The gateway to the spectacular mountains, valleys, forests, and rivers of Central Idaho, the town of Ketchum poses a confluence of rich culture, history, and wilderness. For many guests who go rafting on the Middle Fork Salmon River, part of their trip planning to Idaho includes a visit to Ketchum. While there’s no limit to entertaining activities, here’s our picks to help you narrow it down some.
Among Ketchum’s more spectacular characteristics is the abundance of wilderness right on the edge of town. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area makes up the vast majority of forests and mountains surrounding Ketchum and covers some 1,181 square miles; the ‘SNRA’ features thousands of miles of well-maintained trails, many of which are a short car ride from Ketchum. If you truly want to experience the hiking the area has to offer, splurge on a guidebook. You not only will get hundreds of routes and suggestions for your travels through the mountains, but also get the added security of having a thorough, easily-accessible wealth of local knowledge with you. Our recommended author is Wood River Valley local Matt Leidecker, whose guidebooks you can pick up with dinner at Atkinson’s grocery store.
Local Tip: For an easy-access, high-alpine experience, check out Norton Peak; unlike many of the other formidable peaks in the area, Norton Peak is easily hiked in as a day trip at 8 miles roundtrip. Norton Peak stares across at the Boulder Mountain Range from 10,336 feet, providing one of the best views of any of the peaks in the area; it makes the 2,600 feet of climbing well worth it. Be warned, however, the summit of this peak is not for the faint of heart; the last quarter mile weaves along a narrow ridge with spectacular, if lofty, views of the surrounding lakes. If heights are not your cup of tea, fear not; you can cut the hike in half and turn around at the gorgeous, Caribbean-blue Norton Lake, or travel another mile or so to follow the slightly more challenging Norton to Big Lost Lake loop.
Founded in 1998, Johnny G’s rightfully claims to “serve the best subs in the great state of Idaho.” Owned and operated by a local family, don’t be surprised if Johnny G himself takes your order! Tucked away in the center of Ketchum, this little sandwich shop is packed with local memorabilia: posters, flyers and stickers capturing the essence of the Sun Valley ski lifestyle. The shop even includes patio booths fashioned from old skis and keeps Ketchum-grown, pro-skier Karl Fostvedt’s coveted “King of Corbet’s” trophies on display for him. Johnny G’s menu features 20 specialty subs, build-your-own subs, soups, salads, and best of all, one-dollar Budweiser and Coors drafts. For a well-priced, quick, delicious, and authentically local lunch, Johnny G’s is your place.
Local tip: Try dipping the Chicken Caesar Sub in Johnny G’s homemade tomato bisque. Thank us later.
Ketchum’s crown jewel thrift store, The Gold Mine, was opened in 1955 by the 17 women who founded Ketchum’s Community Library; to this day, profits from The Gold Mine help fund this non-profit community Library. As Ketchum is a known, notorious safe haven for the rich and famous, The Gold Mine often yields unique designer finds for just a few dollars. In addition to every style of clothing imaginable—from the chic to the zany to the practical—The Gold Mine commonly offers a wide selection of used sporting goods, as well as household items, art, and furniture.
Local Tip: If you don’t find an absolute treasure at The Gold Mine, you haven’t budgeted enough time to really look around. Patience is key at this treasure trove.
With miles and miles of fast, flowy single-track and lengthy summer days, the Ketchum area is beloved by mountain bikers of all levels. For close-to-town riding, head out to the Adam’s Gulch trail network, just two miles north of downtown Ketchum. Built into a natural valley, this system of trails increases in difficulty with distance traveled from the trailhead; with multiple loop options that all return to the valley floor, this trail network makes it easy for any rider to pick and choose how challenging of a ride they’d like to try. If Adam’s Gulch is not to your taste, this network connects with several other trail systems: Lake Creek, Fox Creek, Chocolate Gulch, and Oregon Gulch. For the adventurous, long-distance rider, try connecting all of them!
Local tip: For new mountain bikers, build up your basic skills with laps on Shadyside trail, a two-mile, low-grade descent with just enough roots and rocks to add a little spice without scaring your chamois off. For the more experienced mountain bikers, travel about three miles up Eve’s Gulch to access Forbidden Fruit. This famous locals’ favorite flow trail was built and maintained by a unique coalition of the Forest Service, BLM officials, the Northwest Youth Corp, the Wood River Bicycle Coalition, and IMBA Trail Solutions, making not only for a spectacular high-speed downhill trail but a true Ketchum community-built classic.
