Destination Showcase: Sun Valley, Idaho

Jun 26, 2018
by Devon Balet  
Views: 8,197    Faves: 47    Comments: 7

Sun Valley
The Making of a Mountain Bike Mecca
Words: Devon Balet // Photography: Margus Riga // Video: Liam Mullany

Sun Valley is the type of place that is forever burned into your mind once you ride your mountain bike there. Its fast buff singletrack in the high alpine is a mountain biker's dream. The expansive views, seemingly endless downhills, and loamy singletrack will entice any rider to let loose and open it up through the evergreen forests. And with a season that spans from late May through October there is enough time to enjoy all that it offers.

Cold Springs Trail on the back of Bald Mountain

If you have yet to ride in and around the Sun Valley area, now is the time. When Sun Valley thaws, the locals trade skis and snowboards for bikes and don't look back for months. With over 400 miles of singletrack, including the resort’s lift-serviced gravity trails and several bike parks, it all adds up to a mountain biking mecca.

Known for flowy, buff singletrack, you can ride for weeks without ever repeating the same ride. Beginning in the summer of 2014, Sun Valley Resort added lift-served mountain biking on Bald Mountain. If you aren’t keen to pedal up the 3,400 vertical feet to the summit, hop a ride on the gondola for a gravity-induced thrill back to the valley floor.

Pioneer Cabin

One may wonder how a long-time ski town came to have so many mountain bike trails. Sun Valley is in the heart of Blaine County which is served by the Blaine County Recreation District. The BCRD is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing Blaine County’s quality of life by creating healthy active recreational opportunities for all. Do you know what that means? Heaps of well-maintained trails.

The BCRD plays a significant role in the development of trails in the Sun Valley area. They manage and maintain multiple trails including the Wood River Trail, a 22-mile paved non-motorized path connecting the towns of the Wood River Valley; the Harriman Trail, a 20-mile gravel non-motorized path in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and the pumptrack in Hailey, Idaho.

Recently the BCRD completed a 3 year Galena Summer Trails project with a 47-mile singletrack, stacked loop trail network surrounding Galena Lodge north of Ketchum. Additionally, the BCRD employs the Wood River Valley Trails Coordinator (WRVTC). This position helps to open and close all area trails in the spring and fall, perform critical maintenance, coordinate trail work nights and keep the BCRD Summer Trail Link web page Summer Trail Link up to date with important trail information.

Forbidden Fruit

One may wonder how all these trails stay maintained. The BCRD has a Trails Department headed up by Director of Trails and Facilities, Eric Rector. The Trails and Facilities team maintains the Wood River Trail, Harriman Trail, pumptracks and Galena Summer Trails with the WRVTC also working under the Director of Trails and Facilities. All this is funded by a combination of taxes, earned income through fees and contributed income through fundraising.

With so many trails in such a small area you are sure to have a crowd-free experience, but how do you choose which trails to ride?

Forbidden Fruit

“Osberg’s Ridge is one of my top rides,” explains Ray Gadd with Visit Sun Valley. “You’re out there with big, expansive, epic views. There is a solid amount of climbing mixed with some mightily rewarding downhill. If I don’t have time for that 34-mile ride, Greenhorn to Imperial is legendary. But don’t take my word for it, go ride it yourself.”

If a gondola ride up and high speed ride down is more your flavor, then a ride up the Roundhouse Gondola from the base of Sun Valley and then connect to the Christmas Lift  to the top of the resort is for you. New in 2014, Saddle Up is a downhill-only mountain bike trail featuring banked turns, rollers and jumps appealing to experienced mountain bikers. From there you can connect to the soon to open Mindbender Trail that then connects down to River Run Trail, a sequence of switchbacks in the thick trees returning you to base of Sun Valley. Connecting these three trails provides a 9.5 mile downhill on purpose build flow trail, arguably the longest flow trail on any resort in North America.

Not every ride has to be such a commitment, however. One of the great aspects of the riding in and around Sun Valley is that there are several great networks a short distance from town. The Adams Gulch network is a popular after-work riding area being a short 3-mile pedal from the center of Ketchum.

