Ever wanted to visit a drive-in movie theater, catch a world-class theater performance, see a pair of lions and find out where all those potatoes you eat come from?
Look no further than Idaho Falls, just a two-hour drive from Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. With a vibrant historic downtown, a lively cultural scene and the largest regional airport near both parks, this town is a great stopover to and from Wyoming’s national parks.
“Idaho Falls really has all the amenities of a much larger community wrapped in the personality of a small town,” says Michelle Holt, CEO of the Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce. “It still has a very rural main street feel. People are very friendly and welcoming to visitors.”
When your kids start asking why national parks are called parks when there aren’t any playgrounds in them, it may be time to stop in Idaho Falls.
Home to 30 parks ⎯ an outstanding number for a town of 58,000 residents ⎯ Idaho Falls has a park for seemingly every pursuit. Let the kids run wild at Community Park that has a playground and a flowerbed planted to resemble a different cartoon character every year. Freeman Park has the best full disc golf course in southeastern Idaho. It’s wedged between the Snake River and the satellite campus of University of Idaho and Idaho State University. Idaho Falls Raceway, also known as Noise Park, seven miles west of town, caters to ATVs, UTVs and motorbikes.
To truly dive into park paradise, though, you have to visit Tautphaus Park. It’s home to the Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park, a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, four tennis courts, multiple swing sets, five baseball and softball fields, miniature golf and a skateboard and skate area with ramps and a half pipe.
The Idaho Falls Greenbelt
But spend time strolling or jogging along the Snake River on the Greenbelt, which features six miles of paved trails on both sides of the river. Along the way, you’ll pass fishing ponds, pedestrian overlooks and the Friendship Garden, a large Japanese style garden.
You’ll also see more than three dozen benches designed by various artists from the A-Lure, a wonderfully creative rendition of a fishing lure-turned bench, the Cutthroat Trout bench and the Snake River bench shaped like a snake.
“The Greenbelt is a great example of how there’s natural beauty and we create art to compliment it,” says Brandi Newton, executive director of the Idaho Falls Arts Council.
Show-stopping Performances and Exhibits
From professional acts like the Blue Man Group at the historic Colonial Theater to local live music around town, Idaho Falls can add a dose of culture into your road trip.
If you are passing through in the summer, you are guaranteed free, family-friendly live music three nights per week outdoors (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays). But be sure to check out the Colonial Theater’s schedule in advance to watch one of the many national acts that pass through town.
To learn more about Idaho from the days of Lewis and Clark to its role in the race for atomic power, head to the Museum of Idaho at 200 N. Eastern Ave. You can go online or call 208-522-1400 for hours as they change seasonally. The museum is closed on Sundays.
Don’t leave town without seeing a movie at two of the few remaining drive-in movie theaters in the nation. Established in 1947, Motor Vu is the oldest of the two. Tickets at both venues are $7 per adult, $1 per child ages 5-9 and cash only. Shows start at dusk around 8:45 p.m. Sky Vu is at 3000 S. Yellowstone Highway right near Tautphaus Park, and Motor Vu is at 2095 N. Yellowstone Highway.
Idaho Falls Food and Craft Beer Scene
Take a break from exploring Idaho Falls by dining in the city’s historic downtown. The SnakeBite Restaurant, a legendary burger restaurant downtown, features 20 craft beers on tap at 401 Park Ave.
Or try one of the 300 wines and 200 beers available at the nearby Black Rock wine bar and gastro pub at 439 A St. For an Irish twist, stroll to The Celt Pub and Grill at 398 W. Broadway, which features Irish-inspired food and drink, including in-house smoked meats.
Buy Local at the Idaho Falls Farmers Market
From Whatever Floats Your Goat Soap to Cowboy Tom’s Flapjacks, the Idaho Falls Farmers Market is the embodiment of the locally grown food movement.
When you peruse the In A Jam stand, you’ll notice the jar label actually features jam maker Cathy Blust’s phone number on it. At Cowboy Tom’s Flapjacks stand, you’ll learn Tom is actually a real cowboy from Declo, Idaho, and his wife Charlotte is the brainchild behind the product. Their flapjack mixes, which also feature gluten-free and flaxseed lines, are made from hard red wheat grown in southern Cassia County.
“What is still alive and well in Idaho Falls is your ability to have an impact,” Newton says. “We are a friendly bunch and have a great sense of community. There is still a lot of room for hopes and dreams. That’s what makes the area.”
Open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May through October, the farmers market also has live music and crafts, including eclectic items like wind chimes made from wine bottles. Located along the Snake River Greenbelt in downtown Idaho Falls, the farmers market sets up in the KeyBank parking lot.
Power to the People
Along the Greenbelt are the human-made waterfalls so vital to the town that the townspeople renamed the town in 1891 after them. The waterfalls literally light up the town each night as they are the source for the hydroelectric plant. This translates to clean energy and cheap electricity bills for residents.
Thirty miles away lies the beginning of the Idaho National Laboratory complex where scientists made history on Dec. 20, 1951, for a different kind of power. Thanks to the lab’s nuclear reactor, the tiny city of Arco became the first in the world to be lit by atomic power. It only lasted a few hours since it was just a demonstration.
But the lab itself, which spans 890 square miles, continues to be a major economic driver for the area, including for Idaho Falls where employees live and commute to the lab.
Take a tour of the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 Atomic Museum, 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, and learn more about our atomic history, including more about a fatal accident that occurred at the complex in 1961. It’s the only place in the United States where you can see four nuclear reactors. Admission is free and the museum is open seven days per week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
For more information: