Every summer John Abell holds court over what may be one of Sun Valley’s best-kept secrets.
That would be Sun Valley Lake, which offers a little beach in the mountains and a respite from hot summer days just a stroll away from the Sun Valley Lodge.
“It’s the only real lake in the area, especially since Hulen Pond got filled with sediment,” he said, “We’re offering more and more ways for people to enjoy it every summer, and I’ve seen some real multi-generational bonding experiences take place there, such as those between young children and grandparents.”
Sun Valley Lake is located between Old Dollar Road and Dollar Road with a spillway on the Dollar Road side. Fed every spring by run-off from Trail Creek, it offers in-your-face views of Dollar Mountain and Bald Mountain with plenty of that royal blue Sun Valley sky above. Sun Valley Resort offers a variety of activities from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer, usually beginning the last week of June through Labor Day.
There are six paddleboats operable via foot pedals, as well as canoes, which are big attractions for families. And last year the resort introduced flat water kayaks, which were a big hit with the teens.
“We get a lot of traffic from Salt Lake City—it’s so hot there they come up here to cool off. And during symphony season a lot of people like to rent a boat and take it out on the lake while listening to the symphony rehearse in the afternoon,” said Abell, a former whitewater rafting guide who has outfitted guests in lifejackets, steadied their boats as they get in and out, and offered pointers for eight years.
The lake is a big draw for groups, such as those who come to the Utah Bar Association conference and families here for ice skating camps. It also attracts a number of local groups, including Sun Valley Resort’s Adventure Camp, Boy Scouts, and even day cares.
In the evening, volleyball players take up residence on the beach, while family reunions picnic under the trees.
“The lake is about six to seven feet deep but we don’t recommend swimming because there’s no lifeguard,” said Abell. “And, even though it’s pretty shallow, it doesn’t warm up until August. We have had a lot of people wanting to paddleboard out there—we ask them not to do it during our operating hours to keep them from getting in the way of our guests.”
While it may be the only bona fide lake in the area, Sun Valley Lake is not the only swimming hole.
A favorite is the Big Rock, also known as the Church Rock, on the Big Wood River behind the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood. There’s a deep pool and picturesque eddy there that can be reached by taking a path between the church and the skate park or another path that starts on the south side of the Warm Springs Road bridge.
“I have swum in that swimming hole a number of times but always in the summer when the water was deep but not too high or fast,” said Hailey resident Ed Northen. “It’s fun to jump off of the rocks into the water. And I have also observed people floating down the river in inner tubes or on rafts from higher up and using this spot as a takeout point. “But people using this swimming hole should be aware there is current and, when the water is high, a very strong current.”
A little further south, jumpers congregate along the bike path, jumping 20 feet from one of two Pegram truss railroad bridges into the Big Wood River as it makes a sharp turn just north of St. Luke’s Wood River hospital. There is a footpath to the river’s edge for those who prefer not to jump.
Further south still in Hailey there are some nice swimming holes alongside the Draper Preserve, accessible by tromping through tall trees to little alcoves along the river.
A particularly nice swimming hole is near the south part of the preserve, best reached by starting at Heagle Park and walking north.
There are two more deep pools a little further south in Colorado Gulch. “There’s a real nice deep hole with a gravelly beach where the old bridge is in Colorado Gulch,” said Ryan Santo, project coordinator at the Wood River Land Trust. “And there’s another just a little upriver. I’ve fished these holes quite a bit and you always see people cooling off in them when it gets hot.”
Northen cautions people to watch their children any time they’re around water. “And I think it is important to remind people that, while access to the Church Rock hole is public, the lawn and grounds belong to the Big Wood Church so they should respect the property and pick up their trash and dog poop,” he said. “Also, if someone is fishing when they arrive, ask if you can swim. Don’t just jump in. Respect the rights of others who use the water for something other than swimming.”
Want a like with altitude that’s not too far away? Try Boulder Lake atop Trail Creek Summit or Baker Lake.
This gem of a lake is ringed by jagged peaks, among them, Devil’s Bedstead. To get there, turn off Trail Creek Road onto Wildhorse Creek Road and drive 7.7 miles to the trailhead, which is located in a primitive campground. You’ll have to cross a wide Wildhorse Creek to begin the 3.8-mile trek up switchbacks into a slot canyon so it’s best if you wait until the end of July or even August.
This lake is much easier to get to and not as long of a hike. Drive North of Ketchum on Highway 75 for 15 miles and turn West onto Baker Creek Road. Follow this to the end where a trailhead and restrooms are located. Follow a trail just under two miles to the lake. The lake offers catch and release fishing as well as swimming.