If you visit Sun Valley, Idaho in the summer you will see a lot of three things: multimillion-dollar mansions, range upon range of mountains, and endless miles of cross country singletrack. What you won’t see? Crowds of people.
According to Trulia.com, the average home listing price in Ketchum is about $1.3M, and the average monthly rent is $1,800. According to Livability.com, the median home value is $629,800. Of these homes, 80% are either second or third (or fourth or fifth…) homes. While $1.3M is the average listing price, a quick scan of a real estate office downtown revealed a handful of properties currently for sale north of $20 million.
In short, the people you’re rubbing shoulders with in the line at Starbucks? They could very likely be multi-millionaires.
This point was driven home on our way out to the highest-rated loop in Sun Valley on Singletracks: Greenhorn Gulch to Imperial Gulch. The road out to the trailhead is an easement on private land through a little subdivision, and as we drove up the road, I looked out my window and thought, “Oh, that must be a hunting lodge or a boutique hotel of some sort. What an awesome location!”
And then I realized: It was a house. Just one house. Bigger than any house I’d ever seen in my life.
This is Sun Valley.
But what if you’re a dirt bag mountain biker?
But what if you’re a dirt bag mountain biker on a budget? Is Sun Valley still attainable for a mountain biking getaway?
The answer is “yes,” and it’s even more dirt bag-friendly than many high-end mountain towns I’ve visited.
Here’s how to dirt bag Sun Valley on a shoestring budget.
Sun Valley on a Dirt Bag Budget
The best way to access Sun Valley on a budget is to suck it up and road trip. Sun Valley isn’t close to anywhere, and even once you get there, you’ll want a set of wheels to get around from your campsite, to town, and to the trailheads. It may literally take you days of driving to reach Sun Valley, but hey, if you’re truly dirt bagging it, there’s incredible singletrack along every possible route into town.
Obviously, camping is the way to go for the legit dirt bag, and Sun Valley is actually much more camp-able than some other high-dollar mountain towns I’ve ridden in, such as Park City and Aspen. While you may not have good camping access in town unless you have a Sprinter van, head north of town just a few miles, and hang a left on Baker Creek Road. Baker Creek—like most dirt roads in the national forest—offers great dispersed camping for absolutely free (with a 14-day camping limit).
The bonus? Unlike some dispersed camping zones in other destinations, Baker Creek Road is the access point for over half a dozen trails, and one of the best rides in the region: Osberg’s Ridgeline Trail. You can easily spend several days riding from your campsite on Baker Creek Road and never have to head into town.
While Sun Valley is full of white table cloth, tooty-fruity fancy-pants restaurants where you’re expected to know what fork to eat with first (hint: start at the outside and work in), there are plenty of establishments that serve great food and beer at a reasonable price.
First on that list is Grumpy’s.
Now, if you’re offended by lewd drawings on the walls of the bar, employees dropping F bombs (in the friendliest way possible), and the smell of weed, you’ll want to skip Grumpy’s. If, however, you’re like the rest of the people eating there and you don’t give a shit, you’ll find a pretty incredible beer selection for a dive bar, and delicious food priced as affordably as McDonalds. Seriously, I had an incredible pulled pork sandwhich here for way less than I could have purchased it anywhere in my hometown of Salida.
But the big selling point of Grumpy’s are the schooners.
Imagine a 32-ounce goblet filled with sudsy goodness after a 33-mile, 6-hour ride, and you’ll understand why I now think of Grumpy’s with a sense of awe and wonder. It’s the best place to wrap up an all-day epic that I can imagine!
After you’ve hit Grumpy’s, be sure to check out Sawtooth Brewery, which is only a couple blocks away. While the prices are more on par with your average mountain town, for locally-brewed craft beer and delicious food, I’m totally down with it.
If you’re dirt bagging it and driving, bring your own, obv.
As mentioned above, the epic Osberg’s Ridgeline Trail is accessible from Baker Creek Road, but skip the paid shuttle and hoof it up the road yourself, dropping back down to your camp via one of the many descent options. Other great loops include Fisher Creek Loop and the afore-mentioned Greenhorn Gulch to Imperial Gulch. But this is just the tip of the iceberg–you won’t be able to exhaust all of the trail possibilities before your 14-day camping limit is up and you’re forced to find a new site.
Finally, if you’re riding on a dirt bag budget, be sure to skip paying for the chairlifts to the top of the mountain. Everything can be looped and pedaled—including the on-mountain trails—with enough gumption.
Stepping On Up: Sun Valley on a Middle Class Budget
Have a few more bones that you’re willing to part with? Sun Valley is very accessible on a middle class budget. Indeed, most of the advertising coming out of Sun Valley is aimed at the upper middle class, AKA families with a household income of $125,000 or more.
Your best bet on a middle class budget is to fly into Boise and rent a car. While there’s an airport located just down valley from Ketchum in Hailey, flights in and out of there aren’t cheap—especially if you want to go nonstop. Plus, you’ll probably still want wheels when you get to Sun Valley anyway. There are car rental options at the Hailey airport, but not many.
I personally had a middle-class experience in Sun Valley, staying at the 3-star Tamarack Lodge. Located right in downtown, it’s easy walking distance to Starbucks, the grocery store, any number of local eateries, and the local bike shops.
The room I stayed in would be classified as a comfortable suite instead of a simple hotel room, complete with living room, bed room, fireplace, balcony, and more. Room rates at the Tamarack vary depending on the day of the week and the season, from about $120 per night to about $200 per night. If you want to ride the line between dirt bag and middle class, throw some sleeping bags on the floor and fit a half-dozen of your bros in one of these rooms.
Once you step up to middle class-level, there’s no end of great places to eat and drink in the valley. For the best burger, hit up the Powerhouse down valley in Hailey. They also have an incredible beer selection, fit for a boutique craft beer bar in the city. Expect to pay boutique beer bar prices, though.
You can’t beat Cristina’s for breakfast in Sun Valley. Offering a fantastic menu with absolutely delicious food, expect to pay a good bit more than Starbucks.
If you’re staying at the Tamarack, it’s hard to beat the convenience of the Elephant’s Perch bike shop, just down the street. I was set up with a quality Ibis Mojo HD3 rental from “The Perch,” and after a few limit screw tweaks and telling the skinny teenager working on my bike that “no, setting the sag for your weight isn’t the same as setting it for my weight,” it rode great all week.
If you’re coming in on a middle-class budget, be sure to spring for a day of lift riding on Bald Mountain. $39 isn’t bad for a ticket, and you’ll be able to save your legs for bigger efforts the rest of the week. Note: Bald Mountain isn’t really a downhill bike park, but rather a “trail bike park.” While you can find a few table tops and berms, most everything is easily achievable for an intermediate rider. However, Bald Mountain has 17 miles of new trail proposed and approved, so expect to see some major expansion and some more technical trails over the next couple of years!
Also, take note of the two longer trails dropping out of the resort. While you’ll need to pedal some pavement to return to the base of the lift, your ride to the top can score you three thousand free feet of descending on delicious XC trails!
Finally, grab a shuttle out of town from Sturtevants for Osberg’s Ridgeline trail. The point-to-point experience, ending back in town, is definitely worth the price of admission!
Thanks to Visit Sun Valley for making this trip a reality.