Time travel. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to experience different periods of history? Aside from what we have learned from Marty McFly in Back to the Future, we still wonder what it would be like to go back 50 or even 100 years. Well, hold your horses – pun intended! Since time travel isn’t possible, let’s shoot for the next best thing. The Annual Wagon Days Celebration in Sun Valley, Idaho is a step back in time to 19th century living in the Wood River Valley.

In the late 1880’s, this part of the country was considered the wild, wild, west. The Wood River Valley was made up of well-populated mining towns, but the terrain was unbelievably tricky, the winters were harsh, and the living even more so. Sure. There were newspapers, restaurants, schools and everything a town might need but, getting in and out of the area was not for the faint of heart. Before the Union Pacific Railroad laid tracks, the ORE WAGONS, also known as the BIG HITCH, were the only connection folks living in the Wood River Valley had with the outside world. It was responsible for carrying in supplies while carrying out mined goods. The fact is the wagons ability to get over the mountains was vital to survival.

But, wait! Let’s not put the cart before the horse! How did Wagon Days get started? The answer is easy.
In 1958, some townsfolk were at the one and only Casino on Main Street in Ketchum. They wanted to honor the wishes of the LEWIS Family to display the ORE WAGONS once a year. After a few whiskeys and a few hands of cards, the idea of a parade was born and sounded pretty good.

Here is what we know.

Costumes are encouraged but not required. Don’t be shy! There will be adults dressed as gun-slinging cowboys, old-time miners and local trappers. There will be white-hatted sheriffs and black-hatted villains. There will be showgirls, mountain scouts, Indians and people simply dressed in pioneer garb. You’ll catch a glimpse of folks on horseback riding up and down Main Street. It is a memorable cultural and historical experience unlike any other. Now that the mood is set, let’s talk about some of the event highlights.

Friday Night of Wagon Days weekend in Ketchum kicks off with a dose of Cowboy Poetry, old west musicians meandering through town, a Grand Marshall’s Reception, and an old-fashioned Barn Dance at the Ore Wagon Museum. With all the festivities in and around town, you’ll be tempted to stay out until the cows come home. But, don’t. There is much to do in the morning.

Saturday starts early with an all-you-can-eat Pancake Breakfast. Sponsored by the local, non-profit Papoose Club, pancakes are served up in Ketchum Town Square starting at 8 AM. If you are a late riser, you can get a belly full until about noon. If Saturday doesn’t fit your schedule, don’t worry. The Pancake Breakfast is also on Sunday. Heading up to Festival Field, next to the Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church, you’ll see traditional performances by The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes as well as the magic and beauty of The EhCapa Bareback Riders. At 1 pm, the infamous BIG HITCH PARADE starts down Sun Valley Road towards Main Street where it turns north.

The largest non-motorized parade in the west – yes, you read that correctly, the BIG HITCH PARADE includes over 100 authentic buggies, carriages, tacks, carts, buckboards, stagecoaches, and horses drawn wagons. There are local and regional marching bands. There are politicians waving and balloons flying. There are ladies on horseback carrying full glasses of champagne so, look out for spills! Watch in awe and wonder as the original BIG HITCH thunders its way west and then makes an impressive turn onto main street to head north. Pulled by a 16-team draft mule jerk line, the BIG HITCH brings up the rear of the parade. While standing in awe, imagine how the drivers of this massive rig were able to get in and out of Hailey and Ketchum to as far north as Galena and Stanley. You’ll have a new appreciation for days gone by and our rich history.

Wait – Horses? Yes. There are Morgans, Arabians, and Pasos. And, it does get messy. But never fear – our local Sun Valley Sun hockey players will be wearing their inline skates and carrying their shovels to pick up what is left behind.

After the parade, the town is alive and well with a Post-Parade Street Party. There is food, drink, music, rides, bouncy houses, and a dunking booth. Grab a hot dog, a cold beer, or lemonade. Take a moment and visit all the open businesses offering their version of Wagon Days’ hospitality. You will be glad you did.

Just when you thought your Sun Valley Idaho vacation couldn’t get any better, it does with Wagon Days. There is no question that this is the town’s biggest cultural and historic event celebrating the old west. To coin a famous and well-known local slogan,” Welcome to Yesteryear”. By being a part of Ketchum’s Annual WAGON DAYS CELEBRATION, you and your family will experience what life in the late 1800’s. We know. It’s incredible. By the way…Who said time travel doesn’t exist?

For the Full Schedule of Events for Wagon Days Weekend – Click Here

Located an hour’s drive north of Sun Valley, the Alice Lake trail rewards the hiker with a variety of terrain and a beautiful destination. While the slope of the trail isn’t overly challenging, it is a long hike. Plan for at least 5 hours to hike the total 10.4-mile trail (5.2 miles each way) with 1,700 elevation gain. Just make sure you give yourself time to enjoy the lake.

