Just when you think your Idaho vacation can’t get any better, it does. October in Sun Valley ushers in a mild chill as the vibrant colors of fall make themselves heard. Yes, you might get a few snowflakes …but, locals will tell you, hands down, that October is undeniably one of the best months to spend in Sun Valley, Idaho.
For the most part, high tourist season is over, and the town is relatively quiet. Even so, there is still much to hike, fish, do and see. October in Sun Valley brings two prominent festivals front and center. Whether the plan is to tap your feet to the boogie-woogie of the Sun Valley Jazz Festival or to take part in the unique experience of the internationally recognized Trailing of the Sheep Festival, make sure to leave time for strolling through town, listening to live music, catching a movie, enjoying a warm afternoon hike, or taking a bike ride on the Wood River Trail system. Wait – did we mention – and then skip over – Trailing of the Sheep? Of course, we did! Let’s fix that!
October’s annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival in the Wood River Valley is a 5-day celebration of the area’s rich, cultural history. With events and activities held throughout the Wood River Valley, the festival has been attracting and entertaining folks from around the world for over 20 years. It’s historical, cultural and educational. It’s interactive, creative, and tasty. It’s so extraordinary that it has been called “One of the Top 10 Fall Festivals in the World” by MSN Travel and has been included in USA Today’s coverage of “10 Best Fall Festivals in America”. It is so unique you will want to return year after year. But, wait…. sheep? Really? Why celebrate sheep?
Here is what we know….
Shepherding is a large part of the Wood River Valley’s history. And, as a matter of fact, in 1860, the headcount for sheep in the Wood River Valley was about 14,000. As the population grew from mining, the role of sheep within the local economy became even more significant. With our harsh Idaho winters and limited access to this part of the country, you can imagine sheep were as an essential source of both food and warmth.
The industry thrived, and our Wood River Valley sheepherders supplied their wares to other areas. With the sheep count of 1890 at 614,000 increasing to 2.65 million head by 1918, it’s simple math that recognized Ketchum as second only to Sydney, Australia when it came to sheep. We know – that’s impressive for a little Idaho mountain town in the middle of nowhere!
Wait, there is more….
Back in Ketchum’s early days, folks came from around the world planting roots in the Wood River Valley while pouring blood, sweat, and tears into sheepherding. Let’s do some namedropping. There were the Lanes, the Laidlaws, the Thomas family and, of course, the Peavys. In the mid-1850s, a Basque community made their way to Idaho. There were the Cenarrusas, the Etcheverrys, the Guerrysand, the Oxarangos, and many others. Time and life went on in what many called sheep country. It was a good life.
Much to the chagrin of the ranchers and sheepherders, the secret of the beauty and lifestyle of Sun Valley, Idaho was revealed. Development crept in as city folk moved into town. By the mid 1900s, many large land parcels were being sold off. Hemingway arrived with his cronies as did trainloads of Hollywood celebrities, top business executives and politicians. Skiable terrain was developed, and lifts were built. Life in Sun Valley, Idaho was changing with the rise of tourism, and an influx of newcomers.
To honor the old days and old ways, a plan was hatched for the first Trailing of the Sheep Festival in 1997. Designed to educate the newcomers of our rich shepherding and ranching history and cultural heritage, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival has been a favorite for years.
The 2018 Trailing of the Sheep Festival runs October 10-14th and includes events and activities for your whole family. Throughout the whole weekend, you’ll discover Sheep Tales Storytelling, multiple Farm to Table Dinners, and a unique local Sheepherders and Ranchers Q and A at the Community Library. There are on-going demonstrations of life in the old days, as well as films and documentaries specific to the festival. You can test your culinary skills with Cooking with Lamb classes. And, creative types can challenge themselves with a variety of Wool Fest classes. The opportunity to explore and discover is endless.
However, where do you start? Friday evening kicks off with For the Love of Lamb, which is a must do and taste! Local Ketchum restaurants offer their individual spin on hand-crafted, culinary delights or lamb bites to passersby in celebration of the weekend. It’s fun! It’s tasty! And, at just $20 per “passport”, it’s a lamb lover’s dream come true. If you don’t get enough to eat, the town’s restaurants will please your palate even more with their own special lamb inspired dishes spiced perfectly for this time of year. Can’t you taste the garlic and oregano?
Not to be missed on Saturday, is the incredible Sheep Folklife Fair at Roberta McKercher Park in Hailey, Idaho. Known as Lamb Fest, you’ll discover an abundance of activities, demonstrations, artists, and delicious foods inspired by our local heritage. Watch, listen and learn from the cultural music and Basque dancers performing in traditional dress. There are more wool classes and demonstrations including how to use a spindle! There is a kid’s craft tent under the direction of our local 4H groups. There are wool and leather artists. Learn about felting and the many uses of wool. There is more storytelling about sheep and wool, and even a Make It with Wool Contest. There are Sheepdog Trials and Demonstrations, Sheep Shearing Exhibitions, and even authentic sheepherders’ wagons. Saturday finishes off with “Sheep Jam” featuring cocktails, a buffet dinner, and entertainment at Whiskey Jacques in Ketchum.
Sunday wraps up the weekend with a Sheep photography outing, and the cream of the crop (or flock), The Big Sheep Parade and Picnic. What’s that? So glad you have asked! Imagine, 1500 sheep making their way south down Main Street through Ketchum. Yup! This is our version of an Idaho traffic jam! For an even more affect, the Big Sheep Parade is led by descendants of local sheepherding families. Before and after the parade, make your way to Ketchum Town Square for the Happy Trails Festival Closing Party, a free event with food, drinks and music.
Participating in Trailing of the Sheep always gives us a deeper appreciation of how the Wood River Valley was conquered and how it should be valued. We love our Idaho and want to share its unique qualities with visitors. Whether passing through or staying a while, we invite you to enjoy what the Gem State offers. Take a moment to imagine yourself living in the 1850s. You’ll be impressed and grateful for the settlers of yesteryear. And, your family will have a fantastic time!