Idaho’s Sun Valley resort opened to the public in the winter of 1936, earning it the title of the world’s first destination resort. Steve Hannagan, the publicist famous for putting Miami Beach on the map, used this fact to attract Hollywood royalty like Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, and Gary Cooper to central Idaho.
Hannagan’s pitch worked, and the resort became the place to see and be seen. Now 80 years old, Sun Valley continues to attract some of the world’s best skiers and snowboarders. Visitors flock to the resort during the other seasons, too, taking advantage of numerous recreational activities in a rustic mountain setting.
From Friedman Memorial Airport in nearby Hailey, it’s a 15-minute drive to the resort. My journey required a full day of travel, as there’s no direct flight from either of the Dallas airports. Most visitors to Sun Valley come from Portland or West Coast markets like San Francisco and Los Angeles.
After arriving, I headed straight to Gretchen’s, a relaxing indoor-outdoor restaurant located in the resort’s lobby, where I sipped champagne and enjoyed Pacific salmon with locally grown Idaho potatoes while the sun vanished behind Bald Mountain (known to the locals as “Baldy”).
Sun Valley offers 480 rooms spread across Sun Valley Lodge, Sun Valley Inn, cottages, condos, and townhomes. The Sun Valley Lodge reopened in June 2015 following a 10-month renovation. There are five new suites named after famous guests, from Clint Eastwood to Ernest Hemingway. The three-story spa now spans 30,000 square feet. The lobby was also updated during the renovation, but its character and charm remain.
In the summer, expect highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s—perfect weather for hiking, biking, fly-fishing, and golf. Hiking trails offer 360-degree views of the valley. Located just outside the lobby doors, they provide a good option for getting out and about before breakfast. Time your hike to watch the sun rise over the top of Bald Mountain.
Golf fanatics can choose from Sun Valley Resort’s 45 holes and the newly built Elkhorn Golf Club. And, of course, visitors can try their hand at some of the most desired fly-fishing waters in the country.
My group and I traded in the manicured landscape and paved roads for backcountry Idaho. Our guide, Pat, and his dog, Willis, led us up and down Snake River looking to land an Idaho rainbow trout. Willis, just as much an expert as Pat, guided us through thick shrubbery and fast-moving water.
“I don’t like Colorado,” our guide says as he casts out. “You can’t fish anywhere in Colorado without hearing a car drive by, or walking through someone’s backyard,” he adds, gesturing to the idyllic nature surrounding us. Although we didn’t catch anything, it ended up being one of my favorite excursions.
Sun Valley offers great grub, too. The resort’s German roots play a heavy hand in the cuisine. To start, it’s a quick walk to Konditorei for breakfast. The pastry selection is overwhelming, and if you’re in the mood for savory, there are options ranging from omelets to corned beef hash. For lunch, we ventured up Baldy to The Roundhouse. In addition to the views—and the warm sunshine—I enjoyed a fresh summer salad out on the wraparound patio.
But the most memorable meal was dinner at The Ram. Serving up European and American cuisine, with food sourced when possible from Idaho, The Ram offers specialties like fondue and roasted bone marrow. The ambiance is lively, thanks to Sun Valley local Larry Harshbarger, who plays songs from memory on the piano. By the end of the night, we were singing along to “Fiddler on the Roof” while contemplating the dessert menu.
Eight decades later, the luxurious Sun Valley has maintained its down-to-earth approachability. Visit and you may forget all about Colorado.