best hike

The Pioneer Mountains loom over Pioneer Cabin, in the foreground.
Photo by Kate Wutz

A challenge worth
every step

Valley's favorite hike climbs 3,000 feet to Pioneer Cabin.
Kate Wutz

The higher you get, the higher you get.

That sentiment is engraved on the hearts of anyone who has ever crested a peak and seen an entire mountain range open up before them. Whether it's climbing Baldy and seeing all of Ketchum or Sun Valley below, or climbing Ryan Peak and seeing the breathtaking majesty of the Sawtooths, everyone who hikes has felt that feeling.

But it's never really spelled out as explicitly as it is on the Pioneer Cabin Trail, which was voted the 2014 Best Hike in the Valley by—one can only imagine—1,800 Sun Valley Guide readers who like to hike. The pinnacle of this hike is a crest that spits the hiker out into a beautiful field overlooking the Pioneer Mountains, punctuated only by an old cabin with this phrase painted on its roof: The higher you get, the higher you get.

Andy Munter, avid hiker and owner of Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum, calls this hike "spectacular."

"You do this long, windy ridge walk and peak out at one of the most incredible views of the Pioneers," he said. "Anyone who has been hiking those peaks understands. You'd have to be crazy not to be moved by that phrase."

Munter's not kidding about the windy ridge walk. The Blaine County Recreation District estimates there are 23 switchbacks heading up the ridge, breaking up a 3,000 foot climb. Once hikers breach the treeline, they face a long but flatter trek across a plateau that, at the right time of year, is filled with wildflowers. Another short uphill later, and adventurers find themselves at the iconic cabin.

"It's one of the good ones."
Suzanne Buchanan

The building itself is dilapidated, but beloved by locals, many of whom have braved the spiders and other creepy-crawlies to write their names on the interior walls. It was built in 1938 by Sun Valley Co. to make skiing in the Pioneer Mountains more accessible, but has since been abandoned and is visited mostly in the summer by lovers of the hike's vista.

Munter said he takes the trip about once a year, meaning he's done the trail about 20 times since moving here. He said it can get warm later in the season above the treeline and crossing the plateau, but there is typically a cool breeze at that 9,500-foot elevation. However, he recommends hiking it in the spring, when there's still snow on the peaks and in the vista.

The elevation gain of 3,000 feet makes this hike not all that accessible for beginners. Munter estimates it's a medium-intensity hike and urges taking it slowly, bringing food, plenty of water, a windbreaker for the chill and perhaps a waterproof jacket against the possibility of afternoon thunderstorms.

The trail can be accessed from Corral Creek Road, east of Sun Valley off of Trail Creek Road, past the Boundary Campground. To reach the trailhead, take Sun Valley Road from Ketchum until it after turns into Trail Creek Road and continue on, about 5 miles in total. Turn right at the sign for Corral Creek Road and continue 3.9 miles down the dirt road to the trailhead.

Pioneer Cabin can be hiked as a 7.2-mile out and back trip, or can be combined with Long Gulch to form a loop with a different view on the way back. Long Gulch drops back down after the cabin, with one roughly 400-foot elevation gain before descending back down along a ridgeline. The long, slow descent avoids switchbacks, but makes for a more lengthy trip—approximately 8.5 miles in total.

But, however you choose to hike this trail, just do it, Munter said.
"It's one of the good ones."

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