Mesa Falls Idaho in Targhee National Forest

Guide to Exploring Mesa Falls Idaho

Are you ready to explore one of Idaho’s best kept secrets?  Tucked in between giants of the outdoor recreation world like Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, this under-rated waterfall may just be one of Idaho’s most standout gems, and definitely one of its most impressive waterfalls!  Comprised of two separate sections, Upper Mesa Falls and Lower Mesa Falls, you definitely don’t want to miss this outdoor attraction!  Learn exactly what to expect in this guide to exploring Mesa Falls Idaho!

Mesa Falls near Ashton Idaho

Disclosure: Below are some affiliate links-these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t make any recommendations on this page that I haven’t tested or personally used!  Enjoy this guide to the best of Mesa Falls Idaho!

 

 

Guide to Exploring Mesa Falls Idaho

 

Here’s what you can expect from this guide to Mesa Falls:

 

  • What to Know Before You Go
  • Where Mesa Falls Idaho is
  • Background on Mesa Falls
  • Best Things to Do at Mesa Falls
  • Camping Near Mesa Falls
  • Other Nearby Attractions

 

Upper Mesa Falls Idaho
Upper Mesa Falls Idaho

 

Know Before You Go

 

Location: eastern Idaho, off of Highway 47 / Mesa Falls Scenic Byway (Google map)

Closest Cities/Towns: Ashton, ID (25 minutes) and Island Park, ID (25 minutes)

Closest Airport: Idaho Falls Regional Airport (1 hour and 15 minutes)

Hours: open daily in the summer/closed in winter except to snowmobiles and skiers

Entrance Fees: $5 per vehicle per day (self pay at entrance booth)

Parking: there is plenty of parking at both the Upper Mesa Falls and Lower Mesa Falls.  There is an upper and lower parking lot at Upper Mesa Falls.  There is one large parking lot at Lower Mesa Falls.

Distance Between Upper Mesa Falls and Lower Mesa Falls: 1 mile on Highway 47 / Mesa Falls Scenic Byway

Facilities: there are bathrooms and water at Upper Mesa Falls.

Best Time of Year to Visit: Summer (Highway 47 / Mesa Falls Scenic Byway is closed in winter, and only accessible by snowmobile or skiing).

Pet Policy: Leashed pets are welcome at both the Upper Mesa Falls and Lower Mesa Falls.

Helpful Hints: bring $5 cash for the self pay entrance fee.  You will need exact cash, or be prepared to write a check.  

Helpful Distances:

  • Mesa Falls to Ashton, ID: 25 minutes
  • Mesa Falls to Island Park, ID: 30 minutes
  • Mesa Falls to Rexburg, ID: 50 minutes
  • Mesa Falls to Idaho Falls, ID: 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Mesa Falls to Yellowstone National Park (west entrance): 1 hour
  • Mesa Falls to Grand Teton National Park: 2 hours

 

Map of Mesa Falls Idaho and Surrounding Area

 

 

Background on Mesa Falls Idaho

 

Mesa Falls has a fascinating and somewhat ironic story.  Fed by the iconic Snake River, a literal lifeline in Idaho and bordering states, Mesa Falls has a past melded not just by water, but by fire!  The 10 story foot waterfall of the Upper Mesa Falls, spanning 200 feet in width, is the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.  The river continues to cut its way through the deep forest gorge made of solidified ash and lava, evidenced yet again a mile south at the Lower Mesa Falls.  Today, Mesa Falls reign as one of the most prominent and untouched waterfalls on the Snake River!

 

Best Things to Do at Mesa Falls Idaho

 

The best things to do at Mesa Falls include:

  • Hiking
  • Camping:
  • Overlooks
  • Mesa Falls Visitor Center
  • Mesa Falls Scenic Byway

 

Hiking Trails at Mesa Falls Idaho

 

There are two hiking trails at Upper Mesa Falls, and one overlook at Lower Mesa Falls.