To get to the trailhead from Sun Valley, head north on Highway 75, and turn left (west) at the sign to Pettit Lake. Follow signs to the Tin Cup Hiker Trailhead, which is located on the north side of Pettit Lake. While there are plenty of parking spaces nearby, it’s always advisable to get there early, especially on busy summer weekends.

Alice Lake Shore

The first mile or so of the trail follows skirts the north of the lake and is fairly flat. The pitch of the trail doesn’t get too bad as you enter the Sawtooth Wilderness but becomes increasingly more difficult as the trail continues.

Most of the hike follows a stream up the mountains, crossing it several times. I imagine in the spring that some of the stream crossings could be very challenging. However, in early August there’s no problem finding enough exposed rocks to get across without getting your feet wet.

At several points during the hike, it felt like Alice Lake would appear around the next bend. Ultimately, we did see a lake, or rather a pond. While beautiful, it didn’t seem right. And in fact, it wasn’t right. Two ponds need to be passed before getting to the main event. Don’t worry, once you’ve reached the first pond, it’s only another 10 minutes before Alice Lake appears.

We brought our fishing poles and a hammock. After 5 miles of hike in, the hammock won. Anyway, tt didn’t sound like people were very successful fishing. So, be sure to bring some food with you (and perhaps a hammock and bottle of wine).

For us, this was the end of the road, but there are more options. First, Twin Lakes are a fairly short distance from Alice Lake. They can be added to the Alice Lake hike and still make it a day trip. For the more adventurous, you can head over the Snowyside divide to get to Toxaway and Farley Lakes. This makes for an 18-mile loop hike. That might be doable in a day, but we’d much rather tackle that with plans of staying overnight.

Summer has arrived, and enough snow has melted to open hiking to the higher elevation alpine lakes. Ever since the skiing season ended, I’ve been looking forward to the Norton Lakes hike. As a newbie to Sun Valley, I’d never been there, and a long time local described it as the best bang for the buck hike in the area.

The trailhead to Norton Lakes is just a few miles north of Ketchum. Head north on highway 75 and take left on Baker Creek Road. A word of warning, Baker Creek Road isn’t well marked. In fact, I couldn’t find any sign when traveling northbound, though there is a sign from the other direction. The road is about ½ mile north of the Cathedral Pines campground turnoff and past the Easley hot springs turnoff. If you’ve reached Prairie Creek, you’ve gone too far. You’ll know pretty quickly if you are on the correct road. There’s a sign to Norton shortly after the turnoff. It’s 7 miles of gravel road from there to the trailhead. The road is dusty, but accessible for most vehicles.

The trailhead has parking for roughly a dozen vehicles, and I’ve heard there’s seldom an issue finding a space. From there the trail is well marked.

Now, my original thought was to tackle a 10.8-mile loop that passed four lakes and 3,600 vertical elevation gain, but my girlfriend had other ideas. She brought fishing poles, knowing that I had yet to catch a fish in Idaho.

We set out at a good pace and covered the 2.1-mile uphill climb to Lower Norton Lake in about an hour. According to my phone app, the total vertical was 1,700 feet, but that included a fair amount of up and down when we got the lake. This is a fairly popular hike. So, be prepared to see a few people. That said, there’s lots more to see than the people. The views were spectacular, and lake itself was gorgeous.

Norton Lakes

The lake was clear and well-stocked. As soon as we arrived, we brought out the poles and tried our luck. Unfortunately, the dog we brought along decided to jump in right next to us, scaring away all the fish. We slowly worked our way around the lake. It wasn’t until we reached the far side of the lake, at the edge of a scree field that we both managed to land a trout. Not much to brag about – those 5” long beauties needed a bit more time in the lake, and we set them free.

Norton Lakes

While there’s a clear trail to the far side of the lake, it took a small bit of bushwhacking to completely circle the lake. It wasn’t a big deal, and I had spied the perfect set of trees next to the lake to set up our hammock. Forget about those other 3 lakes, at least this time.

Next time, we’ll do the big loop.

As I’m sure you are aware, before there was skiing in the Sun Valley area, there was mining. While I’m not always happy with how mining can scar the landscape, the old mining roads provide access to some of the most beautiful scenery in the area.

My mission today was to find Boulder City. I was looking forward to seeing the mine ruins, and I had heard that the road to Boulder City would test the abilities of my Jeep Rubicon.

Boulder City

The access point to the road is about 15 minutes north of Ketchum off Highway 75. About ½ mile south of the Cathedral Pines campground is a small parking area next to a road leading east into the mountains. Warning, it is highly recommended to have a four-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle to attempt this drive. You are tested almost immediately, and it gets worse from there.

My Jeep handled the first part of the road without a problem. The only real challenge was crossing a stream about a mile in. In mid-June, the water is pretty high, and bottom the creek bed was pretty loose. Still, it wasn’t a big deal.

Shortly after the stream is the trailhead with a place to sign in. From there on, the road narrows to little more than the width of my Jeep. To make matters worse, there are few opportunities to park or pull over if you come across traffic. Thankfully, I didn’t run into any opposite traffic.

