The US: Summer sun

The US: Summer sun

Image credit: Sun Valley Resort

Idaho’s Sun Valley is best known as a ski resort but has plenty to offer in milder seasons too, Jenni Doggett discovers

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“Just imagine it’s a furry bicycle.”

I’m standing on a box about to mount a beautiful roan mare and our guide is trying to reassure the more nervous guests. The woman next to me looks doubtful.

“Bicycles don’t have teeth,” she murmurs.

But our steeds are the gentlest of creatures and extremely well-trained. That’s comforting, since we’re beginners about to trek the steep gradient up Sun Valley’s Dollar Mountain.

After a two-minute tutorial on one-handed Western riding from our guides, we are on our way, winding slowly in line across a stony stream bed and up onto the mountain path.

The air is so fresh you could gargle with it, and a cyan sky promises something glorious on the other side of the range. I soon adjust to the gentle rhythm of my ride – treading this path several times a day, she needs little guidance.

Soon the sun flares over the mountaintop and we reach a small rocky plateau. Wowing and sighs ensue.

The town of Ketchum stretches out before us, pine-lined and peaceful, bordered by Sawtooth National Forest. Our equine escorts snort raspberries and nuzzle the long golden grass as we marvel at the view.

Riding is one of the best ways to see Sun Valley in the summertime, taking in the vast landscape at an easy pace, inhaling woody scents and drinking in the low desert sun.

But if four legs aren’t for your clients, then golf, mountain biking, white-water rafting, ice skating (year-round) and countless other entertainments are on hand.

Mountain Bike Baldy Seattle Ridge - Image credit: Sun Valley Resort
Image credit: Sun Valley Resort

Sun Valley is better known as a winter destination for serious skiers and family sleigh rides, but the summer and shoulder seasons have attractions of their own, and tend to be quieter.

Surprised by the absence of saddle-soreness, I still opt for an epic bath back at Sun Valley Lodge. The suites have recently been refurbished to movie-star standards and it is possible to book the very room in which Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1939.

Hemingway is just one of the many famous guests who have frequented The Sun Valley Resort, and he also owned a property nearby where he ended his life.

There are tales aplenty from locals and various sites to visit for literary and history pilgrims including the Hemingway Memorial, although his private home is not open to visitors.

Inspired by the late, great Mr Hemingway, I decide to try my hand at sport shooting. The local gun club is a short drive or reasonable walk from the resort and inclusive packages are available for guests.

With infinite patience and a deadpan twinkle, manager JC Dovey walks us through safety rules and technique before handing me a Beretta 20-gauge semi automatic shotgun.

“Pull!” An orange disc arcs through the air, seems to float for a moment and I tug the trigger.

I fear I’ve wounded something in Wyoming as the target lands untroubled by my shot. Twelve more misses and my forearms tremble with the effort of supporting the gun. Eyes to the barrel, crack, kickback in my shoulder and a contained whoop from JC. Finally!

Out of 35 targets, I hit one – less Ernest Hemingway, more Bert and Ernie – but there is something strangely zen about the sport given the presence of a deadly weapon.

Gun Club - Image credit: Sun Valley Resort
Image credit: Sun Valley Resort

Torn between spending the evening luxuriating in my enormous elegant suite or taking advantage of everything the resort has to offer, I compromise by flipflopping down to the warm outdoor sea-salt swimming pool.

X-shaped, I floated on my back, staring into the star-freckled night, until the call of the Jacuzzi proves too much. Padding dressing-gown-clad back to my room, I pass galleries of black and white images of former guests: Marilyn Monroe, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and, more recently, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jack Black.

There is a low-key sophistication to Sun Valley which extends to the local town of Ketchum. The Sawtooth Club was another of Hemingway’s favourite haunts and dinner there is a must. Fresh Idaho Ruby Trout is a real treat or try local game cooked on the mesquite fire.

Not far from Sun Valley you can find its opposite, Craters of the Moon, and it’s definitely worth the 75-minute drive.

The Monument and Preserve encompass three major lava fields and several hundred square miles of sagebrush grassland. Lying on the Great Rift of Idaho it has the deepest rift cracks on Earth, extending down some 245 metres.

Nasa astronauts trained here to learn the basics of volcanic geology in preparation for trips to the moon. It is possible to drive around the fields but a hike is the best way to take in the surreal lunar scenes.

I feel like a film star for a second time this trip but on this occasion on set as an intergalactic explorer. Razor sharp shadows are cast by the sun and alien rocks glitter darkly, while deep red craters give way to dense black cinder cones. Nearby, skinny mule deer laze under skeletal trees.

There is no one else around for miles and therein lies the appeal of Idaho. Anywhere you go you can have the grandest and most beautiful of nature more or less to yourself.

3 of the best Idaho highlights

Yellowstone Bear World
Self-proclaimed “Awe-mazing” bear park in Rexburg where, unusually, you can feed the bears from your own picnic basket. For an extra $48 you can handfeed the baby bears. Come on, Booboo!


White-water rafting
There are many venues for this in Idaho but the best is Cascade Raft and Kayak on the Payette River north of Boise. The company is run by Tom Long whose sons trained to Olympic level.

World Center for Birds of Prey
Headquarters of the Peregrine Fund, this world-class centre for conservation is 20 minutes’ drive from Boise. You can see young raptors being trained and get up close to avian predators including hawks, condors, eagles and owls.

Sample Product

America As You Like It offers a seven-night package to Idaho from £1,600 including flights from Heathrow, car hire, white-water rafting, three nights in Boise at the Hampton Inn & Suites Boise Downtown and four nights in Ketchum at the five-star Sun Valley Lodge.


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