With laid-back restaurants, comfy hotels, and outdoor activities for toddlers to teens, south-central Idaho makes for the perfect family vacation.
Within the Smoky Mountains of south-central Idaho, Sun Valley and Ketchum are, unofficially, pretty close to perfect ski towns. In fact, legendary ski-film auteur Warren Miller chose to start his career here, living in a camper in the resort parking lots and shooting on the sunny slopes.
Among skiers, Sun Valley refers to the ski area, which comprises Bald and Dollar mountains, but it’s actually a resort city of its own. Next door is Ketchum, with its delightful downtown full of family-friendly restaurants and quirky shops. Locals here are laid-back—no resort pretense here—and the vibe in town is blissfully relaxed (and fun).
But even if your family thinks skiing is best done on the water in 80-degree weather, you’ll find plenty to do outdoors, no matter the season. Just follow the below guide to make the most of your time in this scenic slice of Idaho.
What to Do
In the winter…
Sun Valley is famous for its sunny slopes and powdery snow, so even if you’re not a skier, consider becoming one here. Bald Mountain’s tree-cut runs and wide, open bowls are better for more-seasoned skiers, while Dollar Mountain’s less steep terrain and all-day kids’ programs are best for beginners.
If skiing sounds like too much work, take the family skating at the Sun Valley Outdoor Ice Rink instead. You can skate during the winter, of course, but the real treat here is that this indoor-outdoor rink, with spectacular mountain views, is open all year long. The complex also hosts performances by Olympic and professional skaters, a figure-skating school, and lessons for beginners, as well as the star-studded Sun Valley on Ice show come July.
When skiing and skating go beyond the athletic abilities (or desires) of your family, get your thrills by barreling down the slopes on a plastic sled. Pick up a ride from Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports or Sturtevants, then head over to Penny Hill or Baker Creek, just north of Sun Valley, to race down some of Blaine County’s best sledding hills, which are ideal for all ages.
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As a splurge, book a sleigh ride out to the log-cabin-turned-restaurant Trail Creek Cabin (a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, who frequented the region from 1939 until the early ’60s) for dinner. The 40-minute journey through the countryside, cozy under a heap of blankets, gives you time to work up an appetite. While the dinner is multiple courses, it includes kid-friendly dishes like burgers, Idaho trout and chips, and German chocolate cake, so families are more than welcome.
In the spring, summer, and early fall…
Bald Mountain offers rides up the Roundhouse Express Gondola for stunning views of the surrounding mountains, and several alpine hiking trails for your trip back down. Take the 2.2-mile Broadway Trail for a leisurely stroll, or the 8.3-mile Warm Springs Trail if you have older, outdoorsy kids with energy to spare.
Elsewhere, nature walks, easy hikes, and bike rides can be had along the lovely Wood River Trail, which connects Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum, and Sun Valley. At more than 20 miles, the paved path gives families the chance to explore the picturesque landscapes and abandoned railroad tracks that define this forested stretch of central Idaho.
Afterward, play a few rounds of disc golf at the Ketchum Disc Golf Course (formerly Warm Springs Ranch) or head over to Galena Lodge or Sun Valley Stables and explore via horseback the nearby woodlands and remnants of Idaho’s logging and mining past. For the less adventurous, there’s Boulder Mountain Clayworks, where you can make your own pottery, or the Sun Valley Opera House. The iconic theater, which first opened in 1937, hosts plenty of children’s films and festivals throughout the year, and even serves beer and wine for grown-ups.
Finally, if all you want to do is unwind near the water, take your brood to Penny Lake for a picnic amid the towering shore pines and delicate aspen trees of Sawtooth National Forest. Plan ahead and rent a few rods and reels from Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum, then drop a line off the pier and try to catch some rainbow trout.
Where to Eat
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At the top of the Roundhouse Express Gondola on Bald Mountain, The Roundhouse restaurant serves up some of the most spectacular views in Sun Valley. The menu is equally impressive, if a bit pricey for the area, with lots of options (burgers, fondue, salads, sandwiches, and soups) for children and adults alike.
For lunch in Sun Valley, swing by Konditorei, where you can stuff yourself full of sweet and savory fresh-baked pastries, crêpes, and schnitzel (there’s an Austrian influence). In Ketchum, try Johnny G’s Subshack for sandwiches, from traditional varieties like Mama Sass’s Meatball to build-your-own options with whole-wheat wraps or gluten-free bread.
Come dinnertime, Apple’s Bar and Grill, located next to the Warm Springs Lodge, is the perfect place to chow down on burgers, chicken wings, mac and cheese, pizza, and a range of other comfort food. Even the most finicky diners should find something here, especially when the reward is dessert at Sun Valley Chocolate Foundry, a beloved chocolate shop serving fudge and frozen yogurt.
Where to Stay
Just a four-minute drive to Bald Mountain, the Limelight Hotel Ketchum is a smart option for families with younger children, thanks to its dedicated Kids Room filled with games like Connect 4 and Uno, an old-school Nintendo set, big beanbag chairs, and—get this—an ice-cream vending machine. The hotel also offers free shuttle service to the airport and around town, an on-site bike rental shop, and a pool and hot tub area for relaxing after a big day of exploring.
A cross between a ski chalet and a comfy, modern hotel, the Knob Hill Inn comes with an indoor pool, hot tub, and sauna—a treat after a long day on the slopes. The dog-friendly spot, which sits just seven minutes from Bald Mountain, further caters to families with a heated boot storage area and several other amenities designed to make your ski days as pleasurable as possible. With a heated indoor pool and four-season outdoor hot tub, Tamarack Lodge, under 10 minutes from Bald Mountain, is another great option for families. The recently refurbished rooms are bright and well designed, and there are free bikes and snowshoes for guests to use at their leisure.
>>Next: Plan your trip with AFAR’s Travel Guide to Idaho