Nestled in the valleys of the Sawtooth National Forest, Hailey, Idaho, is one scenic but isolated attraction that’s well worth the trip.
This high-elevation city is the seat of Blaine County and is located on the east side of the rushing Big Wood River.
Because of this setting, the city is famed for the myriad opportunities for outdoor adventures, be it skiing, hiking, or kayaking.
There’s also the vast national forest and mountains surrounding it, making it the perfect place for adventurers and natures lovers.
These land features in the region are so scenic and romantic that American poet Ernest Hemingway came here for 20 years to enjoy the outdoors and make poems about his trips.
So if you, too, want to experience an enchanting excursion to the highlands, make this place your top destination for an upcoming getaway.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Hailey, ID:
Venture into the Sawtooth National Forest
The vast Sawtooth National Forest is one of the biggest natural features in Idaho, with its southernmost reaches on Hailey’s borders.
With more than two million acres to explore, this attraction is definitely a nature lover’s rugged paradise.
From Hailey, you can head deeper into the tall mountains to reach campgrounds, like the Wolftone and Bridge Campgrounds.
These are the nearest bases in Hailey that you can use as a starting point for your adventures in the national forest.
There are so many things to try during your trip: hiking, mountain climbing, birdwatching, fly fishing, kayaking, and wildlife encounters are the favorites.
And since Sawtooth National Forest contains the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, visitors are encouraged to go camping and witness the night sky without the light pollution.
Winter is the perfect time for skiing and snowboarding.
Learn Local History at Blaine County Historical Museum
For those who want to dive deeper into the history of this region and understand how such an isolated place became a thriving attraction, visit the Blaine County Historical Museum.
It’s located in Hailey’s downtown, with a hard-to-miss painted wall.
This mural depicts the societies that lived in this region, from the Native Indian populations to the farming communities.
Inside, you’ll find several exhibits depicting notable events in the valley.
These include the mining industry that once thrived in the Wood River Valley, where minerals like silver and galena were abundant.
You’ll also see exhibits about the ranching culture and artifacts from Native American settlers.
It’s an immersive and engaging way to gain a deeper insight into Hailey and the region, so make sure the museum is in your itinerary.
Join a Local Event at Hop Porter Park
The tranquil Hop Porter Park is a neighborhood attraction located in the peaceful suburbs of Hailey.
More often than not, it’s a serene place where families gather for an afternoon of fun and memories.
The park has open fields bordered by trees, a castle-themed wooden playground, and a picnic shelter for meals with loved ones.
But during certain times of the year, the attraction becomes a community gathering place bringing in crowds of visitors.
That’s because Hop Porter Park is one of the preferred outdoor venues for many of Hailey’s local events.
These include live music concerts, festivals like Trailing of the Sheep, and fun runs.
So if you want to join in the fun, make sure to check out their calendar and plan accordingly.
Catch a Show at Metropolitan Big Wood Cinemas
If you need a break from the outdoor adventures in Hailey, the Metropolitan Big Wood Cinemas is your best bet.
As the only movie theater in the city, this destination has become the premier attraction to see the latest blockbusters.
It’s set in the middle of Hailey inside a hard-to-miss building with a wooden and brick facade.
Within it are theaters with intimate seating perfect for the small population.
And even though these are not as large as ones you’ll find in other cities, the cinemas are still equipped with modern projectors, sound systems, and handicap access.
So if you want to catch the trending flicks while on vacation, be sure to make a stopover here!
And don’t forget to visit the concession stand for some refreshing drinks, popcorn, and other movie-going staples.
See Fluffy Animals Migrate during the Trailing of the Sheep
Various areas in the US celebrate fall in their own ways, but there are a few that compare to what happens this side of Idaho.
For a few days in October, Sun Valley, Ketchum, and Hailey come together to celebrate the Trailing of the Sheep Festival.
There’s a sheep husbandry heritage in these highlands, and one way that the folks celebrate this is during this event.
The highlight of it all is the thousands of fluffy and white sheep migrating to their winter grazing grounds.
During this exodus, they flood the streets of the aforementioned cities before they reach their final destination.
More than 20,000 people flock to the region to see this parade of clouds and other attractions.
These include fairs, sheepdog trials, live music concerts, and dinners with lamb recipes.
Commune with Nature at Draper Preserve
On the lush western forests of Hailey’s city proper lies the Draper Wood River Preserve, a 124-acre attraction.
It was established to preserve this section of Big Wood River, so there’s been little modern development in the area over the years.
The result is a pristine oasis at the foot of the mountains, filled with evergreen forests, wetlands, and riparian habitats.
These serve as the home to many native animals, including birds, small mammals, and freshwater fishes.
On the river, you’ll find a scenic structure traversing the body of water: the grand Bow Bridge.
It’s a favorite subject for photoshoots, especially during winter when everything around it looks soft and white.
There are also picnic benches, well-paved trails, and shelters where visitors can rest or explore.
Marvel at the Fireworks on Hailey Days of the Old West
Los Angeles Times has called Hailey one of the best places to spend your 4th of July celebrations, and it’s all because of the Hailey Days of the Old West festival.
Devoid of frivolities from bustling cities, this Independence Day event stays true to American values and traditions.
The celebration starts on July 3rd with Idaho Founders Day, held at the BCRD Arboretum.
Come on July 4th, as the events are cranked up to the next level with colorful parades along the highway, exciting rodeos, and live music at Hop Porter Park.
At night, the sky lights up with brilliant fireworks displays, which are a staple during this occasion.
Don’t forget to visit the Hailey Antique Fair to find unique finds open throughout the festival.
Go Night Skiing at Rotarun Ski Area
The Rotarun Ski Area is quite different from your regular ski resort.
In fact, there is no resort at all.
