Fall is the season most associated with famed author Ernest Hemingway who lived in Sun Valley for a portion of his life. Though Hemingway penned these words about a friend, “best of all, he loved the fall,” the line is often used in reference to Hemingway and his love for the season.
In summer when temperatures are too hot, many visitors and locals may not visit some of Sun Valley’s best-loved hikes. But when temperatures drop and the leaves begin to change, that is the best time to visit local hiking trail favorites like Pioneer Cabin, Baker Lake, Proctor, Adam’s Gulch, Taylor Canyon, Bald Mountain Lookout and Carbonate.
One of the unique aspects of Sun Valley’s recreation is just how close most activities are to town; one can hike, bike, ski and more on a lunch break or in just an hour. There are several hiking spots within city limits. The first of these is Ketchum’s Adam’s Gulch, an area with numerous easy and moderate trails for hiking, dog walking, running, biking and horseback riding. The Sunnyside-Lane’s Trail at 2.2 miles and only 397 feet of elevation gain is a local favorite and has a picnic table at its highest point to stop and enjoy the views.
Another easy favorite located in town is the Lookout on Bald Mountain. This trail starts at the River Run base of the mountain and follows a shady, tree-lined trail for 1.7 miles to a viewing platform that gives stunning views of Ketchum. This moderate hike is all uphill but with only 951 feet of elevation and all-day shade, it’s great for families or warmer days.
Proctor Loop is a fun hike with a bit of history: those hiking the area will see the remains of the world’s first chairlift which was operated by Sun Valley Company in 1936.
The trailhead is located at the Hemingway Memorial a few miles out Trail Creek road where parking is ample and a dog poop bag dispenser is available. This hike is more moderate with 1,610 feet of elevation gain over the 4.4 mile loop.
In Hailey, the go-to, in-town hike is Carbonate, a 3.7-mile loop that offers views of Hailey and is located next to both Hop Porter and Lion’s Parks. While the elevation gain is more than other hikes at 1,351 feet, many locals like to hike it daily for fitness and several trails exist to get to the top via switchbacks or a more direct, straight-up route. This short hike takes between 45 minutes to an hour.
North of town
There are numerous hikes to be found outside the Sun Valley area in the Pioneers, the Sawtooths and the White Clouds mountains. But for those looking to only venture slightly out of town, there are also several options. One of Ketchum’s most famous, iconic hikes is Pioneer Cabin, a hike that ends at the namesake building whose words painted on the roof —“the higher you get, the higher you get”— can be found on Instagram posts and websites around the world.
The hike is for more advanced hikers; the 8.8 mile loop hike gains 3,019 feet of elevation but the views of the Pioneers, the Smokys, and the Sawtooths are worth it and much of the hike goes up shaded switchbacks. Once at the top, check out the cabin originally built by Sun Valley Company in the 1930s to encourage alpine skiing. The cabin has recently been renovated over the last two summers to ensure that it remains for future generations. The renovation included rebuilding the foundation, replacing the floor beams, painting the interior and taking out old mattresses and carpet. Add your name and a message to the guest book!
There are several ways of accessing Pioneer Cabin, the most common being to drive out Trail Creek from Ketchum and turn onto Corral Creek road and drive 3.9 miles to the trailhead. The hike takes roughly three to five hours.
A truly beginner hike, Baker Lake is a 3.6-mile round trip hike 15.5 miles north of Ketchum. After turning left at Baker Creek Road, drive another 10 miles to the trailhead. At 872 feet of elevation, this is a very popular hike, especially for families, so be prepared to run into quite a few people on the trail, no matter the time of year. At the top, enjoy the views (and take a dip if weather allows). Baker Lake is positioned beneath impressive rocky spires.
A hidden favorite known for its abundant wildflowers in the spring and summer and colored leaves in the fall, Taylor Canyon is less heavily trafficked than other hikes in the area. Drive 3.4 miles north of Ketchum and turn right onto Lake Creek Road. Wind your way through the Lake Creek subdivision until you see the signed trailhead. This intermediate hike is 3.82 miles and gains 1,489 feet of elevation.