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In magnificent Idaho Falls, it’s really all about the adventure. Endless natural beauty provided by never-ending prairies, roaming herds of wild animals and dramatic landscapes shaped by volcanic activity attracts thousands of visitors every year, promising to take away the stress of their everyday lives with a wave of its magic wand.
All sorts of exciting activities related to the beautiful Snake river await here for those who are seeking fun and thrills. Rodeo shows, old-school drag racing and farmer’s markets full of delicious local treats represent just some of the splendid options you have when planning to spend quality time in this area. Check out our list of the best things to do in Idaho Falls and its surroundings to get inspired.
A Little About Idaho Falls
Beautiful city of Idaho Falls is currently home to about 54,000 inhabitants, although surrounding areas contribute to about thrice as many commuters. Being the fifth largest city in the state of Idaho, Idaho Falls offers very good infrastructure, multiple respected educational facilities and sought after cultural and sporting venues.
Historically, we recognize two major elements that contributed to the establishment and growth of the city – the majestic Snake River, gently meandering through the centre of the town, and the railroad, which contributed to the rapid growth of the population by bringing economic prospects to the region. In fact, it all began with the construction of a wooden railroad bridge above the river, which attracted first businesses, workshops and settlements.
Originally, Idaho Falls was known as Eagle Rock, and though it uses its new name ever since 1891, it’s original name is ever present in the names of numerous local institutions, businesses and places.
Idaho Falls and its surroundings played a major role in the industrial history of the United States. Just west of the city, Idaho National Laboratory was established back in 1940, later becoming the first in the world to demonstrate use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes – production of electricity. The institution (familiarly referred to simply as ”The Site” by locals) still plays an important role in the city’s economy.
What attracts most of the visitors to the region is its rich, all-year-round beautiful nature. The river forms beautiful cascades and biotop of its own, attracting hikers, bikers, fishermen and animal lovers from all over the US and beyond. Endless green pastures and lush prairies create an indispensable scenery for the cowboy culture, which still thrives in the region today.
It doesn’t really matter what brought you to the wonderful East Idaho. Once you’re here, you will surely crave to stay as long as possible – and see all that it has to offer. Here’s our ultimate list of the best things to do in Idaho Falls:
Walk the Idaho Falls River Walk
This really is a must if you find yourself in the Idaho Falls area. Frankly, to understand what makes this city so special, you must first see, hear and experience its most distinct natural sight – the Snake River.
Five-mile long greenbelt surrounding the river on the both banks offers wonderful opportunities for exploring this powerful force of nature. The site known as Idaho Falls River Walk provides several routes ranging in length from 0.4 to 3.2 miles. There are numerous places of interest and spots to take a break and just stare in awe. You’ll find a floating bridge and many benches or picnic areas for the well deserved rest in cooling breeze coming from the river. There are beautiful cascades frequented by various bird species and many rare trees that can be traced and admired randomly, or with a dedicated tree map in your hand. You’ll probably find yourself returning to this excellent place more than once.
Tour the downtown and admire its historical wealth
Idaho Falls might not be as historically rich as some other, larger and older cities, but it still has a pretty interesting historical core that surely deserves some exploring. Idaho Falls Historic Preservations commision does an excellent job in looking after the town’s historic gems – and they also publish a useful guide of Idaho Falls downtown that will teach you some interesting facts about the most valued buildings in the town.
One of the most cherished buildings in the historical part of the city is the Rocky Mountain Bell Telephone Company building (later known as the Labour Temple) on the 246 West Broadway, which provides the earliest example of Renaissance Revival architectural style in the city. Another not-to-miss place is Shane Building with beautiful terracotta entablature by the entrance. While roaming the streets, don’t forget to check out the historical Bonneville Hotel, the Former Idaho Falls Federal Building and the Hasbrouck Building – the best preserved example of stone architecture that predominated this area in the past.
Treat yourself with the visit of Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park
With more than 130 animal species and absolutely awesome setting in the beautiful Tautphaus Park, Idaho Falls Zoo is truly a wonderful place to be. In fact, it’s known as “the best little zoo in the west”, and you can’t argue once you step inside. The park is divided into several areas resembling different environments in the distinct parts of the world (Patagonia, Australia, Asia etc.). This provides a valuable educational opportunity for the children – and frankly, it looks very good too.
Aside from the regular visits, you can also partake in some of the regular events organized in this Zoo. Wine in the wild, Masquerade Ball, Hawaiian Luaus and many other gatherings often include a fundraising too, so you can do a good deed while having fun among the animals.
Explore incredible Colonial Theatre
As already mentioned above, Idaho Falls downtown is a wonderful place to see if you can appreciate history. But the incredible Colonial Theater is really worth a place of its own in this list. Founded in 1919, this beautiful building used to be the greatest theater in the whole Intermountain West area. It boasted 1,400 mahogany seats with leather upholstery and superb acoustic abilities that could host even the most picky ensambles in the country.
