Most people travel the Sawtooth Scenic Byway on their way to one of the country’s finest ski resorts, at Sun Valley. It’s worth a drive even if you’re not hunting for fresh powder.
For the first few miles after you turn off US 20, the Sawtooth Scenic Byway moves along slowly, passing through farmland at first, then the kind of tidy, modern towns that spring up around ski resorts. The homes are big and secluded, and the stores all seem to adhere to a strict set of rules, resulting in a wealthy community where everything is nice, but not especially exciting. I drove straight through the congestion of Sun Valley and Ketchum, stopping only for a soda.
I didn’t find anything picture-worthy until I was safely away from the golf courses, strip malls, and rustic mansions. After you leave civilization behind, the Sawtooth Byway begins its climb into the mountains, and suddenly there are snow-capped peaks in the distance.
I chose one dirt-road at random and followed it for a mile or two. It led past some houses, then into a big BLM-managed area (in other words, open to the public) with snow-capped mountains looming in the background. I couldn’t have been more pleased.
As you head on up the highway, there are fewer trees blocking your view on either side of the road, and suddenly you can see the Sawtooth Mountains looming in the distance.
The road eventually twists and turns its way up into those mountains, topping out at Alexander Ross summit. It was about at this point that I experienced something I hadn’t seen in years: I was driving through a flurry of snow. Not much was falling — certainly not enough to pose a danger — but it was enough to remind me that winter comes early in these parts.
From that turnoff, I had a beautiful view back down into the Sun Valley.
Just a few twists and turns later, the road was ready to head back downhill. Another turnout provided more great views of the Sawtooths…
… and Sawtooth Valley. The road drops down into the valley, and for the next 25 miles or so, you can enjoy a relatively straight, flat road, as the Sawtooths loom off to the west. But, who says you have to make a straight line for Stanley? There are several worthwhile diversions along the way, and we’ll cover them on the next few pages.
Note: This trip was first published in 2006. Much of the same area was covered in the Big Sky trip in 2014.