Take a Hike
Take a Hike
Rambling down a dirt trail is a great way to boost your fitness and unplug from the world no matter what your age, but for kids, it can be the ultimate discovery mission. Spotting a lizard sunning on a rock, a hawk circling in the sky or a thundering waterfall can be the definition of cool. And with three different mountain ranges and hundreds of miles of trails, the Sun Valley area is the perfect place to explore. We asked the guys who (literally) wrote the books—Matt Leidecker (dad of a 3- and 5-year-old) and Scott Marchant (father of four, ages 7 to 13)—for their picks of the best hikes based on age and ability.
EASY (Ages 5 and under)
Sunnyside Trail/ Adams Gulch
Close proximity to Ketchum and numerous trail options make the Adams Gulch trail system a local fave. Wee walkers will love chasing grasshoppers down the gently rolling Sunnyside Trail, which winds through sage fields and aspen groves. (2 miles; modest vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, drive north on Highway 75 for 1.6 miles. Turn left onto Adams Gulch Road and continue 0.9 miles to the trailhead.
Waterfall Trail to Fall Creek Falls*
A short, easy stroll along a gravel path takes you to a wooden platform overlooking a spectacular 25-foot waterfall. Bring binoculars to look for mountain goats, frequently spotted on mountains to the north. (1.2 miles; 280 ft. vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, head east on Sun Valley/Trail Creek Road for 22.5 miles. Turn right at the Wildhorse/Copper Basin turnoff. Go 2.2 miles and stay right towards Wildhorse Creek Canyon at the junction for Copper Basin. Go another 3.4 miles to the Left Fork Junction. Turn left and continue 0.4 miles to the trailhead.
*Editor's Note: To help clear up confusion with these directions, they were update 08/07/13.
This relatively flat out-and-back weaves through shady forest and sprawling meadows. After 1.6 miles, you’ll hit a small gravel beach that’s a fun destination (and perfect turn-around spot) for fledgling hikers. Warning: Toddlers may need to be carried part way and over stream crossings. (3.2 miles; modest vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, drive north on Highway 75 for 18.6 miles. Turn left on Prairie Creek Road and continue 2.6 miles to the trailhead.
Cow Creek Loop/Greenhorn
Just one small portion of Greenhorn’s Cow Creek Loop, this short yet diverse loop is dotted with aspens, bridge crossings, wildlife, and, in early- to mid-summer, a dazzling lupine display. (1.5 miles; 463 vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, drive south on Highway 75 about 5.5 miles to the East Fork stoplight. Head West on Greenhorn Gulch Road and continue 3.7 miles to the parking lot.
INTERMEDIATE (AGES 6-9)
Bursting with Indian paintbrush and lupine, this colorful hike leads to a stunning trout-stocked lake. Fishing, anyone? (3.4 miles; 900 ft. vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, go north on Highway 75 for 15 miles. Turn left onto Baker Creek Road (between mile markers 143 and 144). Continue for 9.3 miles until the road ends.
While the climb up the gulch could pose a challenge to littler legs, kids over 6 should be able to hack it. Up top, they’ll be rewarded with gorgeous wildflowers and views. After the descent, the trail winds back along the Big Wood River. (4.7 miles; 729 ft. vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, drive north on Highway 75 for 6.9 miles. Turn left on Chocolate Gulch Road and park at the end of the road.
This gentle out-and-back weaves through a shady forest and offers some lovely vistas of the Boulder Mountains and upper Titus drainage. Warning: Don’t plan to picnic at the lake unless you’re fond of mosquitoes. (3.4 miles; 400 ft. vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, drive north on Highway 75 for 30.1 miles. Just before the Galena summit, turn right and park at the trail sign. Cross the highway to the trailhead.
Left Fork of Fall Valley Creek
Fabulous views and a fast-flowing creek make this less-traveled trail fun for kids and worth the drive. Plan to turn around at the junction to Surprise Valley and Moose Valley—but not before finding a shady spot and having a snack. (3.8 miles; 500 ft. vertical gain) Getting there: From Ketchum, go east on Sun Valley/Trail Creek Road for 22.2 miles. Turn right onto Copper Basin Road (FR 135). After 2 miles, turn right onto Wildhorse Road (FR 136). Follow this well-graded dirt road past the bridge crossing of Wildhorse Creek and turn left on FR 503. Go 0.4 miles to the end of the trailhead.
ADVANCED (AGES 10-14)
Proctor Mountain Loop
Don’t count on having the trail to yourself on this popular close-to-town hike. But after seeing the panoramic views from the top, you won’t mind sharing. Caution: The trail has unmarked junctions that can be confusing, so bring a guidebook. (5.6 miles; 1,626 ft. vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, drive east on Sun Valley/Trail Creek Road for 2.8 miles to the Hemingway Memorial.
