Before winter returns to Idaho's fabled slopes, it's time for hiking, noshing and celebrating sheep.
Golden aspen leaves swirl across southern Idaho's Sawtooth Scenic Byway as I roll past cornhusk–yellow fields dotted with red barns and minty evergreens. The scene is so perfectly autumnal it doesn't look quite real.
But my destination, Sun Valley, is anything but fantasy. Along with the neighboring towns of Hailey and Ketchum, it comprises one of the most famous resort regions in the world. Celebrities such as Ingrid Bergman and Ernest Hemingway hobnobbed here in the 1930s and '40s; today the area still attracts a glamorous crowd, from snowshredding Olympians to Hollywood stars. The celebs tend to congregate in winter and summer, but I prefer the quieter autumn, when you can spend your days hiking through dazzling stands of maples and salute the sun as it sinks behind the snow-dusted Sawtooths at dusk.
For a perfect day in the Sun Valley area, start at Lizzy's Fresh Coffee. Run by longtime resident Liz Roquet, the Ketchum café roasts its own specialty coffees on-site. Roquet is the daughter of an Austrian pastry chef who moved to town in 1967 to run the Konditorei. That popular breakfast chalet still serves up an array of tarts and éclairs, along with more filling fare such as the Baked Swiss Eggs Rösti, topped with bacon and Gruyère.
To work off breakfast, head to the White Cloud Trail loop, which offers a 360-degree view of the valley's glittering fall foliage and can be accessed across the road from the Sun Valley Lodge. For a more relaxed trek, take the flat 1.5-mile stroll down Trail Creek Road to the Hemingway Memorial, near a grove of golden cottonwoods, where you can pay your respects to the literary legend.
In early October, herds of woolly critters flock down Ketchum's Main Street at the annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival, which celebrates the region's onetime economic mainstay. Should you be feeling carnivorous, you can sample local lamb at restaurants all over Sun Valley. At Enoteca, the ruby-hued chops are served with a couscous salad and chutney, while Southeast Asian retreat Rickshaw offers crispy bits of Lava Lake lamb coated in a spicy sesame-soy-ginger sauce.
Before you depart, pick up some of the excellent croissants at Cristina's, an Italian restaurant and scratch bakery housed in a salmon-colored building in Ketchum. Once, during October's annual Sun Valley Jazz Festival, I listened to the Yale Whiffenpoofs serenading Cristina's dining room: "I try not to fall in love with you / though time after time I do." It perfectly summed up my feelings about Sun Valley in the fall.