Come on Down for the Big Cozy Sheep Parade
Every October, fans of sheep and all things fluffy flock to Idaho.
Imagine a dream where, instead of counting sheep one by one, you’re wrapped in a gentle fuzzy hug by a whole flock. There’s hundreds of them: wooly, soft, baaa-ing little songs into the sky, keeping you ecstatically cozy with their tufts of fleece... kind of like this dog.
The festival celebrates the 160-year old tradition of sheepherding in southwest Idaho. In the early 1900’s, the state’s sheep population reached six times its human population (the region has since recovered the proper human-sheep balance).
The town of Ketchum was second to only Sydney, Australia, in sheep breeding and exporting, with immigrants flocking from Scotland and Spain’s Basque region to find fortune in sheep. (Today, most herders in the region are Peruvian, Mexican, and Chilean.)
The annual Trailing of the Sheep festival celebrates all aspects of the trade. In addition to exhibits on the history of Sun Valley, you can catch farm-to-table dinners, wool crafting and cheese-making classes, storytelling by author Gretel Ehrlich, and a folklife fair with Scottish bagpipers and Peruvian and Basque dancers and musicians.
Root for your favorite pup at the sheepdog trials, watch a shearing demonstration, then pepper the sheepmen (their term) with all your questions at a free sheep ranching Q&A. You can also take a guided hike with the herders to learn all about the diminishing art of arborglyphs: carvings in the Aspen trees that the Basque sheepherders of olden days doodled to pass the time.
And then, the main attraction: The Big Sheep Parade, where upwards of 1,500 fuzzy pals march down the main street of Ketchum, a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare with throwback log cabin-like storefronts and in the distance, the peaks of the surrounding mountains. Sheep are accompanied by historic wagons, folk dancers, bagpipes, and herders, who at this point may as well be celebrities.
More than an adorable spectacle, this is a portion of the sheep’s actual annual migration. Each spring they head north from the lower elevations of the Snake River Plain to higher mountain pastures. In the fall they reverse the route, just when we’re ready to embrace the cool-weather wool life.
Visitors are asked to leave their dogs at home and sadly, as much as we’d love to jump into the middle of all that fluff, walk behind the animals. Apparently, “it will frighten the sheep.”