This is a community ski area that’s as simple and unpretentious as can be—making it an intimate place for Hailey’s residents.
The area was established in 1948 and has since become the community hub for winter-related sports.
On the small hill, there are a few installations that make climbing and night skiing easier—nothing too fancy or frivolous.
It’s an exhilarating yet peaceful place to conquer the snow-covered slopes, a perfect getaway for those who don’t like crowded resorts.
Plus, there’s a nonprofit that offers youth snowsport programs where budding ski enthusiasts can learn basic and intermediate skills.
Make a Splash at Big Wood River
While there are a few creeks and brooks spilling from the valleys of nearby mountains, Big Wood River takes the cake as the prime water feature in the area.
This rushing river begins in deep sections of Sawtooth National Forest, running for 137 miles before emptying into the Malad River.
It passes through Hailey in its first few miles, providing clean water for the residents and farms of the fertile valley.
Aside from being an essential resource, this body of water serves as the premier attraction for water-related activities in Hailey.
Most people come here for shore fishing, as there are many spots where you can just throw a line and wait for something to take the bait.
Some might venture out to the middle of the river for fly fishing.
The species swimming the depths include various types of trout and a few others that thrive in alpine rivers.
If angling is not on your mind, you can still go swimming or kayaking during the summer months.
See the Wonders of Sun Valley Via the Wood River Trail
On what was once a segment of the Grand Union Railroad now lies a scenic path that runs parallel to Big Wood River: the Wood River Trail.
This multi-use trail connects the cities and towns of the region, starting from Bellevue up to Sun Valley.
The total length spans 20 miles, with many recreational stops like parks, pockets of green space, and lookouts.
For many, the best way to traverse it is on a bike since it’s the fastest mode of transport given how cars aren’t allowed.
But you’re still welcome to explore it on foot.
You’d have more time appreciating the beauty of the valley and the mountains flanking either side.
During winter, the trails’ cross country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities attract enthusiasts en masse.
Play a Few Rounds at The Valley Club
There are a few other golf course settings that can compare to those found in the highlands.
So if you want to experience what it’s like playing while surrounded by mountains and bright, clear skies, visit Hailey’s The Valley Club.
This 27-golf course was designed by renowned architects, taking advantage of the breathtaking scenery to create a small slice of paradise.
So you’ll find lush fairways and manicured greens that seamlessly integrate into the local terrain.
While the layout is fair and gentle, you’d still need some good course management skills to hole your balls.
But most people here come for the experience; competing is not always the priority.
And who can blame them?
The laid-back mountain life and crisp air make for a rare golfing experience.
Reach the Summit of Carbonate Mountain
The majestic Carbonate Mountain is one of the peaks nearest Hailey, and it’s part of the larger Rocky Mountains.
Because its base is located just on the other side of Big Wood River, the land feature has become one of the favorite hiking destinations in town.
It’s more than two kilometers above sea level, but the elevation gain is only around 400 meters since hikers are already starting at a higher point.
The main trail is a loop that spans six kilometers, bringing you all way to the summit and back to the base.
Since the mountain doesn’t have much tree growth like the others in this region, you'll get uninterrupted views and panoramas.
So during your rest stops, take a moment to appreciate the panoramas of the valley and the Sawtooth National Forest.
Other Things to Do Nearby
If you haven’t had enough outdoor adventures after your excursion in Hailey, visit these other places just a few minutes away.
Freestyle Downhill at Bald Mountain
The tall Bald Mountain is one the highest peaks this side of Idaho’s Smokey Mountains, so-called because of their tendency for wildfires during summer.
But winter is when the real action happens in this towering land feature.
It’s the destination for most of Sun Valley's skiing activities and programs.
Thanks to the lengthy runs with uniform gradients, skiing here is another experience in itself.
There’s also little wind but many levels of difficulty, making it seems as though this mountain was created solely for the winter sport.
But all these are just coincidences that early settlers took advantage of, creating one of the most well-known winter destinations on the west coast.
Feel Inner Peace at Sawtooth Botanical Garden
Just a few minutes north of Hailey is the gorgeous Sawtooth Botanical Garden, a favorite attraction in Ketchum.
This five-acre destination is one of the few high-altitude botanical gardens in the country, boasting a wide range of plants that survive the freezing winters of Sun Valley.
So you won’t find tropical plants here, just the native plants from Sawtooth National Forest and a few cultivated species.
One of its most unique features is the Garden of Infinite Compassion, an alpine garden with influences of Buddhism.
Aside from the waterfalls, flowering perennial plants, and orchids, this section contains a prayer wheel powered by a stream.
It’s one of only two such two prayer wheels in the country, and it was even blessed by the 14th Dalai Lama during his visit to the US.
So if you want to feel true peace and tranquility, this garden is a must-add to your itinerary.
Go Fly Fishing at Silver Creek Preserve
Heading south of Hailey and out of the valley, you’ll find a gorgeous natural attraction called Silver Creek Preserve.
It’s about 30 minutes away from the city and covers a vast area of 900 acres.
For more than 45 years, The Nature Conservancy in Idaho took care of this area and turned it into a high desert oasis.
So you’ll find an array of omnivore mammals, waterfowl, migratory birds, and many other species who call this place home.
To preserve the pristine condition of the area, there’s minimal human development and modern amenities to use.
This also allows visitors to experience a more pristine and undisturbed environment, with many opportunities for hiking, canoeing, and fly fishing.
Hailey is nothing short of amazing, thanks to its location at the edge of the Sawtooth National Forest.
Flanked by mountains and cleaved by the Big Wood River, this city offers exhilarating outdoor adventures and many festivals for everyone to enjoy.
Use this guide when making your itinerary so you won’t miss the top spots!