March 2002: Ketchum/Sun Valley Trails


Ketchum/Sun Valley, Idaho

In 1879 a tall, wiry prospector named David Ketchum built a small shelter along the Trail Creek to use as his base of operations in the area. He didn't stay long. By 1880, when mining operations began to be permanently established, Ketchum was long gone, rumored to be in Arizona, or perhaps dead in a saloon standoff. The new town called itself Leadville but the United States Post Office turned down the name because Leadvilles were as common as dashed dreams in the West by that time. The settlers decided to name their town after pioneering David Ketchum, whose rudimentary shelter still stood down by Trail Creek.
For more than a decade Ketchum boomed but the collapse of the silver market in 1894 opened a gash in the town's economy that drained 90 percent of its population. The town recovered some with an infusion of sheep ranching but by the 1930s there were fewer than 300 people living in Ketchum. In 1935 Austrian Count Felix Schaffgotsch was hired by Union Pacific Railroad Chairman W. Averell Harriman to scout the American West for the best site to build a destination ski resort like the tony resorts in the European Alps. Schaffgotsch scoured the mountain regions of the West and rejected such places as Aspen, Jackson Hole and Yosemite. He was prepared to return to New York and report his failure when a railroad representative from Idaho asked him to check out Ketchum. Within three days, the Count wired Harriman: "Among the many attractive spots I have visited, this combines more delightful features of any place I have seen in the United States, Switzerland, or Austria for a winter sports resort." Eleven months later Sun Valley Resort opened to international acclaim and Ketchum's future viability was assured.

Ketchum features over 40 miles of trails located within a 5-mile radius of town. The marquis walk is the 5-mile Bald Mountain Trail, the trailhead of which is at the end of 3d Avenue at River Run Plaza on the edge of town. The trail crosses numerous ski trails up 3400 feet to an elevation above the tree line at 9151 feet. Not only are dogs allowed on the Bald Mountain Trail, they are welcomed and even catered to. Just past the halfway point up the mountain, in a glade of giant fir trees, is a drinking fountain at the Louis Stur Memorial. There is a spigot to fill a dog bowl and, for neglectful dog owners, a perpetually-filled dog drinking bowl built right into the trail. About the only place dogs are not allowed is on the ski lifts.
Other trails around Ketchum include hikes around Corral Creek in the Sun Valley resort and additional alpine walks north of town on Highway 75 at Fox Creek and Adams Gulch. These dirt and grass trails are afire with wildflowers through the summer months. 
Further up Highway 75, just seven miles from Ketchum is the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, with 756,000 acres of public land. A highlight in the Sawtooths, with more than 40 peaks higher than 10,000 feet, are more than 300 high mountain lakes. Several of the lakes, including Baker Lake and the Norton Lakes are within two miles of a trailhead. 
The Harriman Trail, named for Sun Valley founder W. Averell Harriman, is a 31-kilometer corridor in three segments that is open to hiking, biking and cross-country-skiing that starts at the Sawtooth National Recreation headquarters. The trail climaxes in Galena, overlooking the headwaters of the Salmon River. 

The opportunity to see the dogs of the rich and famous on the trails. The guest list for the opening of Sun Valley on December 21, 1936 was studded with millionaire socialites and Hollywood stars and celebrities have made their homes in the Ketchum area ever since.

Ernest Hemingway Memorial (Sun Valley Road, Sun Valley). Ernest Hemingway spent his final years in Ketchum and he is remembered with a memorial on a shaded bank of Trail Creek. The Ernest Hemingway Memorial, featuring a bust and engraved pedastal opposite a small, contemplative rest area, is along the Trail Creek Trail in Sun Valley. Nearby, in the Ketchum Cemetery on the northen edge of town on Route 75, is Hemingway's unadorned grave. Guarded by a sentry of trees, the marker is flush with the ground and offers no more than a name and dates for the life of America's most celebrated writer of the 20th century. Hemingway's four dogs - Black, Negrita, Neron, and Linda - are buried in a neat patio at his home in Cuba.

Ketchum Fast Freight Wagons (corner of East Avenue and Fifth Street, Ketchum). In the heyday of the Ketchum mining boom entrepreneur Horace Lewis commissioned the building of monstrous wooden wagons to transport freight, merchandise, ore and bullion between area mines. The wagons of the Ketchum Fast Freight Line were pulled by 14 to 20 mules and each was capable of carrying 18,000 pounds of ore. Taken out of operation in 1902, the enormous wagons are displayed in the Ore Wagon Museum. Visible from outside while taking the dog on the Historic Ketchum Walking Tour, the exhibits are also explained in an outdoor breezeway. 

Ketchum is north of I-80 on Highway 75. The Visitor Center on Main Street (Highway 75) features abundant material on the various hiking options in the area.