Magazine article Sunset

Sawtooth Idaho

Magazine article Sunset

Sawtooth Idaho

Article excerpt

Sawwtooth Idaho As you approach Sun Valley from the south, sagebrush flatlands yield to ranks of sun-baked foothills that steepen into stupendous green pyramids open to the sky. Soon, hazy minarets loom in silhouette on the horizon, beckoning toward grander peaks beyond.

You've reached a land of exceptional beauty, unmistakably Western and distinct. For more than half a century, travelers here have commented on this remarkable setting, as much a part of Sun Valley's mystique as its long association with movie stars and celebrities.

Originally, winter sports were the draw; downhill skiing as we know it was invented here. But summer recreation has been growing year by year, mostly along the Sawtooth Scenic Route that winds up to Stanley, 60 miles north.

That road weaves through a grand gallery of changing mountainscapes. Five distinct ranges--the Pioneers, Smokies, Boulders, White Clouds, and Sawtooths--present a primer of geologic diversity and endless opportunities to bike, boat, camp, fish, float, hike, or ride.

Remote, and with no national park to herald their fame, these mountains have escaped the cars and campers so typical of Yellowstone. And, though blessed with predictably drier weather than the Cascades, they see far fewer backpackers.

In sum, here is national park--caliber scenery without the crowds, a place to savor art and music and wine after a dusty day or two on the trail, a civilized haven bounded by some of the wildest mountains in the West.

With the skiers gone, summer reductions that knock a third off room rates, and improved air connections, Idaho's central Rockies offer last-minute vacation options if you haven't nailed down plans.

Here's a look at what you can do along the scenic route and at the two quite different towns at its ends.

Let's start at Sun Valley

The former mining town of Ketchum (a mile from Sun Valley) is the valley's commercial hub, with restaurants, guides and outfitters, rental shops, and nearly a score of art galleries. Hailey, 12 miles south of Ketchum, has the airport.

But active, artsy, and glamour-touched Sun Valley is the star. It boasts the area's two major resorts--Sun Valley and Elkhorn, both recently renovated.

Around here, you may feel there's almost too much to do: golf, play tennis, or ice-skate; go windsurfing, try hot-air ballooning, take a glider ride, or practice skeet shooting and archery. You can sign on for trail rides and cookouts; go hiking, rock climbing, mountain-biking, or river-running; and spend hours fly-fishing in mountain lakes and streams.

Here's a hatful of ways to get to know the territory and to meet a community renowned for its friendly, welcoming style:

Seek out the celebrity heritage. Strolling through the 1936 Sun Valley Lodge, you'll find yourself walking past photographs showing stars and starlets of old schussing Dollar Mountain in baggy ski pants.

Without looking too hard, you can find the tavern where Ernest Hemingway caroused in Ketchum and you can watch the movies Sun Valley Serenade or The Duchess of Idaho free at the Opera House. Celebrities still come to Sun Valley--you may catch glimpses in local eateries, on a golf-course, or pedaling bike trails.

Take in an outdoor ice show: Every Saturday night at dusk at Sun Valley Lodge, watch Olympic-caliber skaters renew one of the area's oldest traditions. Have a buffet dinner on the terrace above the rink before the show, and mingle with the community's best and brightest. Show costs $10; $37.50 with dinner.

Go-fly-fishing. Discover what hooked Hemingway as you cast for rainbow trout on the idyllic Big Wood, the easy-fishing Warm Springs, the East Fork of Big Lost River in austerely beautiful Copper Basin, and legendary Silver Creek, with trophy trout that challenge the best anglers. Local fly shops can get you started.

Discover the day-hike options. …

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