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.
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.
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.
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?
“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.
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