Boulder City

As I continued down the path, I grew more and more concerned about my inability to turn around. At the same time, the road obstacles grew larger. When an opportunity arose, I decided to park and hike the rest of the way. In the future, I would have driven another mile or so. Shortly after parking, the road crossed a scree field. Though there were no opportunities to pull over, the road itself was in good shape. Immediately beyond the scree field were a few places to park. There, unless you have a modified Jeep, dirt bike, or an ATV, I strongly urge you to park. The road beyond that point would have been impossible for my un-modified Jeep.

As my hiking continued, the road also became a stream, which had washed away the small rocks and sand, and leaving behind large, uneven rocks. Yes, the road ultimately flattened out and dried out, but then it crossed a fast-moving stream, and my mission to reach the Boulder City ruins was blocked. I couldn’t find a good place to cross, either up stream or downstream.

All was not lost, though. I had brought my hammock, and there’s nothing better than relaxing on hammock next to a stream. Also, the scenery was spectacular, and the hiking was fun.

BOULDER CITY

I’ll be back soon. I’ll drive in a bit farther, and I’ll find a way across that water.

Recently, I turned 55. It’s not exactly a milestone birthday, but it does qualify me for the senior discount at Albertson’s in Hailey (the first Thursday of every month). Still, any birthday can be unique if it involves running off the mountain and into the sky. Seriously!

It was my college-aged daughter who came up with the idea. She suggested either skydiving or Bungie jumping, but paragliding seemed a better choice for me. It just looks so peaceful up there.

As it happened, Fly Sun Valley, the only permitted and licensed paragliding company in the Wood River Valley, had two openings for the morning of my birthday. The Idaho sky was a cloudless blue with temps in the 50’s. With our spots reserved, we headed to the River Run parking lot to meet Chuck, the owner of the paragliding company, our pilots (while flying, we were each tethered to a pilot) and our driver.

PARAGLIDING TRIP Sky

The first thing we did was to become student members of the United States Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association. We even received neat cards to put in our wallets! Then, of course, there were the waivers to sign, only a couple of pages. I thought it was a nice touch that we pay AFTER we get back. Chuck is confident in his service and his product.

Next, there was the matter of getting to the top of Baldy. Because the gondola wasn’t open on my birthday, Chuck drove us. Otherwise, we would have been required to ride the gondola up (and pay for the gondola ride). At the top, there wasn’t much wind, which is a good thing. Truth be told, we did try to fly a few days earlier, but we were unsuccessful due to too much wind. As they say, it’s better safe than sorry. Right? Right!

Instructions lasted about 2 minutes and primarily focused on takeoff and landing. I’m not afraid of heights, but I am scared of running down a steep hill over loose rocks. For takeoff, we were told to start running when the pilot was ready. Don’t stop running, even when you feel your feet lift off the ground. Your instructor will tell you when to stop. With adrenaline pumping, I got strapped-in and was ready to tear down the mountain at a moment’s notice.

The order came to start moving. Then, like Jenny screaming at Forest Gump, the order came to run! Doing as I was told was easy even with the sharp rocks beckoning at my feet. Three steps later I was in the air. Following my orders, I kept running, running, running. Since we had dipped back towards the ground, this made sense. Within a few seconds, we were clear….and, by clear I mean it felt like we were several hundred feet off the ground.

PARAGLIDING

If you are flying tethered to a pilot, there’s not much to do except sit back and enjoy the view. And, WOW! What a view it is! Floating above the town of Ketchum was spectacular. Except for the Cage the Elephant music I asked the pilot to play, the flight was extraordinarily peaceful. The first thing was to get higher. The trick is to find those thermals that push the wind up the mountain while allowing us to defy gravity. Once we found the sweet spot, it was just a matter of circling around in order to stay in the thermal and let the wind elevate us high in the sky.

Did I mention circling around? Yes, I did. If you have ever been seasick, you have heard the advice suggesting you watch the horizon when you feel sick. The horizon acts as a stabilizing force. Well, looking through a camera viewfinder to take pictures is precisely what not to do while circling around in the sky. Being aware is half the battle and, it wasn’t too bad. Once we stopped circling, it was spectacular. I went back to taking pictures of the valley floor and tried to capture shots of my daughter in the air. Once again, I was reminded of the adventurer’s paradise in which we live.

PARAGLIDING Close-up

I have no idea how long the flight took. It seemed to go fast, but we were probably up for 20-30 minutes. Paragliding can last much longer with the right thermals. Landing back by the River Run parking lot was completely uneventful. All we needed to do was keep the knees slightly bent at landing and to start walking. It was no more jarring that jumping off a stair to the floor. The whole activity took about 2 hours, leaving plenty of time for more birthday adventures. Unfortunately for me, I had to go to work.

Care to FLY in my footsteps? Paragliding in Sun Valley