Get Down at Ketch’em Alive
On any given Tuesday night in the summer, you might hear the distant strum of a guitar and bright cheers of a crowd in the distance. Wander over to the Forest Service Park just behind the Limelight Hotel, and you’ll find the majority of Ketchum-ites enjoying live music in the temperate, late summer evening. Some sit on the lawn with stadium chairs and charcuterie boards; others bob back and forth on the ‘dance floor’ of the open paver patio in front of the stage. Between the months of June and August, the city of Ketchum puts on this event, ‘Ketch’em Alive’: live music on Tuesday evenings from 7:00 to 9:00 PM. Local restaurants bring food trucks, with the likes of Sawtooth Brewery and Ketchum Burritos in attendance, while smaller bar-trailers pedal beverages. If it’s a little too much hustle-and-bustle at the event itself, sit on the patio of the Limelight and enjoy the music from just across the street.
Local tip: If you want to view the concert from the comfort of lawn chairs, make sure to get there early to get a corner of grass. Take our word for it, however, once the music starts you’re far more likely to be jamming on the open-air dance floor than watching the fun from a distance.
Escape to the Mountains at Galena Lodge & Trails
Owned by the Blaine County Recreation District, the historic Galena Lodge sits at the base of Galena Pass, nestled into the foothills of the Boulder Mountain Range. Believe it or not, once upon a time this small mountain oasis was the biggest community in the Wood River Valley; the small mining town of Galena hosted some 800 residents in the late 1800s, complete with stables, a meat market, and a saloon. However, the little town fell victim to the typical boom-and-bust lifecycle of a mining town and lasted a mere decade before being deserted. However, after the designation of the Sawtooth National Forest, the area made a spirited comeback with the Galena Store, which would eventually be rebuilt into the present-day lodge in the 1960s. The old mining roads were converted into an extensive cross-country skiing trail system; guest housing was added with secluded mountain yurts, and the destination converted to a year-round attraction with an addition of a hiking and mountain biking trail system. Today, Galena offers some of the most robust mountain bike trails in the area, including a handful of machine-built downhill trails. The hiking trails, meanwhile, provide wonderful views of the spectacular Boulder Mountains, with some historical features strewn just off the trail, like old cabin foundations and a ‘Pioneer Cemetery.’ Finally, you can break up the day with cocktails and lunch from the Lodge, and spend the evening in one of the lovely tucked away, mountain yurts (but make sure to book in advance, because they go fast)!
Local Tip: Before heading out on your adventure at Galena, make sure to grab a Don’s Bar from the lodge! Named for one of the co-owners and operators of Galena Lodge, the Don’s Bar is packed with oats, seeds, honey, peanut butter & chocolate, and no other snack delivers quite the same pick-me-up. Don’t be fooled by their compact size; half of one of these bars will fill you up and deliver that much-needed blood sugar replenishment mid-trail. Get ready to never go back to big brand energy bars again. You may think we are kidding, but this top-secret recipe brings guests back to Galena from all over the country. Try it for yourself!
Founded by local couple Jacob and Tara Frehling, Maude’s Coffee and Clothes offers an unlikely business duo: coffee and vintage clothes. Named for the couple’s dachshund, Maude, the shop combines a hip cafe with a zany vintage clothing store. Flip through specially-curated denim, jewelry, belts, hats, shirts, and pants while you sip on your coffee. Dedicated to quality, Maude’s locally sources as much of their clothing and cafe options as they can. Each clothing item is hand-selected by either Tara or Jacob and tells its own unique story; merely browsing the shop is a treat, and that’s before you’ve even tried your cappuccino.
Local tip: For even more vintage treasures, head directly across from Maude’s to Antique Alley. Lovingly referred to as the “junkyard” this antique collection is anything but junk. While Maude’s takes the cake in the clothing scene, Antique Alley holds the valley’s most eclectic collection of all other vintage goods.
Fly Fish Ketchum
Flying fishing in the Ketchum area boasts a little bit of everything, from the brisk mountain streams of Copper Basin to the slow-flowing grassland waters of Silver Creek. Go for a guided trip with one of Ketchum’s multiple outfitters for an informative full-day experience; Ketchum is home to an abundance of well-vetted professional fly fishermen who know all the tricks and hideaways for catching the ever-clever Big Wood river fish. Or, go out on your own to any one of the easily-accessed deep pools (a.k.a. trout-hideaways) on the Big Wood River, many of which are easily accessed from the bike path. In either scenario, make sure to stop through one of the local outfitters to pick up flies; shops will often mark which flies have been getting the most bites on certain rivers throughout the week. If they aren’t marked, ask the staff! They’re always happy to share what’s being bitten, and where.
Local tip: If you’re looking to avoid some of the Big Wood River fishing traffic, try heading up and over Trail Creek pass to the Copper Basin. The drive alone makes the trip worth it! Be warned, however, this single-lane, unpaved mountain pass, while gorgeous, is not for the easily intimidated; hewn into the mountainside, it looks down onto Trail Creek from about 700 feet above.
