Sawtooth National Recreation Area

#2 in Best Things To Do in Sun Valley
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Sawtooth National Recreation Area  2 of 2
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Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation Type
More than Full Day Time to Spend
4.3scorecard
  • 4.0Value
  • 4.0Facilities
  • 4.5Atmosphere

Comprising 756,000 acres and 40 peaks rising more than 10,000 feet, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is as breathtaking as it gets when it comes to nature in the Northwest. More than 700 miles of trails snake through this massive wilderness in central Idaho, which provides ample viewpoints and campgrounds. Outdoor enthusiasts can do it all here, including hiking, backpacking, fishing, boating, biking and rafting.

If you're visiting Sawtooth for the first time, try the 11.4-mile Redfish Lake to Alpine Lake trail. This journey is unique because it starts with a short boat ride across Redfish Lake (with the help of guides and for a small fee). From there, you'll pass through colorful meadows and impressive rock fields while hopefully catching a glimpse of some local wildlife. Though this is an intermediate hike, there are some steep switchbacks before you make it to Alpine Lake, which sits at more than 8,000 feet and is a nice place to cool off in the summer.

If you're looking for something that is a bit easier, consider the Fishhook Creek Trail. Though this trailhead is a bit far from Ketchum (it's a 60-mile drive from downtown), it offers panoramic views of the Sawtooth Mountains and ample photo and picnic opportunities. The trail comprises 4 miles of forested and open-air paths that wind next to meadows, a creek and a lake. Plus, there is very little elevation gain, so the whole family can join in.

Recent travelers said the jagged peaks and thick forests felt unspoiled by tourism. Because this area is so remote, it enjoys thinner crowds all year round, but it's best to visit in the summer when wildflowers bloom and the trails are in peak condition.

If you want to go to Sawtooth, you'll likely need a car, as most of the main trailheads are about an hour from downtown Ketchum by car. However, a trip here is worth it for the sparse crowds and stunning views. Plus, there is a ranger station in downtown Ketchum, called the Ketchum Ranger District, which can provide visitors with information regarding trails, safety and campsites. The station is open year-round from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. There are fees charged for some activities in the recreation area.

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#1 Sun Valley Resort

If you're visiting Ketchum in the winter, it's hard to resist the powder and astounding vistas offered by Sun Valley Resort, where about 220 inches of snowfall accumulate every year. Experienced skiers and snowboarders will love the nearly 100 trails at Bald Mountain. From groomed runs to glades to bowls to terrain parks, this massive winter wonderland will keep you entertained for days. And if you're just starting out, you'll find easy trails and group lessons at nearby Dollar Mountain.

But even if you aren't here to downhill ski, you can still have a great time. Cross-country skiers can enjoy more than 25 miles of Nordic trails, and ice skaters will love the outdoor rink. Plus, you can book a sleigh ride with your family or just relax in the lodge with a hot drink. Recent visitors applauded Sun Valley for its fast-moving lift lines and said it's a great family destination thanks to its variety of runs. The ski season generally begins in late November and continues until late April.

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