Sun Valley, Idaho
It wasn't until Averell Harriman, president of the Union Pacific Railroad, built Sun Valley Lodge in 1936 as a destination for his train tracks that Ketchum, Idaho, gained national recognition. Prior to Harriman, Ketchum was simply known as a prosperous mining and sheep town. But thanks to Harriman's vision, the region's sage-covered hills, towering cottonwoods and meandering rivers rife with trout quickly drew the attention of outdoor enthusiasts from around the country. Now, 63 years later, Ketchum couldn't survive without Sun Valley, the resort core that sits a mile to the east of downtown Ketchum. The ski area may have earned a reputation as a four-season resort, but it is Ketchum's businesses and its year-round community that provide the dining, shopping and party scene visitors demand. And it is downtown Ketchum's century-old faded brick facades that serve as a gateway to some of the best backpacking, mountain biking, golfing and fly-fishing in the Lower 48.
With so much to do, visitors should hit the ground running. The best way to get a feel for the lay of the land is by bike. Rent one at Ketchum's Sun Summit Ski and Cycle, then supercharge your morning ride with a Bowl of Soul at Java on Fourth Street. Warm up by following the paved bike path north to Adams Gulch where "Lane's Trail" switchbacks across sage-covered south faces and cool aspen groves. You could trace the valley's meandering stream to a ridge that overlooks the Warm Springs Canyon but, instead, return via the bike path to Bald Mountain's River Run Lodge, where a $14-ticket shuttles you via the Lookout Express quad to Baldy's 9,200-foot summit.
Take in the surrounding fields of Indian paintbrush and the dramatic Devil's Bedstead formation to the east, then grab a handful of brakes and descend the 3,400 vertical feet back to Ketchum. Afternoons are the perfect time for a round of golf or a hike above the Sawtooth Range's Red Fish Lake. There are four golf courses in the area, but Sun Valley's Robert Trent Jones, Jr., course rates among the West's most challenging. For that reason, golfers should reserve tee times well in advance. When Ketchum's Main Street lights flicker on, join the singles preening at the Sawtooth Club bar and restaurant, or add your name to the list at Duffy Witmer's Pioneer Saloon.
After dinner, if you have the energy, schedule a 6 am wakeup call, slip into the Lodge's heated circular pool and marvel at the Milky Way's brilliant slash across the summer night as you plan the next day's activities