“You’re going where?!”
This was the most common response after telling people where I was jetting off to for a week. The unmistakable crinkle between the brows would form, maybe a slight cock of the head, and I couldn’t help but laugh. Because yeah – it did sound a little odd. Never in my life had I said, “You know, I’m just DYING to vacation in Idaho.” What the hell is even in Idaho? Potatoes? Cows?
But the second I stepped outside of the airport, cool dry wind whipping through my hair and the sun dipping below the western mountains, my skepticism quickly faded with the daylight. I slowly breathed the unmistakably fresh air through my nose… then out. And I knew. This was going to be one hell of a trip.
The two and a half hour drive from Boise to Sun Valley flashed by that next morning, the entirety of which I spent with my nose pressed up against the glass, pointing and squealing with delight at each panoramic view, mountain range and rustic rural town, while every member of my family did the same. Once we finally pulled into our cozy wooden cabin, we wasted no time; throwing our bags at the foot of the stairs and shoving our feet into sneakers before pouring back out the door to our first adventure: hiking Proctor Mountain Trail.
Bear in mind that we Floridians are accustomed to below sea level oxygen, so the “moderately difficult” rating online translated to death-by-altitude-is-imminent for us. The 5 mile loop (we took a few detours) provided some truly stunning views of endlessly rolling mountains and greenery, introducing us to the vast landscape we had all to ourselves that week, but not without some huffing and puffing along the way. The floral meadows, bubbling creeks and swarms of butterflies on the downhill climb and the icy river at the bottom were a sweet treat for our aching feet and heaving chests. Not a bad first afternoon!
Eight showers and several glasses of wine later, the fam was itching for a good meal. The adorable yet entertaining town of Ketchum held all of our non-outdoor activities for the week, with dozens of boutiques, breweries and restaurants just ten minutes from our house. After strolling through the quaint roads and peering into whimsical shops, Rickshaw was the fierce winner for Sunday’s dinner destination, and we gorged on Thai noodles, dumplings and curry to our hearts’ content.
The rest of the week’s plethora of rustic excursions blew our expectations out of the water… literally. Tuesday’s white water rafting adventure was a huge highlight; we spent five hours on the roaring canyon river with Payette River Company (highly recommend!) who guided our raft through level 3 and 4 rapids, a steaming hot springs shower, several cliff jumps, and lunch on the river. The real masters behind the trip’s indisputable fun were the rafting guides. As my cousin said afterward, it didn’t feel like we were on a formal rafting tour; it felt like we were hanging on the river with a crazy entertaining group of friends. I was inspired by their free spirits and open personalities, and oddly drawn to their humble yet fulfilling lifestyle (most of them lived in tents or RVs during the summer months).
We refueled our fatigued muscles several hours later with a gorgeous meal from Vintage, and woke up the next morning in time for a relaxing hot yoga class at GATHER Yoga Studio in Ketchum. This relaxation did not last long… for me at least. In a valiant attempt to mountain bike a “semi-easy” loop up and down a few steep slopes, half of the family were nursing bloody knees and tender bruises a mere hour after we began. At least I got a few beautiful shots out of this painful event, but I can’t say I’ll be doing it again any time soon.
Thursday rivaled our rafting journey for the best day of the trip, especially since it began with another heart-pounding yet wonderfully scenic hike on Mill Lake trail. While half of us went fly fishing for the day, my sister, mom, cousin and I spent four miles tiptoeing across makeshift bridges, climbing up and over dry rocky slopes, and finally making it onto the bank of Mill Lake.
The tranquil water made the dusty, sweaty and buggy (don’t even get me started) trek 110% worth it, and the smaller loop left us with plenty of energy for the rest of the day, which consisted of a wildly extravagant spa experience and hydrating rose facial at Sun Valley Resort. The entire family reconvened that evening to share stories at Enoteca after an obligatory stop in the historic Pioneer Saloon. Quite a day if I do say so myself!
And then suddenly… somehow…. it was Friday. The dreaded last day in our new favorite place. I had to manually drag my fatigued legs out of bed at 8 AM, but I refused to let a little lactic acid affect my day. I wanted to get to Bald Mountain! As one of the highest peaks in Idaho’s Smoky Mountains, this iconic ski slope has gondola rides throughout the year for tourists like us, and we took full advantage in our quest to the top.
At over 9,000 feet, we spent almost an hour absorbing the astonishing views around us. But no matter how many times we slowly turned in circles, mouths agape and heads shaking in disbelief, the grandeur of it all still didn’t seem real.
It’s not always the activities or scenery that stick in your memory. It’s the way a place makes you feel. It’s the indescribable quiver in your bones and the blunt realization of the earth’s enormity; of how small and minute your problems are and the sudden clarity that follows.
This place – this seemingly unassuming dot on a map – proved why I love traveling so much. So Idaho, thank you. I owe you one.