Trailing of the Sheep keeps the past alive

There once was a time when the Wood River Valley was the sheep herding capital of the country. More than a century later, the seasonal passage of sheep from their summer to winter pastures is still part of the fabric of our community.

This weekend will mark the 23rd celebration of this woolly part of our region’s history with the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. What started as a simple coffee talk about the living history of sheep herding locally has grown to a five-day festival that offers activities from Hailey to Ketchum and attracted over 25,000 visitors from all but one state last year. (Looks like we need to do more marketing in Delaware!)

“It’s a history that a lot of people don’t know about,” said the festival’s executive director Laura Drake. “It’s a big deal to continue to celebrate this living history and to educate people about it. This isn’t a reenactment. We don’t truck the sheep in. This is living history and it’s important that we keep it alive.”

“Trailing,” as some locals simply call the festival, is essentially broken down into three core parts: Storytelling, the Fair, and the Parade; although the dog trials are becoming one of its biggest draws. The culinary aspects of the festival have also grown tremendously over the years. Most local restaurants now offer “For the Love of Lamb” specials during the week of Trailing and the festival itself will serve up over 2,600 pounds during its various cuisine events.

“It’s a great opportunity to try lamb in ways you may have never tried it before, “ Laura said. “It’s not just the old mutton anymore and there’s been a resurgence in trying lamb.”

With so much to do, Laura said the best way to make the most out of Trailing of the Sheep is to check out the schedule and make a plan. Schedules can be found online (see below) or in the program, which is distributed free throughout the Wood River Valley.

Festival headquarters is at the Limelight Hotel on Main Street in Ketchum and will open on Wednesday for merchandise, questions and registration assistance. Some of this year’s highlights include: the sheep dog trials all day on Friday and Saturday at Quigley Canyon by the high school in Hailey; a talk about food and culture by noted author Mark Kurlansky at The Argyros Theatre in Ketchum on Friday night; the free Folklife Fair at Roberta McKercher Park in Hailey on Saturday; and the Big Sheep Parade in Ketchum at noon on Sunday. Trailing of the Sheep will once again end with a closing party at Ketchum Town Square that will help welcome in next week’s big local event, the Sun Valley Jazz Festival.

“We want people to have a good time,” Laura said. “So plan well, come out and have fun.”

For more information about Trailing of the Sheep, pick up a free program at the Welcome Center in Hailey or go to the their website,

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