Discover what to do in Idaho Falls, two hours from Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
In Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, this natural feature is often lined with moose. By the time you reach Idaho Falls to the west, it’s dotted by restaurants and shops. Can you guess what it is?
It’s the Snake River that originates from three streams in Yellowstone National Park before flowing south into Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park and west through Idaho Falls, Idaho. By the time it reaches Idaho Falls, it is lined with artist-created benches, fun restaurants and locally owned boutiques. Along the River Walk here, you can walk, bike, rollerblade, sit on a bench or peruse the farmers market.
“This little city has it all, but it still has that small-town feel,” says Chip Schwarze, CEO of the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce and Snake River Convention and Visitors Bureau. “People always say hi to each other when they are walking down the street.”
Just a two-hour drive from Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, Idaho Falls has a vibrant historic downtown, a lively cultural scene and the largest regional airport near both parks. It’s a great stopover to and from Wyoming’s national parks.
Cultural Attractions including Museum of Idaho
You’ll also find a symphony, a minor league baseball team and a theater that hosts such national acts as the Blue Man Group. It’s also home to the Museum of Idaho, one of the city’s most popular attractions for good reason. It brings in nationally recognized traveling exhibits, in addition to its permanent collection. For example, in 2011, the museum made Idaho Falls among the smallest cities in the world to host the worldwide sensation, Bodies: The Exhibition. In 2017, it was one of only four official NASA viewing sites for the total solar eclipse in August of that year.
“The museum amazes me,” Schwarze says. “I grew up in Seattle and lived in LA, and this museum brings in exhibits you’d expect in bigger cities. It brings people to visit from Montana and the rest of Idaho.”
Don’t miss Archimedes: Science and Innovations celebrates the work and legacy of Archimedes, a Greek mathematician whose inventions revolutionized the ancient world (Jan. 25, 2019 – Sept. 26, 2019). More than 60 items—most interactive—challenge visitors to experiment with ancient technology, including models of machines that could measure time, capsize and burn enemy ships and build massive pyramids.
Having such a strong cultural scene may be why Idaho Falls was ranked 92nd on the Forbes list for “best small places for business and careers.”
“Our cost of living is low and our lifestyle is high,” explains Schwarze.
Eat at Authentic Idaho Falls Restaurants
Start your day strong in Idaho Falls with breakfast at Smitty’s Pancake and Steak House, a popular local spot for more than four decades. Just three blocks from the famous waterfalls that gave the town its name, only the stellar customer service rivals the food.
For lunch or dinner, you can get a unique blend of culinary delights by going to the Snow Eagle Brewing and Grill, which also is home to the Wasabi Sushi Bar. For views of the waterfalls and fantastic food, dine at Copper Rill Restaurant (yes, it is “rill,” not “grill”), you’ll find tasty entrees like black and blue filet mignon served over a creamy gorgonzola sauce and roasted garlic mashed potato. For straight-up steaks and burgers, head to Stockman’s Restaurant, first opened in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in 1947 and much later in Idaho Falls in 2011.
Walk the River Walk
But don’t forget the RiverWalk. Paved on both sides for five miles going through the heart of downtown, it’s dotted with creatively made benches like one that looks like a grizzly bear and another that looks like a fishing lure.
You can even see the human-made waterfalls so vital to the town that the townspeople renamed the town after them in 1891. The waterfalls literally light up the town each night as they are the source for the hydroelectric plant. This translates to clean energy and inexpensive electricity bills for residents.
Peruse the Idaho Falls Farmers Market
On Saturdays, you’ll find the Idaho Falls Farmers Market held along the River Walk on Memorial Drive. 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. From Whatever Floats Your Goat Soap to Cowboy Tom’s Flapjacks, you’ll find locally made great gifts or nibbles.
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.
But there’s more.
“In the summers we have art fairs every Saturday along the River Walk,” says Schwarze. “At least two evenings a week we have live music. It’s the heart of our town, and you can even fish.”
Don’t Miss Hell’s Half Acre Lava Field
Twenty miles from town, you’ll find the Hell’s Half Acre Lava Field, which resembles a Hawaiian-type lava flow left from an eruption 4,100 years ago. The lava field actually stretches across 162,000 acres, not just a half acre. Walk on one of the interpretive trails close to the parking lot to experience the hardened lava flow that is home to plants like prickly pear cactus, juniper trees and lichens. You may even spot some of its residents like coyotes, foxes, antelope and rattlesnakes.
Download a brochure at www.blm.gov/visit/lava-trail-system
Visit Yellowstone Bear World
Want a guaranteed bear sighting? A short drive from Idaho Falls is Yellowstone Bear World. It’s a privately owned drive-thru wildlife park filled with bears, elk, wolves and more.
Feed baby cubs in a once-in-a-lifetime experience here. Up to three times daily, children ages 5 and older and adults can help staff bottle-feed bear cubs. Make advanced reservations to save your spot.
Soak in Heise Hot Springs
Swim or soak in Heise Hot Springs pools. The 84-degree Summer Pool features a diving board and a 350-foot waterslide. The 104-degree hot springs pool eases sore muscles from traveling. For locally famous pizza, head to the Heise Pizza Parlour. People drive for miles to eat here. Try the Heise Special with Canadian bacon, pepperoni, Italian sausage, black olives, mushrooms, onions and peppers.
Power to the People
Thirty miles away from Idaho Falls lies the beginning of the Idaho National Laboratory complex where scientists made history on Dec. 20, 1951, for a different kind of power than electricity. 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:
Stop by the visitor center at 355 River Parkway