Spring in Sun Valley Idaho – Western States Tour Part 2

We have so many fond memories of ski trips we took to Sun Valley Idaho and all the silly debauchery that ensued while off the slopes… too many margaritas in the outdoor hot pool at the Sun Valley Inn, getting locked out of of our second floor condo while sitting on the deck, a freezing bus ride into town for dinner on New Years Eve, a romantic horse drawn sleigh ride… the list goes on and on. 

It only seemed fitting that we spend some time back in the area on our recent Western States T. our. When we arrived in early May, the ski mountain was closed for the season, all the snow was gone at the lower elevations leaving a lush green valley with a sprinkling of wildflowers. Rivers were flush with water and the Sawtooth Mountains looked majestic with their snow capped peaks.

We spent a week at the Meadows RV Park… which is the one and only RV park with full hook ups in the area. This is a basic FHU park with no amenities. The sites are tight and you are close to Hwy 75. That said, the area is beautiful, you can walk to the Wood Run paved walking/biking/running trail and the proximity to Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley is perfect.

The manager Perry was great and the staff were very friendly. They were working overtime to get the sites rehabbed from a long winter of snow. Since it was early spring, which is shoulder season, we had the whole end of the park to ourselves. Our big rig fit in the tight spot and we were happy there was no one nearby! We probably would have been less happy if they had been busier since sites share a small patch of grass and picnic table with another rig, but the end sites like 24 and 25 don’t share the common grass area. We did not use shower/bathrooms or laundry so no comments on those amenities. Overall, this park is pleasant and has some mountain views. We did hear some road noise during the day but it was very quiet at night. Bonus points for the Elk that were frequently in the mountains across the highway!

Spring is a great time to visit the Sun Valley area. It is shoulder season so some things might not be open and there is so little tourism that many merchants are able to take a break before the summer crowds roll in. This area is home to fish-rich rivers and lakes which draws avid fly fisher peeps from all over the world. Hiking and biking during the warm months are also very popular past times. Naturalists are drawn to volcanic fields, rolling hills and unusual geologic formations that cement Idaho’s reputation as a truly spectacular vacation destination.

Sun Valley itself is an affluent mountain ski town with expensive homes, lear jets parked at the airport and celebrities sightings aren’t unusual.  The sleepy, small towns just down the valley aren’t so sleepy anymore. Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue are now so expensive that most folks who actually work in Sun Valley are priced out of the area. I met a neat gal at the RV park who works at the post office in Sun Valley. She was just starting a full time RV life as her rental home in Hailey had been sold and even with her good income, she could not afford to buy or rent another house in the area for her and her fur-babies.

We found plenty to keep us busy during our visit including catching up with some friends in nearby Picabo. It was great fun to drive around the area and chuckle about all of our fun filled ski trips with friends and see the area in its spring glory.

Hiking trails in and around Sun Valley are limitless but can be hell on us sea level dwellers. We had been hiking for a week by then at altitude in Utah but one of the hikes in SV we did was killer. I didn’t pay much attention to the elevation gain over distance when I was looking at All Trails. The views and distance were perfect in the end but I thought my heart was going to burst on a couple of occasions. Holy Crapola, who planned that hike???

Great dining options abound in and around Sun Valley too. Since we happened to be in town during the shoulder season the restaurant scene was a bit sleepy. Many restauranteurs were taking a much deserved sabbatical in May. The neighboring town of Hailey, which used to be the ugly step sister of Sun Valley surprisingly had some of the best restaurants that we visited during our stay. CK’s Real Food was amazing, despite the odd name, as was Zou 75 where we feasted on some beautiful Asian-fusion sushi. 

So according to my internet search, “real food” is food that is as close to its natural state as possible. It is primarily: unprocessed, free of chemical additives, rich in nutrients. Okay, that makes sense, bonus points for CK’s as it was real delicious food and “The Thing 1” cocktail was killer.

We also dined at a long time favorite in Sun Valley, The Ketchum Grill. It was a bit of a weird experience as we had reservations for 7:00 pm but weren’t seated until almost 8 pm. Yes, it was busy and yes there weren’t many other restaurants open and yes, those that were open the were also completely booked as well but what was uber annoying was that we sat and watched some “locals” come in with no reservation or at the wrong time and they were seated almost immediately. Hmm, we felt a bit invisible and slightly pissed to be treated like tourist pond scum but the hostess did bring us a glass of complementary wine while we waited… and waited. Dinner was good, not great and this was certainly not the best experience we had in town but oh well, we got fed!

Besides eating our way around the valley and hiking, there is so much to see and do just outside the Sun Valley area. Just 66 miles from Sun Valley, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is a great day trip. The “weird and scenic” landscape of lava and sagebrush really does just appear out of nowhere. Most visitors explore the trails, caves, and scenic overlooks along the park’s 7-mile loop road, but more opportunities abound in the park’s vast wilderness which we didn’t explore due to the “weird” weather. The 7 mile driving loop kept us busy and the added bonus of light snow really was a beautiful addition to this normally stark landscape. Our visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve was surreal… it snowed on us and was really damn cold. Phooey, we didn’t do much hiking and ate our picnic in the car but still totally worth the drive. 

Another great day trip is the 60 mile scenic drive to Stanley and Red Fish Lake which is in the Sawtooth Wilderness. The drive north of Sun Valley on HWY 75 was spectacular and we saw some great wildlife along the way as well as beautiful vistas.

Thanks to it being shoulder season, there was hardly a soul at Red Fish Lake. It was a picture perfect spring day and we had a ball hiking, exploring around the lake and bird watching. The Lodge was not open yet but some of areas of the campground were so we checked that out as well. I would highly recommend staying in this area, specifically the campground or cabins as it is just so beautiful. 

Beautiful Red Fish Lodge was built in 1929 by Idaho hero Robert Limbert and other than a couple of thoughtful renovations, the Lodge remains much the same as it was back in 1929. The staff was gearing up to open for the season, so we got to take a quick peek inside. Rustic and charming for sure…the main Lodge is all log construction and inside there is Limbert’s restaurant and a rustic lounge. The second level has 8 rooms for guests. Out on the property, there are 21 historic and modern cabins and 11 motel/suite style units. The General Store is next to the lodge and offers souvenirs, gifts and basic grocery and camping and fishing supplies. The Redfish Marina which sits directly in front of the Lodge provides boat rentals and a hiking shuttle into the  beautiful Sawtooth Wilderness Area.

Winters can be harsh in this part of Idaho… Stanley receives 5+ feet of snow and it can get to 30 below. Nope, too cold for this girl, sorry Robert! Watch the weather reports: Stanley is often mentioned as the coldest spot in the nation. The infrastructure at the resort is not able to withstand the harsh winters in Stanley so the lodge is only open seasonally. The windows and doors were just being un-boarded (is that a REAL word??). I sure wonder how Robert Limbert was able to live here in the winter or if he did??? These days in the winter there is a caretaker to check in on the lodge and some bears to patrol the grounds! Luckily for us, it was a gorgeous spring day, picture perfect for photography and bird watching. The bears must have been on sabbatical too as they were no where to be seen.

Speaking of bird watching, we spent the better part of another day at the the Silver Creek Preserve in Bellevue. The Silver Creek runs through the preserve and the creek is the holy grail of fly fishing. Renown for perfectly timed hatches and world class dry fly fishing, anglers from around the globe come here to test their skill. We were too early in the season to fish the creek but were more than happy to explore the preserve on foot.  I am impressed with the conservation vision of the community, the wonder of Silver Creek’s story comes from the people who came together to make the preserve a reality. It started in 1976 when the local community urged The Nature Conservancy to purchase 479-acres then called the Sun Valley Ranch and create its flagship preserve, Silver Creek. This launched a landowner conservation effort along the stream to protect an additional 12,000-acres through conservation easements, making this one of the most successful stream conservation efforts ever undertaken for public benefit and a model for community-based conservation.

Hey, where did you snag that trout?? Dogs aren’t allowed at the preserve!

Painters, photographers, bird watchers and hikers will find the Silver Creek Preserve to be a place that will leave you in awe of its natural beauty.  During our visit, the sky was a canvas of dark brooding colors that later gave way to bright blue skies with fluffy meandering clouds. The soft light and beauty of “The Creek” in the mornings makes this a photographers heaven. The preserved has been expanded to  881-acres now and a new visitors center is being built. The restored high-desert spring creek is home to a thriving ecosystem of abundance of wildlife including eagles, coyotes, bobcats, and moose. As many as 150 species of birds have been identified along the nature trail and its unique aquatic ecosystem features one of the highest densities of stream insects in North America.

Besides a plethora of birds, we were lucky to spot a female moose and her calf during our hike along the north side of the preserve. The mama high tailed it as soon as she saw us but her curious calf stopped to look as us strange two legged humans. 

All that exploring left us hungry, so we stopped at Lucy’s Breakfast Place in Bellevue for a delicious breakfast/lunch. Great recommendation by our friends Chris and Richard in Picabo. Yep, we continue to eat our way through the western states… notice I am in spandex ALOT!!!

Our week in the Sun Valley area was awesome and the next stop on the Western States Tour was Teton National Park. I am trying to get caught up, so stay tuned …

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