When visiting Idaho, there are plenty of different options for where to go: Boise, Stanley, Pocatello. But when deciding between a small resort town, you might come down to the decision between McCall and Sun Valley. Which to choose?
There are many similarities between the two small resorts towns, but a bevy of differences to separate the winter experiences you might have in each. The populations of McCall and Ketchum are roughly the same (just under 3,000) though “Sun Valley” as a whole area encompasses a much higher number. McCall’s terrain focuses on lake life (Payette Lake being a major draw for the area especially in the summer) with more subtle mountain peaks surrounding it and a greater density of Ponderosa Pines. In Sun Valley, the terrain is ALL about the mountains—jagged peaks at high elevation surrounding you in every direction. McCall definitly sees peak traffic during the summer holidays with its large lake and boating activities. On the other hand Sun Valley is a winter Mecca that sees thousands of skiers descend on the town during December.
Both towns are about 2.5 hours from the state capitol of Boise. Although the Boise airport is the main access point for anyone flying to McCall, Sun Valley has its own airport with non-stop flights to 6 major airports. Driving to both of these towns is a scenic experience although Highway 55 on the way to McCall is notorious for wrecks that can close the road for hours.
Winter activities abound in both resorts.
With the highest average snowfall in the state, McCall has skiing at two nearby resorts: Tamarack and Brundage. But while those areas are great for families and beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders can’t do better than Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain, a world-renowned mountain with 3,400 vertical feet of diverse terrain. With McCall’s Brundage and Tamarack resorts’ vertical drops coming in at 1,900 feet and 2,800 feet respectively, the skiing you’ll find on Baldy is much steeper. McCall has a third ski spot, Little Ski Hill (so named because it’s just 6 runs and 405 vertical feet of terrain) where you can hit the Outback Terrain Park for fun tricks on rails and jumps. In addition to Baldy in the Sun Valley area, beginners can enjoy Dollar Mountain which has a terrain park or Hailey’s Rotarun ski hill, perfect for families, beginners, or night skiing.
Snowmobiling can be found in Sun Valley, but McCall is truly a snowmobiler’s paradise. With over 544 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, the diverse riding opportunities attract all levels of riders from novice to world-class athletes. Consistently rated one of the best snowmobiling areas in the Northwest, one can ride their own snowmobile or rent one and even hire a guide to show you the area.
You’ll find the pace of life in Ketchum in the winter to be a bit more bustling than that of sleepy McCall. While peaceful winter mornings spent ice fishing or Nordic skiing are the bread and butter of a McCall winter, Ketchum’s winter recreation is only half the experience:
Then it’s time for après!
You’ll find a variety of restaurants and bars in McCall to help wind down your day, but nothing like the world-class amenities of Ketchum. Home to amazing restaurants, galleries, events, sport events, and more, there’s always a reason to visit Ketchum and something to do while you’re here. Some of Ketchum’s noteworthy events are the Sun Valley Film Festival, Boulder Mountain Tour, Sun Valley Writers Conference, and Sun Valley Wellness Festival. McCall has its fair share of events as well with a family focus like the McCall Winter Carnival, Festival of Trees, and Mountain Hollydays.
In addition to these amazing events, there’s daily art and cultural experiences to be had in both towns. Ketchum has an amazing collection of galleries, all of which can be seen on your own or at one of the monthly gallery walks. The local Argyros theater showcases film, dance, and music performances of all kinds. Get your theater fix at the local Liberty Theater which puts on plays throughout the year. McCall is also home to many galleries as well as a guide to their outdoor art walk of 15 works on display throughout the year. McCall hosts a yearly Seven Devil’s Playwright Conference and has several performance venues for live music and plays including the Children’s Theater, Alpine Playhouse, and the Roxy Theater.
No matter which town you choose to visit, you’ll be sure to have an authentic, small-town Idaho experience! and both of these towns are only 4 hours away from each other so a road-trip might be in store to form your own opinion on which town you think fits you best!
For other Idaho Ski Roadtrips: Southern Idaho Skiing & Snowboarding Road Trip or the Intermountain West Ski Road Trip