Going from Grand Teton National Park to Yellowstone? Take a little detour into Idaho for Mesa Falls… You’ll be amazed.
Ok, we know… The most popular way to get back and forth between Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park is the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. We get it. It’s a truly remarkable drive teeming with wildlife and views that’ll knock your socks off.
But what if you’ve already done that drive?
Then it’s time for a detour. Skip Yellowstone’s south entrance and cruise across the Teton Pass, through Idaho on the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, and enter Yellowstone from the west so you can stop by one of the most spectacular secret spots in all of Idaho: Mesa Falls.
While Mesa Falls is technically two different falls- upper and lower, and you should stop at both, we’re going to focus on Upper Mesa Falls. Here you can watch as water falls from 10 stories and crashes into the Snake River below.
The falls cascade across volcanic rock deposited by a super-volcano that covered the area in volcanic ash. Today, the water flowing over the black rock is one of the prettiest sites in this part of the country.
Getting to the multiple viewing platforms for Upper Mesa Falls is an easy hike from the Mesa Falls Visitor Center, but does require some stairs. (Those not comfortable with steps can still get a neat view from the non-stepped part of the trail)
You’ll most likely be rewarded with not only the beauty of the falls, but a spectacular rainbow that seems to almost always grace the falls.
Once you take in the falls, head back to the Mesa Falls Visitor Center for plenty of exhibits on everything from geology to wildlife as well as a small assortment of gifts & souvenirs for purchase.
The Mesa Falls Visitor Center itself is something pretty special. Once known as the Big Falls Inn, the visitors center is a large log cabin built in 1915 by the Snake River Electric Light & Power Company. The cabin was originally used by the company as they attempted to harness the mighty power of the falls for hydroelectric use, but it later found use as everything from a hotel to a cafe to a dance hall.
If you’re lucky, they’ll have the telescope out and trained on an osprey nest. If not, no worries, you can still sit on the porch and take in the peaceful flower gardens as the falls quietly rumble in the background.
If you enjoy a little hike, take the Mesa Falls Nature Trail for about a mile until you reach the Lower Mesa Falls overlook.
Despite the sheer beauty of these falls, we are always amazed at the lack of visitors each and every time we’ve visited. The price is right (only $5) and the falls are open year-round.
In our humble opinion, if you’ve already spent a day or two (or 5) exploring Grand Teton National Park, go ahead and travel to Yellowstone via the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. (Oh, and you can get souvenirs and gear in West Yellowstone where it’s generally cheaper than inside the park.)
Upper Mesa Falls Rd, Ashton, ID 83420