Fall Into the Local Scene
Discover what to do in Idaho Falls, two hours from Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
By Tori Peglar
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 on Saturday’s.
“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.
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 August of 2017, it was one of only four official NASA viewing sites for the total solar eclipse.
“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.”
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.
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 half a block 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.
And don’t forget the Idaho Falls River Walk. 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 man-made waterfalls so vital that the townspeople renamed the town after them in 1891. The waterfalls literally light up the town each night as the driver for one of the city’s four hydroelectric plants. This translates to clean energy and inexpensive electricity bills for residents.
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 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.”
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.