Spring. That transition from winter to summer that is so short, if you blink you may miss it. Spring is a symbol of new life, and brings us warmer weather and a glimpse of the summer to come, and for avid Sun Valley hikers it means time to trade in snowshoes for hiking boots.
The first thing I do when I return to Sun Valley after a semester at school is go on a hike, and in my excitement to get outside I usually hit the trails without giving much thought to planning. Despite the warmer weather and budding greenery, hiking during a typical Sun Valley spring can be miserable if done improperly.
Choosing the right trail is the most important part of planning a springtime hike. Many trails are closed for maintenance or flooded by the various bodies of water snaking through the valley. Some may still have snow pack at the higher elevations. A great guide to have for any hiking adventure is Day Hiking Near Sun Valley, which was originally published in 1987 and has been reprinted many times since.
There are a few trails that remain consistently good spring hikes. First, there’s Adam’s Gulch, just a few miles north of Ketchum. Yes, a fairly well fed stream runs through the lower region of the gulch, but if you stay high on Sunnyside Loop and return along the same path your feet will stay dry. Adam’s Gulch has many trail options and loops to choose from, so you can hike anything between 1 and 6 miles depending on how you feel. You can gain at most 1200 feet in elevation, but if your up for a challenge, head off the trail and head north up Griffin Bute where foxes will often keep their shelters.
If you’re up for more of a challenge, Proctor Mountain stays well above the streams and rivers. At 4.5 miles and 1600 feet of elevation gain, Proctor is no picnic (although you could have a very nice one at the 7600 foot summit). To get there, drive east out Sun Valley-Trail Creek Road to Trail Creek Cabin and park in the adjacent lot. From there, cross the footbridge near the cabin and through the picnic area to the trailhead.
For a hike further south, nothing beats Carbonate Mountain in Hailey. Head west on Croy Street past Hop Porter Park, cross the Big Wood River and look for a parking lot with signs for Carbonate. It’s about 2 miles to the top with around 1200 ft elevation gain making this hike short and steep and usually free of muddy crossings. Carbonate’s summit offers some of the best views of the Wood River Valley from Ketchum to Bellevue.
Besides choosing a good trail, proper planning and clothing are key to enjoying your hike. First, look at the weather ahead of time. Better yet, just look outside. Are their clouds looming down south? If so, they’ll be here soon enough. Is it humid? Expect rain. It is spring, after all, and the weather can change drastically in as little as ten minutes.
When dressing for your hike, remember this one word: layers. Layering is key to keeping up with changing temperatures. A Patagonia Torrentshell, a lightweight and breathable waterproof jacket, over an Icebreaker Bodyfit wool base layer over a Marmot sport top is an ideal combination. Many outfitters in the area, such as The Elephant’s Perch or Sturtevants, carry tons of great outdoor apparel.
Your feet will be taking the majority of abuse from the spring weather, from forging streams to slopping through mud. Good hiking boots are key. Seeing as how the trail will find itself stuck to your shoes anyways, avoid the extra weight and start with something light. Merrell has great footwear options that are both waterproof and breathable and can be found at any of Sun Valley’s outfitter stores. Trade in your clunkers for a newer, younger model, your feet will thank you.
Bottom line, don’t be afraid of the mud. It will inevitably be everywhere; no matter what precautions you take. There will always be a trail that’s closed or impassable, or a stream that’s turned into a river and taken over a bridge. Spring hiking is all about facing the challenges that confront every new life. Getting through your shell is the hardest part, after that it’s all fun in the Sun Valley.