Why Idaho’s Sun Valley Should Be on Your Stargazing Bucket List
Of all of the Gem State’s attractions, few are more impressive than its night skies.
“Why are you going to Idaho?”
The misguided question springs forth from anyone who has yet to visit the region blanketed by dense forests, jagged mountain ranges, and sparkling alpine lakes, a distorted belief that the scenery of the entire state mirrors only the desolate prairies enjoyed by Napoleon Dynamite, Kip, and Uncle Rico. And yet, of all of the Gem State’s attractions, few are more impressive than its night skies.
With longer, darker nights now in season, there’s no better time to visit Idaho. Central Idaho destinations like Sun Valley, Ketchum, and Stanley boast, hands down, some of the best stargazing in the United States. That claim became certified when Ketchum received a Dark Sky Reserve designation by the International Dark-Sky Association four years ago, making it the only U.S. destination and just the 17th location in the world to have the title bestowed.
“Look up on any given clear night around here and you’ll be memorized by billions of unobscured stars littering the sky,” Visit Sun Valley’s Travis Amick writes. “Here, shooting star sightings are the norm, astro-photography opportunities are some of the best in the country, and the Milky Way takes center stage as it brilliantly erupts from the southwest quadrant of the sky each night.”
Today, over 80% of the world and more than 99% of the U.S. population lives in areas with light pollution capable of drowning out even the most prominent constellations and planets, according to a 2016 Science Advances study. The authors of the study also surmised that approximately one in every three human beings, and nearly 80% of North Americans, are unable to see the Milky Way.
But thanks to a longstanding commitment to dark skies, courtesy of ordnance agreements and collaboration with property owners and the U.S. Forest Service, central Idaho’s aforementioned locations, as well as the Sawtooth National Forest and nearby locales like Hailey, buck that trend entirely.
So, grab a camera, telescope, or binoculars for the chance to see the most vivid deep sky objects, and check out the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve for answers to any and all stargazing queries.
If you do make the trip, few places are better to call home for a few nights than the Sun Valley Lodge, a Swiss Alps-inspired property that boasts America’s oldest ski resort and, among myriad features, a storied association with author Ernest Hemingway. It was at the lodge, where, in 1939, Hemingway put the finishing touches on For Whom the Bell Tolls. Visitors today can book a suite dedicated to the author, who’s buried alongside family in a cemetery in the nearby town of Ketchum.
There’s also no shortage of daytime adventures and relaxation pursuits—solo or guided—while awaiting the arrival of the cosmic fireworks. From skiing and snowboarding to yoga, fine dining, mountain biking, fly fishing, museum options and culinary excursions, this quintessential mountain town renders traces of charm in every quaint cafe, rustic eatery, and mom-and-pop bookstore.
“This is a place with a laid-back and easy-going vibe,” the Visit Sun Valley staff writes. “We like to think that the fastest way to Sun Valley, Idaho is to slow down. Inhale. Exhale. Slow it down. Loosen up. Pour a cup. Meet a local. Make a friend. Pay it forward. Take a hike. Take a nap. Sleep in. Stay out. Buy a round. Respect the land. Lend a hand. Be kind. Go well.”
Short. Sweet. Succinct. Just like Papa Hemingway.