The Adams Gulch Loop, also known as the Griffin Butte Loop is a great option if you are looking for an easy striking distance ride that will turn up the fun. This 7-mile loop is most commonly ridden clockwise heading out from the Adams Gulch Trailhead on the old road that follows the bottom of the drainage. You can stick to the wider road or take the low trails lining either side of the gulch (sunnyside or shadyside). Climbing out of the gulch on Griffin Butte Connector gets you to the top of the loop. Continue on and peel left down Harper’s for a super fast and flowy descent. Grand the Adam’s-Lake Connector to get back to where you started.
Forbidden Fruit is a super fun, high-speed flow trail with well-built doubles and big berms. Just west of the Adams Gulch network, Forbidden Fruit is a purpose-built flow trail that can be easily looped via Eve’s Gulch for multiple laps.
Pioneer Cabin - Johnstone - Bear - Parker is likely the most underrated ride in Ketchum. The trails at Adams Gulch and Greenhorn are good, but this ride gets you up high into the mountains. As a loop (including the short out and back section to Pioneer Cabin) it is nearly 35 miles and roughly 6,000 vertical gain. Pioneer Cabin is popular and can be busy with hikers, but they are supportive.

From all your hard work climbing up you are rewarded with the descent down Johnstone. This has a variety of sections ranging from open sage, treed, loamy to some stretches of rocky chutes descending into the creek bed.

Adam's Gulch Loop Trail

After all this great riding you will be on the hunt for a great spot to land for a cold drink and good eats. Sawtooth Brewery is a great option if you are looking for craft beer. Lefty’s and Grumpy’s are two local favorites that are must hit spots; both offering outdoor patios, ample beer selection and affordable food options.

There are certain days when your legs just need a rest. Fortunately, there are endless activities at your fingertips around Sun Valley with some of the best fly fishing access in the country right in the Sun Valley area. You can be on the Big Wood River in 5 minutes, or at Silver Creek Preserve, the Lost River, the Salmon River, or at a high-mountain lake in under an hour.
Another hugely popular off the bike activity is a nice river dip and hot springs soak. Several hot springs are within a short distance from Sun Valley, with Warm Springs Road offering some of the best access hot springs.
Throughout the summer months, there are countless festivals and markets to attend. Ketch’em Alive happens every Tuesday night with live music and vendors. Load up a picnic, catch up with friends and test out your dance moves in the Forest Service Park.
An unexpected good time is the Sun Valley Summer Symphony. There is an eclectic mix of people hanging out on the lawn experiencing free symphony performances from some of the best musicians in the country. Kids roam free while adults young and old, rich and poor share brie, wine and pbr as everyone soaks in a bit of culture.
With so much to do and so many trails to ride, it is no wonder that Sun Valley and the greater Blain County is becoming a hot spot for mountain biking. One thing you won’t find in Sun Valley is the crowds or the egos. With the expansive trail access, everyone spreads out. Along with empty trails, the folks there are unassumingly good riders without bragging about it; you will have former World Champions pedaling with new-comers. Seeing a community genuinely passionate for the sport is inspiring.

For more information regarding trails and planning a trip check out Visit Sun Valley or for information for lift access trails you can find more information at Bald Mountain .