Taylor Canyon Loop
Despite being minutes from Ketchum, this loop with spectacular views of the Boulders, Griffin Butte and the Pios doesn’t get a ton of foot traffic. Don't miss the early summer flowers or fall colors. (4 miles; 1,280 ft. vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, drive north on Highway 75 for 3.4 miles. Turn right on Lake Creek Road and continue 1.5 miles to Taylor Canyon Road. Bear left and go 0.4 miles to the trailhead.
Meandering past beaver ponds, avalanche fields and sheer granite walls, this scenic trail may be a bit of a grind. But those who endure (especially the last 500-foot push to the saddle) are rewarded with a killer view of Devil’s Bedstead. (3.8 miles; 1,592 ft. vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, drive east on Sun Valley/Trail Creek Road. After 9.3 miles, the paved road turns into a well-graded dirt road. Go another 2.7 miles to Trail Creek Summit. Turn right and park in the large, flat grassy area.
Just steps from downtown Hailey, Carbonate, with its sweeping valley views and vibrant spring wildflowers, is understandably popular. Head straight up the ridge (1.1 miles; 1,308 vertical gain) for a thigh-burning hike or walk or bike up the switchbacks (2.1 miles; 1,308 vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, drive south on Highway 75 to Bullion Street. Take a right and go 0.4 miles to the trailhead.
CHALLENGING (AGES 15+)
High Ridge Trail
An epic hike with gorgeous canyons, rumbling creeks and steep cliffs. But it’s the breathtaking vistas of surrounding 10,000-ft.-plus peaks that make it a “must do.” (7.2 miles, 2,050 ft. vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, drive east on Sun Valley/Trail Creek Road for 12.8 miles. Turnleft onto an unmarked road just before reaching the Park Creek Campground. Go 1.1 miles and turn left at the High Ridge Trail sign. Go 0.1 mile to the road’s end.
Hyndman Creek to Wildhorse Saddle
This hike follows an old mining road thru aspen groves and wildflower meadows before climbing into a spectacular glaciated basin, past a small lake, and up to jaw-dropping panoramas. The initial 2.3 miles make a great mountain bike ride that can be continued up the switchbacks into Big Basin. (5.6 miles; 3,768 ft. vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, drive south on Highway 75 for 5.5 miles to the East Fork stoplight. Turn left and drive 6 miles on pavement and 1.3 miles on dirt to the Hyndman Creek junction. Turn left onto Hyndman Creek Road #203 and continue 2.3 miles to the second private drive. Bear left into the creek bottom and left again after crossing the creek. Follow the main road 2.6 miles to the trailhead.
A beautiful but taxing hike to a picture-perfect aqua-blue lake surrounded by precipitous walls and 11,000-ft. peaks. The last mile involves scrambling over rock fields. But it’s worth the trouble, as it places you in the heart of the Pios with lots of nooks and crannies begging for exploration. (3.4 miles; 1,717 ft. vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, head east on Sun Valley/Trail Creek Road for 19.3 miles. Turn right at the Kane Lake sign and continue 4.8 miles to the trailhead (4WD vehicle recommended).
West Pass Trail to Ryan Peak
A very steep uphill climb on a trail with loose gravel for older kids up for a challenge. Above 9,000 feet lies the prize: incredible views of Ibex Peak and the Boulders. (4.2 miles; 3,375 ft. vertical gain). Getting there: From Ketchum, drive north on Highway 75 for 8.1 miles to the SNRA turnoff. Turn right and continue past the parking lot onto a dirt road. Cross the bridge and go 1.2 miles. Take a left at the Y-junction and continue 5.3 miles to the trailhead.
What’s hot now: Geocaching
Got a mobile GPS? These days, it’s all you need to turn your outdoor trek into a real-life treasure hunt. Just click on Geocaching.com, type in your zip code, select a cache from a list, then plug the GPS coordinates into a smartphone or GPS device. If all goes according to plan, they’ll lead you to a hidden container with a logbook or sheet and possibly a trinket (such as a deck of cards or a water bottle) that you can keep as long as you replace it with a treasure of equal or greater value. There are easily more than 100 caches stashed in spots throughout the Valley, estimates Hailey resident and avid geocacher Pete Stephenson, calling it a “fancy Easter egg hunt.”
Each cache is rated for difficulty and terrain (1/1 being the easiest and 5/5 being the most difficult), so be sure to pick one that’s the right level for your squirt. Ketchumite Randy Kemp, who has been on the hunt with his 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, recommends triple checking comments on the website (or even scouting it out) to make sure it still exists before heading out. To up the odds of a positive outing, pursue at least one “slam dunk” (i.e., guaranteed-to-be found) cache. If all else fails, “Bring a fake one to stash yourself,” Kemp suggests. Keep in mind: Using the GPS can be half the fun—so take the time to show your young scout how to operate it.