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Smiley Creek Lodge Undergoes Transformation
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Saturday, August 26, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY GEORGE MURRAY

Smiley Creek Lodge has sat at the bottom of the Sawtooth Valley situated along State Highway 75 since the mid-1950s.

The lodge was originally built as a sawmill for the small town of Sawtooth City but was eventually repurposed as a roadhouse restaurant with mobile home campsites. Today the lodge remains a restaurant and gas station stop, but new co-owner and co-operator Reggie Crist has a view to make the lodge a destination for outdoor life, instead of a location for gas and ice cream.

The Crist family came to Sun Valley in 1979 from Palo Alto, Calif., to pursue their love of skiing. After spending a year in the valley to see if they liked the place, they moved and have been here ever since.

Reggie grew up with a passion for ski racing, working his way up the ranks of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, the U.S. Ski Team and eventually making it to the Olympics.

“No better place to grow up than Sun Valley, Idaho,” he said.

Their love for the outdoors is what inspired Reggie and his brother Zach to take over as owners and operators of the Smiley Creek Lodge three summers ago. Reggie is enthused about the lodge’s access to outdoor activity.

“When we first dove in on the project it was out of our love for the Sawtooth Valley. We’d spent a lot of time there over the years. Purchasing Smiley Creek was a way for us to be closer to our backyard playground for the summer and winter. The feeling of coming over the pass and getting to the top and looking out over the Sawtooth Valley is special.”

Reggie and his family had known of the spoils of the Sawtooth Valley for years, and they wanted to make Smiley Creek a place where everyone else could enjoy it,

“We saw an opportunity at Smiley Creek to bring prime access to the outdoors to the public. We have some of the most amazing public lands in America in the Sawtooth Valley right in our backyard. We want people to feel like it can be their place to access the area,” he said.

The initial project at Smiley Creek Lodge involved a process of renovations. The lodge and surrounding outdoor area needed work and upgrades.

“It’s been a bigger project than we thought it’d be,” said Reggie. “But our investment in Smiley Creek is a long-term plan. It isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme by any means.”

The biggest renovation made so far has been the addition of seven luxury cabins, also called “tiny homes,” around the vicinity of the lawn.

“They are really nice,” Reggie said. “They are not average cabins. They are high-end accommodations, which is hard to find in the Sawtooth Valley.”

All these new accommodations have been added to make outdoor life in the Sawtooth Valley more comfortable.

“What is cool about Smiley Creek is the opportunities around for outdoor sports. In the summers it is the lakes that always draw the most people. After that, it’s floating the rivers and standup paddle boarding. There are a lot of mountain biking and hiking trails around the cabin and, more prominently around Smiley Creek, are the motorized vehicle trails for dirt biking, ATV riding, and can-am riding. Not as much a sport, but morel hunting is big around the area, as well.”

Smiley Creek Lodge offers several outdoor sports rentals, as well--another upgrade from the Crist family.

“We rent out top-of-the line Ebikes--we are the only place that rents out Ebikes in the Sawtooth Valley. Most of the trails in the Sawtooth Valley were forged for motorcycles, and they           aren’t as smooth as the trails in Ketchum, so the Ebike ends up proving to be a great option on many of the trails around the area. We also do some watersports rentals, such as standup paddle boards and rafts.”

The deck area with views of the Sawtooth's has also improved, with weekly live music ranging from solo guitar players to mariachi bands, as well as the occasional promoted concert with paid admission.

“The deck area behind the cabin is a beautiful place for live music. The view of the Sawtooth's in the background combined with the summer weather is the best. One thing we like to do issomething we call ‘Sawtooth Sessions,’ which take place every Sunday. Every Sunday afternoon we have free live music. We also do promoted concerts with bigger bands.”

The cabin is open year-round, offering opportunities for winter sports activities as well. The cabin in the winter does not see as much action as it does in the summer, but for those looking to get out and explore in the winter, it is the perfect place. Reggie said.

“One of our visions for Smiley Creek is making it more of a destination in the winter. There is never a line out the door. Not many people live in Smiley Creek in the winter, but it is still a special place.”

“Smiley Creek is a great alternative for people who want to find everywhere to ski,” he added. “If you’re looking for something more than Baldy, you can drive 45 minutes over the pass to find some of the best backcountry skiing in America and have a nice meal and a roof over your head once you’re done.”

Reggie said many people underestimate the Smiley Creek Lodge: “Most people don’t know we have cabins in the back when they drive by on 75. It’s easy to      drive by the place and see it as a gas station or ice cream stop. But I think once people stop and check out the property, they will quickly realize that it’s a special place. We’re trying to make it a place where people stop by and say, ‘Oh, I want to spend a couple of days here and explore.’ ”

 

 


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