Sun Valley mountain biking trails

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  • 53 10
 Sun Valley sucks. Idaho sucks. Go to Whistler.
  • 18 3
 Yea! Don't go to Sun Valley it's awful...stay away... in fact all of Idaho... pretty much don't ride bikes there.
  • 9 3
 Idaho is a great place to go if you like sagebrush, jack-rabbits, and rattlesnakes.
  • 9 2
 I've grown up here and can confirm, 10/10 would not move here. It sucks.
  • 13 7
 Idaho is the greatest place EVER to ride bikes - Stay away from Colorado, that state sucks with a capital S, just doesn't compare at all with Idaho GO TO IDAHO, DO NOT DO TO COLORADO.
  • 6 1
 Yeah, don't come here. We're full of nuclear waste and neo-nazis. Go to Marin County, California, instead.
  • 6 1
 California sucks - don’t come here. It’s bunch liberals and rich techy types. Everything overpriced and taxes are high. Worst riding ever especially in Santa Cruz and Monterey County. This is one place to never visit or check off your bucket list. Idaho Sun Valley would be a better place to check out especially in the winter month.
  • 7 1
 Agreed, Go to Whistler, stay away from Idaho, Colorado, Washington, New Mexico and parts of California.
  • 8 2
 British Columbia is the absolute WORST!! Nothing swarms of mosquitoes and grizzlies at every turn that'll swallow you whole. In fact, all of Canada is terrible. Encourage your President to focus on a northern wall and do yourself and fellow countrymen and women a favour and keep your hard earned tourism dollars in the good ole US of A!
  • 1 0
 Way To Go.. I Da Ho!
  • 1 0
 Another to confirm idaho sucks. Cost of living is getting out of control. Liberals taking over. Stay away!
  • 1 0
 Sorry guys. I'm moving there against my will. Seriously, good to know there is a good side to this. . .
  • 10 0
 So much great riding in Sun Valley. +1 for Pioneer Cabin loop. It's a bear of a climb but so rewarding. And I love Sun Valley, but don't call it loamy. Yes, it's generally flowy and buffed, but the dirt is predominately dusty and shaley.
  • 4 0
 From the pics and clip, i was thinking the same thing, no loam, but pretty dry, loose looking trails. Think I will stay put here in loam country (PNW)
  • 2 1
 Pioneer to Hyndman or to Long Gulch. Both satisfying. "The higher you get the higher you get"
  • 9 0
 People seriously need to stop using that word to describe trails. Loam is a soil type found in few regions of North America. Sun Valley area is primarily granitic soil and thus very sandy.
  • 4 1
 @jgusta: Learned to ride mountain bikes at Black Rock and on Oregon singletrack. Enduro guys love Sun Valley, I wasn't really impressed. Lots of trails but nothing gnarly on a big bike.
  • 2 0
 Been to Sun Valley when the trails are sweet, and been to Sun Valley when the area has been dry and trails are turning into dust piles. Ideally go when there is still moisture around.
  • 11 0
 So far from anywhere and so good. Don't worry, locals. That remoteness will always keep the traffic down. Love Sun Valley. Good place to disappear to.
  • 10 1
 Is this just a re-release of this, or is this a different trip? I think there's too much snow in the high country for these photos to be from this year?
  • 1 0
 There is still plenty of snow left over, some of the trails towards the top of the ski mountain still have enough of snow to maybe even ski
  • 1 1
 Some of the images were from that trip - but a different story. Since the snow was heavier than planned through May, we weren't able to get new capture from this year.
  • 3 2
  • 7 0
 Kinda makes me want a RM Instinct...
  • 2 0
 I got one exactly with the intent to ride it here!
  • 2 0
 Greenhorn to Imperial is awesome! I went there with my wife in 2011 or 2012 and have been thinking about going back ever since. Such a great place for riding and we barely scratched the surface for the week we were there.
  • 3 0
 2014? Lift served mountain biking has been going on for 20 years at Sun Valley. Check out the Warm Springs trail for the goods.
  • 4 0
 Not much there for downhill or freeride. Lots of fun on an enduro bike I imagine but not worth even bringing a big bike.
  • 1 0
 Anybody know how early the schools start the kids racing in Boise? I got a pair of 8 yearolds who are going to rock the trails, but if I could get them going up with the school so they wouldn't have to wait for old dad to get out of work that would be ideal.