Cruise on the Wood River Trail
No car? No problem. The Wood River Trail, commonly referred to as the bike path, is an exceptional feature of the Wood River Valley. Spanning over 20 miles, this multi-use, non-motorized paved path connects every town in the Wood River Valley: from Bellevue, to Hailey, to Ketchum, to Sun Valley. Paved over the top of what once was the original “Sun Valley Line” of the Pacific Union railway, the bike path cuts directly north with the Big Wood River weaving on either side of it; some of the bridges over the river are the original railroad bridges! Parallel to but neatly tucked away from Highway 75, the bike path not only connects the entirety of the valley but features gorgeous views and easy access points to the Big Wood River for fishing and swimming.
Local tip: Grab any wheels you can find—bikes, rollerblades, skateboards (remember, the Gold Mine occasionally features quite the cache of cheap sporting equipment)—and pack a backpack full of snacks and refreshments to cruise on down to Hospital Bridge. At 1.5 miles south of downtown Ketchum, this easy cruise brings you to one of the original railway bridges, where you can climb down to the river and set up shop on the banks of a deep, green swimming hole. Make sure to bring carrots for the horses at the Reinheimer Ranch!
Drink at Ketchum’s Infamous Watering Hole, Grumpy’s
And yes, we do mean infamous. The easily-offended should enter this establishment with caution; the Grumpy’s aesthetic is a chaotic hodge-podge of hilarious (if occasionally raunchy) signs, stickers, odds and ends with a no-B.S. menu of almost exclusively burgers and fried foods. Ask any year-round Ketchum resident: they probably go to Grumpy’s at least as regularly as they visit the grocery store. Just be careful after more than one Schooner (the famed goblet of beer), you might quickly find yourself lining up for a night out on the town!
Local tip: If you do decide to visit a few of the other watering holes in town, you should know that the bar scene in Ketchum features the same sort of challenge-by-choice methodology of our trail systems. For a green-circle evening, go for drinks on the patio at The Cellar. For a blue-square kind of night, start at the Cellar before making your way to Whiskey Jaques’ dance floor. Finally, for the ambitious black diamond, journey through the fondly-titled ‘barmuda triangle’: hit the Cellar, Whiskey’s, and the Casino in a single night (in that order). Finish the night at Casino with a Hammtini to really do it like a local. We’ll let you figure out for yourself what that is.
Fine dining Alongside One of Ketchum’s Best Collections of Ski History
For a little bit more upscale fare in a uniquely-Ketchum space, give Michel’s Christiania Restaurant and Olympic Bar a visit. Both owner and chef hail from the Burgundy region of France; they serve exquisite French cuisine and wine in the heart of downtown Ketchum. The owner, Michel Rudigoz, is perhaps better known for his career as U.S. Ski Team coach during one of the most legendary eras in U.S. ski racing history; Rudigoz coached the likes of Ketchum Olympic Medalists Picabo Street and Christen Cooper. Rudigoz’ Olympic Bar is dedicated to memorabilia from this era of the Frenchman’s career, displaying a number of incredible artifacts: everything from an Emmy in Rudigoz’s name, to a ski from Alberto Tomba, tp a photo of Rudigoz with President Ronald Reagan, congratulating him for his work with the U.S. Ski Team. So how did Ketchum land a world-famous ski coach and connoisseur of fine, authentic French cuisine? Rudigoz reported to Ketchum newspaper, The Mountain Express: “‘Jean Claude [Killy], who we called Tou Toune, told me that if I ever went to Idaho I would never go back to France… He said the girls there are beautiful, the skiing is fantastic and the place has great hunting and fishing.’” We think that speaks for itself.
Local tip: Try any of the dishes featuring the morel cream sauce, made with locally-harvested morels. Ketchum can yield quite the mushroom harvest. Much of which will make its way through Rudigoz’s kitchen doors.
Go Stargazing in the Country’s First Dark Sky Preserve
The Central Idaho Dark Sky Preserve seeks to protect another dimension of wilderness less frequently discussed: our night skies. Dedicated to reducing local air and light pollution, the Central Idaho Dark Sky Preserve offers one of the best—and in the U.S., first ever formally protected—views of the night sky. Central Idaho holds one of the last large concentrations of uninhibited nighttime sky in the country; on most clear nights, you can see the Milky Way stretch from one end of the sky to the other, count shooting stars, or pick out constellations and planets. To make an optimum star-viewing plan, check the local Sky Chart; or just venture out a dirt road and make the assessment for yourself. Short of a few smoky days, these skies almost never disappoint.
Local tip: For close-to-Ketchum viewing, travel just north of town. Between Ketchum and Galena Lodge, several highway pull outs offer easy spots to pause and take in the fabulous night sky. Bring a blanket or two and take your time! The stars only get better the longer you look.