 

Mesa Falls Idaho in Targhee National Forest
Upper Mesa Falls from the Boardwalk Trail overlooks

 

Upper Mesa Falls Boardwalk Trail

 

Quick Facts on the Upper Mesa Falls Boardwalk Trail

 

Length: 0.4 miles roundtrip loop

Rating: Easy

Estimated Time to Complete: 15 minutes

Elevation Gain: 75 feet

Upper Mesa Falls Boardwalk Trail Elevation ChartUpper Mesa Falls Boardwalk Trail Elevation Chart

 

The highlight of the Upper Mesa Falls is the boardwalk trail to the numerous overlooks of the Upper Mesa Falls.  You can pick up this short trail from the Visitor Center.  It takes an estimated 15 minutes to complete this trail, not including time spent at the overlooks.  There are plenty of informative panels sharing the history of the area along the hike, as well as benches for resting and sightseeing.  

 

Several of the lookouts have a series of metal stairs to keep in mind.  Also, though it may appear that the boardwalk trail splits off in some places, this is a loop trail, with the eventual terminating point being the overlooks over Upper Mesa Falls.  This map view might be helpful in understanding the trail.   

 

Upper Mesa Falls Boardwalk Trail Map
Upper Mesa Falls Boardwalk Trail Map

 

While the thundering Upper Mesa Falls, over 100 feet tall, understandably gets most of the attention on this boardwalk trail, don’t forget to take in the serene moss covered canyon walls surrounding the falls, or the swift flowing river as it flows south through the gorge towards Lower Mesa Falls.  The whole area is simply stunning and characteristic of the deep forests of eastern Idaho!

The aftermath of Upper Mesa Falls flowing through the canyon towards Lower Mesa Falls
The aftermath of Upper Mesa Falls flowing through the canyon towards Lower Mesa Falls

 

Mesa Falls Nature Trail

 

Quick Facts on the Mesa Falls Nature Trail:

 

Length: 2 miles roundtrip out and back trail

Rating: Easy

Estimated Time to Complete: 45 minutes

Elevation Gain: 91 feet

Mesa Falls Nature Trail Elevation Chart
Mesa Falls Nature Trail Elevation Chart

 

This short, flat, 2 mile long, family friendly nature trail is located at the upper parking lot of the Upper Mesa Falls.  There is a sign at the trailhead.  While this is mostly a shady, forested hike, it ends at an overlook of Lower Mesa Falls.  

 

Grandview Overlook at the Lower Mesa Falls

 

While Lower Mesa Falls may be the less popular of the two Mesa Falls, it is absolutely worth making the quick jaunt over to see the aftermath of Upper Mesa Falls, as it continues its journey south.  Though shorter in actual height than its Upper Mesa Falls counterpart, the Lower Mesa Falls is still 65 feet tall.  As an added bonus, Lower Mesa Falls is often the less crowded of the two parts of Mesa Falls, so you can enjoy potentially more solitude as you take in the expansive views.  

The Grandview Overlook at Lower Mesa Falls Idaho
The Grandview Overlook at Lower Mesa Falls Idaho

 

Camping Near Mesa Falls Idaho

 

There are several camping options near Mesa Falls, for those ready to soak in more of the waterfall vibe!  Below are the 3 closest campgrounds, in order of proximity.

 

  • Grandview Campground
  • Warm River Campground
  • Harriman State Park

 

*You can also boondock (also known as dispersed camping) in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.  The 3 options listed above are developed campgrounds. You can find more information on these 3 campgrounds below.

 

#1: Grandview Campground

 

While you can’t camp directly at Upper Mesa Falls or Lower Mesa Falls, the Grandview Campground is immediately adjacent to Lower Mesa Falls.  There are 8 sites at this campground, and amenities include water, toilets, and picnic tables.  Reservations for Grandview Campground can be made online.

 

#2: Warm River Campground

 

Another campground nearby is the Warm River Campground, on the Warm River.  This site is located in the small town of Warm River, just a few minutes outside of Ashton, and only 15 minutes from Mesa Falls.  Campsites include toilets and drinking water.  Reservations can be made online. In addition to camping, popular pastimes at this campground include tubing and fishing the Warm River. 

