Fall, Hiking

Guide to Leaf Peeping

When the mornings start to get colder, and the days start to get shorter, it can only mean one thing: fall is coming. And with fall comes that most celebrated of seasonal pastimes: leaf-peeping. Here in Sun Valley, the trees put on quite the show. From stands of aspens crawling up the mountains to hulking cottonwoods along the Big Wood River, it’s a leaf-peepers dream.

The fall color starts at the northern end of the Wood River Valley and, over several weeks, makes it way down to Bellevue and points further south. This is great news for travelers to Sun Valley because it gives you a large window in which to chase down the most elusive of golden and red leaves.

Leaf-peeping usually starts at the beginning of September and lasts through the end of October, but like many natural wonders, it works on its own schedule. The dates we included below will help to give you a general idea of timing, but in some years can be off by a week or two.

With no further ado, here’s our guide to leaf peeping in the Sun Valley, Idaho area.

Guide to Leaf Peeping in Sun Valley, Idaho
photo: Sara Sheehy

Galena Lodge

Fall foliage makes its debut in the Wood River Valley at Galena Pass, which is the headwaters of the Big Wood River. The leaves start to turn as early as Labor Day weekend up at the higher elevations and, at 7,290 feet, Galena Lodge is a great place to start.

Galena Lodge closes in the middle of September, but don’t let that stop you. Though you won’t find the welcoming faces of the crew or be able to grab a bite to eat in the Lodge dining room after that date, you will still find plenty of trails to walk or bike through the changing aspens, along with ample parking and clean bathrooms.

Sawtooth National Recreation Area Headquarters

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) headquarters and North Fork Visitor Center is located eight miles north of Ketchum, and they are a handy home base for foliage adventures. Stop in to see the (stuffed) animals on display, then chat with the ranger on duty about where to find out where the leaves are most brilliant nearby (Monday-Friday, 8:30am to 5:30pm). Typically, the fall foliage begins in this area in late September. 

If you don’t catch the Visitor Center when it’s open, sure bets for great foliage include the stand of aspens north of the headquarters on Highway 75, and along the Big Wood River just past the North Fork Campground. Be sure to park in a turnout or parking lot—parking on Highway 75 isn’t permitted.

Bald Mountain

Bald Mountain, Sun Valley’s ski mountain, is the best spot in town to gain some elevation and peep at the brilliant golden trees throughout Ketchum. The 3.6-mile roundtrip hike to a wood-platform scenic overlook affords a perfect eagle-eye view of the Big Wood River and the town. Go in early October for the best foliage show.

If your legs are begging for more, the 4.2-mile Proctor Mountain loop will not only give you a glimpse of the remains of the first-ever chairlift but will also bring you along a ridgeline that has panoramic views into Sun Valley and beyond.

Guide to Leaf Peeping in Sun Valley, Idaho
photo: Sara Sheehy

Draper Preserve

By mid-October, the fall colors will be peaking in Hailey, 12 miles south of Ketchum. For a leisurely and beautiful stroll through the aspens, take a walk through Draper Preserve.  The flat, 1-mile roundtrip walk follows the Big Wood River, passing over remarkable Bow Bridge and taking a short boardwalk through a marshy meadow. Look for changing leaves on both aspen and cottonwood trees.

If you want a bigger challenge, do as the locals do and head up Carbonate Mountain. The 3.7-mile loop is a workout for both your legs and your lungs, and brings you to a sweeping view that looks up and down the Valley.

Townsend Gulch

Want a bit of fall color all to yourself? Make your way to Townsend Gulch in Bellevue. Park at the small pullout once you pass onto public land. Stands of aspen grow throughout Townsend Gulch, and they’ll be easy to spot from the road. Either enjoy them from the two-track or diverge onto one of the small side trails that lead to the trees.

It’ll be hunting season in Townsend Gulch (and elsewhere throughout the Valley), so be sure to wear bright colors and be aware of your surroundings. Keep dogs on leash, too.

A Sun Valley, Idaho Guide to Leaf Peeping
photo: Sara Sheehy

Silver Creek

Fall is a bit more subtle once you head south from Bellevue, but no less beautiful. Silver Creek, in Picabo, is a bucket-list destination for fly fishermen and women. The Creek is lined with trees and shrubs that turn shades of gold, red, and orange in early November. 

Bring a fly rod and enjoy the colors as you cast over the water, or simply bring a picnic and take it all in. It’s hard to go wrong at Silver Creek.

Fall foliage in the Sun Valley area is full of beauty and adventure. The season is fleeting but made all the sweeter by its brevity. Plus, once the leaf-peeping season is over, that means that opening day is just around the corner. And we can definitely get behind that. 

Leaf Prediction Chart
Image via https://smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map/

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