All this assumes the school mtb racing trend has made it to Idaho.
  • 1 0
 If you are talking NICA than you have a few years to wait, it's middle and high school only.
Idaho has had a league since 2014
  • 1 0
 @mlong623: thanks. I googled it. They can get involved at 10. Couple of years. I'm excited.
  • 3 0
 I'll never forget watching Shandro and Peat rider here in the Collective. Stunning looking.
  • 3 0
 I had a history teacher that argued Idaho was not real and never existed. I used to buy acid from him.
  • 2 0
 I am headed on a road trip to ride BC in August and am contemplating a 4 hour stop in Sun Valley to break up the drive. Is there a whole lot for full blown DH bikes though?
  • 2 0
 The real answer is no. All trails even lift access trails are more for enduro type of bikes.
  • 1 0
 There isn't anything for the DH bike. Hardly need one with even 6" of travel....
  • 3 0
 Your own private...Idaho.
  • 3 0
 Soon to become part of a nearby Wilderness?
  • 3 0
 Not funny, actually. Look up the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act. Everything you see in this article will be Wildernized if that passes.
  • 1 0
 Correction: the majority of the trails listed and viewed in the video are managed and maintained by the Ketchum Ranger District Smile
  • 1 0
 Love Sun Valley. I am fortunate to be able to ride that place as much as I do.
  • 2 0
 Doesn't get any better...
  • 1 0
 Two road trips in the states and have yet to nail down a ride at this spot. Looks fantastic!
  • 2 0
 Stoked! Gonna be there for the first time in July for a week!
  • 1 0
 Stop by The Elephant Perch Bike Shop. Get a trail map. After the ride, Lefty's Bar & Grill. Mean ass Elk burgers & brews.
  • 3 0
 @omegalung: or simply use trailforks. ..
  • 3 0
 @ybsurf: Yes, but first time. But you will miss the human experience. Like hey, want to jump in our group ride tomorrow. I did, and got to ride with Wade Simmons. Won't get that on Trail Forks.
  • 1 3
 Dont think its possuble for the usa to have a mtb mecca when you have to pay a few grand to fix a broken bone. With all the travel insurance i coild get, id never feel comfertable riding outside of canada as a canadian citizen. I dunno maybe im an ignorant chode.
  • 1 0
 A few grand? Might need to up that #! Travel insurance and you're good to go!!!
  • 2 0
 That's funny Carrot Top. Your 'healthcare' may be free, but when it takes a year to get an MRI, then what healthcare?
I know 3 people I used to RR with that always came 'down' to the US when they got hurt, 'cuz they couldn't get repaired in anywhere near a timely fashion.
Sometimes free shit is just that, free, S-H-I-T
  • 1 0
 @YoKev: lol dude ive had 4 surgeries, never waited a year for an mri. never waited more than 2 months tbh, and when i needed instant help, i got it, like when my appendix was f*cked. maybe im lucky, but my experience with the health care system has never been that slow. and in canada u can choose private, its not like were all waiting in line. heres the thing. ive torn multiple amounts of cartilage in my left knee, torn the mcl, got my appendix taken out, pilonidal cyst taken out, had a lateral release surgery on my left knee, and im getting another surgery in nov for another cartilage scraping session on my anterior cartilage, and ive never spent more than a few hundred bones in total for essentially paying for knee braces. if i was in the usa, id be broke, anyone with the amount if injuries ive had would have to pay a premium for any insurance at all. you can think what you want, believe ignorant people that cant wait a few months for a non emergency mri exaggerate their position. going to the us for med care doesnt make sense when u can skip the line up here by going to a private surgical clinic. all professional athletes go to private clinics, they dont wait in line, they have money, which they spend in canada. the only thing people go outside of canada for is experimental treatments, like stem cell regeneration, where different states would have different laws on treatment, thats all. to say you know a bunch of canadians that go to the us for mri's is absolute BULLLSHIT.
  • 1 0
 What's the name of this Cabin they are staying at? Is it Idaho National Forest owned?
  • 1 0
 It's called Pioneer Cabin. I don't know who owns it--I don't think you can reserve it or anything. It's just there.
  • 2 0
 Where’d all the rocks go?
  • 2 0
 Looks awesome!
  • 2 0
 On my way.
  • 1 0
 Are the trails dry there yet?
  • 1 0
 Yes, still some moisture up high. Greenhorn Gulch up is in great shape. So many more trails in that loop.
  • 1 0
 Checking it out this summer.
  • 1 0
 Idaho is cool, but a lot of smug people in sun valley
  • 1 0
 Ah Utah. Where the mullets run free and everyone has a cop mustache.
  • 1 0
 Are there any chunk trails in Idaho?

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