 

#3: Harriman State Park

 

A little further north of Upper Mesa Falls, near the northern terminus of the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, lies Harriman State Park, which also contains campsites.  

 

Mesa Falls Visitor Center

 

The historic Mesa Falls Visitor Center is located at the Upper Mesa Falls, and is open daily from 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM in the summer. It is subject to seasonal closures, but may be open on select weekends in the winter.  It is a great way to round out your visit to Mesa Falls, by learning about the geology, ecosystem, and environment of this region.  And it is housed in the picturesque and historic Big Falls Inn, originally constructed in 1915 by the Snake River Electric Light and Power Company.  

 

The Mesa Falls Visitor Center has a storied past almost as fascinating as the falls themselves, and a visit here lends you a perspective to the history and transition of this area of Idaho.  Originally used by the power company, the Visitor Center has also had a turn as a hotel, cafe, and even a dance hall!  Later it was used as an outpost for ranchers, tourists, hunters, and other sportsmen.  In 1986 it was acquired by the Forest Service, and now used to preserve a testament to the history of the area with its current exhibits.  It is even listed now on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

The Mesa Falls Visitor Center is also where you can find the start of the boardwalk trail to view the Upper Mesa Falls!

 

Mesa Falls Scenic Byway

 

The Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, also known as Highway 47, is the road on which both Upper Mesa Falls and Lower Mesa Falls are located.  It starts in Ashton, Idaho and ends 30 miles later just south of Island Park, Idaho.  Without a doubt one of the most scenic highways in the entire state!

 

The Mesa Falls Scenic Byway is closed in the winter, and is used primarily for snowmobiles.  It is open from spring through fall.  

 

Other Nearby Attractions to Mesa Falls Idaho

 

This area of Idaho is ripe with additional outdoor adventures and attractions, plus a few highlights in neighboring states like Wyoming and Montana!

 

  • Caribou-Targhee National Forest
  • Harriman State Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Grand Teton National Park

 

Caribou-Targhee National Forest

 

The Caribou-Targhee National Forest surrounds Mesa Falls, and provides plenty of hiking, camping, and exploring options outside of any visit to Mesa Falls.  

 

RELATED: What’s the Difference Between a National Forest and a National Park Anyway?

 

Harriman State Park

 

Harriman State Park lies north of Mesa Falls, at the northern terminus of the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.  There are 22 miles of trails here, ample wildlife, campsites, and superb fishing opportunities!  Entrance fees are $7.  While leashed dogs are welcome at Mesa Falls, they are not allowed in Harriman State Park due to the large amount of native waterfowl.  

 

Yellowstone National Park

 

It would be hard not to mention the giant that resides less than an hour from Mesa Falls Idaho!  You can be at the West Yellowstone gate in about 55 minutes, making it the perfect addition to a Mesa Falls visit, or vice versa.  In fact, Island Park, the northern terminus of the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, is considered a prime home base for those planning to visit Yellowstone from the west entrance.  If you love waterfalls like Mesa Falls, you won’t be disappointed by the waterfalls waiting for you in Yellowstone National Park, like the Gibbon Falls, or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone!  Plus a plethora of geysers, springs, mud pots, paint pots, thermal pools, mountains, pastures, rivers, and forests!  You can find all this plus more on this 3 day Yellowstone itinerary from the west entrance!

Yellowstone National Park
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park

 

Grand Teton National Park

 

Travel a little further south for approximately 2 hours and you will reach the other National Park in the region, Grand Teton National Park!  Home to some of the most rugged hiking, majestic mountains, and pristine lakes!  It is an outdoor adventure haven!  Make sure to stop in Victor, Idaho for a famous huckleberry milkshake, one of the top things to do in Victor, Idaho!

Hiking at Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park
Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park

 

 

And there you have it, why Mesa Falls Idaho deserves a spot on your waterfall bucket list!

 

 

PIN for LATER!

Mesa Falls near Ashton Idaho

Get Your FREE Hiking Checklist PDF


Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *