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Sun Valley slowdown: aspens, empty trails, and reduced rates make fall the golden season in Idaho.

LOCALS CALL IT the "fall slack"--the moment after summer crowds have gone and before ski-happy visitors swarm the slopes. Autumn here in always-sunny Sun Valley, Idaho, 173 miles east of Boise, sees few tourists--nor many of the moguls and multihomeowners who've been buzzing about America's oldest winter resort for years.

As the nearby town of Ketchum quiets, the aspens bleach the surrounding hillsides blond and form golden arches above the Big Wood River. Days are warm, nights are cool--and rates drop at the area's otherwise pricey hotels and restaurants. I wanted to experience the real Sun Valley during the locals' favorite season. And I knew now was the time.

Authenticity here, I hoped, included catching resident celebrities acting in ordinary ways. A recent article in the New York Times suggested Jamie Lee Curtis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and John Kerry could all be spotted daily at the local drugstore. Maybe I could help Tom Hanks shop for toothpaste. Or better yet, discover Demi Moore's brand of shampoo.

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On the perfect 70[degrees] day when I arrived, it seemed everybody was out running, biking, or walking their dog on Wood River Trails. I put on my sneakers too, hit the 22-mile paved path, and peered into the faces whizzing by: Was that Demi with the bobbing ponytail? That beefcake bicylist didn't have an Austrian accent, did he?

I crossed a bridge over the crystal-clear Big Wood and passed the now-still chairlift for 9,150-foot-tall "Baldy." Forested green with veins of golden grass, the ski mountain--unbelievably--would soon be covered in snow.

Back in Ketchum, I browsed the brick storefronts housing many outdoorsy and home-decor shops. I tried on a fly-fishing hat and a vintage beaded gown. I popped into Lone Star Boutique, which had beautiful porcelain dishware, lacquer trays, and framed botanical prints. When I asked the saleswoman if movie stars ever shopped there, she shrugged. "We just opened last week."

My waiter at CK's Real Food hadn't seen any celebrities lately either. But she did serve me an outstanding meal of smoked-trout salad, lamb stew, and yummy homemade mocha ice cream.

The next day, on the moderately challenging climb to pine-edged Baker Lake, I didn't see anyone else, period. Just me and a heavy-jawed rainbow trout--one that any fly-fisherman would call an ichthyological superstar. No autograph, though.

On the drive back, I was stopped by an unusual traffic jam: more than a hundred fluffy white sheep being herded across the highway. Cars backed up in either direction, but no one seemed to mind--it was the most mellow gridlock that'd ever caught this California girl.

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A man in a dusty Cadillac pulled up beside me. He had salt-and-pepper hair, a fat silver moustache, and chomped an even fatter cigar. He was, well ... it couldn't be ... but he sure looked familiar.

That got me thinking. I headed east past the Sun Valley Resort. By a shady streamside spot overlooking Proctor Mountain and the rolling green golf course was a bronze Ernest Hemingway.

The plaque below his bust read BEST OF ALL HE LOVED THE FALL, THE LEAVES YELLOW ON COTTONWOODS, LEAVES FLOATING ON TROUT STREAMS, AND ABOVE THE HILLS THE HIGH BLUE WINDLESS SKIES.

Here he was, my celebrity (albeit an immobile sort). And we even had something in common: I, too, love the fall best in Sun Valley.

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Getting there

Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum, and Sun Valley compose the 20-mile-long Wood River Valley. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is 15 minutes north of Ketchum. Hailey's Friedman Memorial Airport is the closest; those at Twin Falls and Boise are also good options. For more information, contact the Sun Valley Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau (www.visitsunvalley.com or 800/634-3347).

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Where to stay

Boundary Campground Bring an extra sweater and sleep under the stars. 9 first-come, first-served sites from $10; open through Oct; Sawtooth National Forest, Ketchum Ranger District; 208/622-5371.

Knob Hill Inn The fanciest lodging in town has 26 large rooms and a traditional European motif. A short walk from shops. From $250; www.knobhillinn.com or 800/526-8010.

Sun Valley Lodge and Inn A mile from Ketchum, the recently updated 148-room lodge, built in 1936, has French-country style, as does the 109-room inn. From $179; www.sunvalley.com or 800/786-8259.

Where to eat and drink

Cavallino Lounge Swank new martini bar has become the hot spot in town. Closed Sun; 380 N. Leadville Ave., Ketchum; no phone.

Ciro Restaurant & Wine Bar Wood-fired pizzas, pastas, and wine list rival any you'd find in the big city. $$; 230 Walnut Ave., Ketchum; 208/727-1800.

CK's Real Food A little house turns out dynamite dishes featuring local produce, fresh fish, and organic meats prepared with a sophisticated touch. Nice wine list. $$$; 320 S. Main St., Hailey; 208/788-1223.

Java on Fourth Cafe Local morning hangout with bagels, pastries, and the Bowl of Soul, a cinnamon-chocolate-espresso concoction. $; 191 Fourth St., Ketchum; 208/726-2882.

What to do

Adams Gulch Good out-and-back hiking and mountain biking, with golden fall color and views of rocky 8,275-foot Griffin Butte. From State 75 (1 1/2 miles north of Ketchum), turn east onto Adams Gulch Rd. and follow it to the end. Sawtooth National Forest; www.fs.fed.us/r4/sawtooth or 208/622-5371.

Baker Lake Trail A tree-lined 2-mile (one-way) hike climbs a slope in the Smoky Mountains to Baker Lake. Trailhead at west end of Baker Creek Rd. 162, 16 miles north of Ketchum, off State 75; Sawtooth National Forest, Ketchum Ranger District; 208/622-5371.

Ernest Hemingway Festival The second annual ode to the author and former Wood River Valley resident. The four-day festival includes tours of Hemingway's haunts, film screenings, and a book fair. Sep 28-Oct 1; from $20; Dollar Mountain Lodge, on Dollar Rd., Sun Valley; www.ernest hemingwayfestival.org or 866/549-5783.

Sturtevants Mountain Outfitters Pick up free hiking maps and rent rods and bikes. 340 N. Main St., Ketchum; 208/726-4501.

Wood River Trails A popular 22-mile-long paved system. Access at east end of Sun Valley Rd., Blaine County Recreation District; 208/788-2117.
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Title Annotation:Getaway
Author:Taggart, Lisa
Publication:Sunset
Geographic Code:1U8ID
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:1018
Previous Article:October in the West.
Next Article:Top 10 city bike rides: pedal through favorite neighborhoods and get to know a place the way the locals do.


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