is the spectacular Pioneer Cabin hike. This is longer than the others mentioned (3 – 5 hours roundtrip from the most commonly used trailhead at Corral Creek) but it’s worth every step. The trail follows switchbacks through lovely shaded trees, to wide-open meadows, and culminates in a jaw-dropping vista of the Pioneer Mountains. You end up at the historic Pioneer Cabin that was built in 1937 for cross-country skiers. The message painted across the cabin’s roof, “The higher you get, the higher you get” could not be more true, and with an elevation gain of 2,400 feet on this hike, you will have earned all the endorphins that come with reaching the summit.

The fly fishing in Sun Valley is world class year-round, but fall brings special pleasures and very productive fishing

If you prefer your fun on two wheels, the mountain and road biking this time of year is as spectacular as the hiking. Good-for-every-level rides go out on the White Clouds trails right across from the Sun Valley Lodge, and areas like Fox Creek are super popular for pedaling through aspen groves that glow gold this time of year. For more recommendations and information about any hikes or bikes rides, pop into Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports in the Sun Valley Village to pick brains of the professional staff who will help you to decide your adventure. They may even be willing to share a few more ‘secrets’ with you!

Fore your way into fall with glorious scenery on the greens and a great stay and play special certain to entice

Fly fishing, while exceptional year-round in the Wood River Valley and beyond, is also often at its best in the fall. The area’s storied rivers are less crowded, the surroundings absolutely sublime, and the fishing super productive. The Sun Valley area boasts some of the most beautiful, pure trout waters anywhere and autumn is a fantastic time to finally learn to fly fish or to hone your skills while enjoying some warm, sunny days on the water.

These activities are only part of what make our secret season so special. Golf at Sun Valley’s fantastic courses continues well into the fall and some stay and play specials make it even more fun (and affordable) to hit the resort’s famous links. Outdoor tennis is still going strong as are fun family-friendly activities like ice skating, and horseback riding.

These warm, sunshine-filled Indian Summer days won’t last forever. Now is the time to stay active and stay outdoors, making the most of the gift we call fall.

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