Today, Idaho Falls Colonial Theater hosts about 16 – 18 cultural events a year, including musical gigs in variety of genres, dance performances and screenings of classical movies. If you’re lucky enough to be there in the right time to visit some of them, do not hesitate to do so. After all, Colonial Theater is currently one of only four remaining historical theaters in the state of Idaho.
Check out the Hell’s Half Acre and its lava formations
If you get bored by the lush greenery of Idaho prairies, come for a very different sight to this basaltic lava plain known as the Idaho Falls’ Hell’s Half Acre. Located on the Snake River Plain some 25 miles out of the city, this place is a unique stopover destination on your way to/from Idaho Falls.
Experts estimate that this site was formed by the geo seismic activity in the region around 3250 BC. Part of this wonderfully rugged terrain was designated a National Natural Monument back in 1976. Bring yourself some good shoes and head on one of the two Lava Hiking Trails designed to help you navigate safely through the plain. The shorter one takes only about half an hour. The longer, marked by red flags, can easily consume a whole day – especially given all those attractions that will make you stop along the way. Even after all these years, you can still easily recognize two distinct lava flows, remains of ancient lava lake and two incredible lava tubes that can be explored from within.
Jump into the balloon!
What place on this Earth wouldn’t look beautiful when seen from the slowly drifting hot air balloon? Idaho Falls nevertheless still remains one of the best places for ballooning in the world. There are several famous ballooning spots in the area, but if you have enough time and energy, we strongly advise to venture approximately 60 miles east of the city into the Teton Valley at the foot of the breathtakingly beautiful Grand Teton mountain range.
The best time to go? Go as soon in the morning as possible to get the cleanest and freshest air and see the world below awakening into the new day. Or try catching the sunset for the most romantic memories and pictures. You can also visit some of the popular events such as the annual Teton Valley Balloon Rally and watch the sky fill with dozens of colorful air balloons all at once.
Put on your cowboy hat and head to War Bonnet Roundup
Rodeo is an essential part of the whole Wild West culture and tradition. Its beginnings can be traced back in the early 18th century, when cowboys on numerous ranches scattered around the Western states mastered their practice with ropes on yet-to-be-tamed animals. The great state of Idaho was definitely part of it all, so even today there aren’t many better places in the world if you want to catch a genuine rodeo show.
Idaho’s oldest rodeo show is called War Bonnet Roundup and it was found back in 1911. Currently, this beloved event hosts more than 450 cowboys and cowgirls competing in front of 15,000 thrilled fans of this traditional sport. Besides the basic competition, you can also attend various thematic events such historical rodeo. Members of local native tribes attend the occasion wearing their traditional costumes and masks. This place also hosts the World’s Richest Wild Horses race with the tempting prize of $15,000 awaiting its brave winner.
Admire The Giant Eagle Waterfall Nest Sculpture
Roundabouts are usually not the places you would prefer seeing in the course of your vacation. However, you would miss a lot if you would pass this particular one. This enormous statue consists of a bustling waterfall, a pair of beautifully crafted eagles, several baby eagles in the nest and a mountain lion.
Officially called “The Protector”, this masterpiece created by Vic Payne was installed back in 2006. You can easily spot the symbolism in it, as it directly points to the city’s original name, Eagle Rock. If you plan to explore this spot on your own, beware that it’s not very pedestrian-friendly. Your best chance is to simply drive by. Just don’t forget about road safety while dropping your jaw at this sight. Since it’s a roundabout, you can always take another round!
Fill your stomach at Idaho Falls Saturday Market
Absolutely local, absolutely fresh, absolutely delicious! If you want to taste the real Idaho Falls, don’t forget to attend the wonderful Idaho Falls Farmers’ Saturday Market. Rain or shine, this gorgeous little event takes place every Saturday directly on the Snake River Walkway. Local farmers, bakers and confectioners offer their traditionally crafted goods made of fresh, in-season ingredients.
Occasionally, this farmer’s market gets combined with an art walk, so you can not only fill your stomach with wonderful food, but also supply yourself with a wide variety of handmade objects from local artists and artisans. A great place to grab a few souvenirs!
Catch a glimpse of the majestic bison
Bison is not only the largest mammal roaming the wilderness of North America, this beautiful mountain of muscles is also the greatest symbol of American West. Bisons were present here long before the first settlers set their feet on American soil. And currently, thousands of dedicated conservationists do whatever they can to keep them roaming their natural habitat for the years, decades and centuries to come.
Your best chances to encounter wild bison in the whole US are in Yellowstone Park. And by coincidence, it spreads right on the other side of the state border with Wyoming, just about 150 miles from Idaho City. Of course, buffalos don’t really care about the borders, so you can spot some of them in the wild prairies of eastern Idaho from time to time too. Not so long ago a buffalo who wandered off from the Yellowstone turned up running along the Idaho highway, not so far from Idaho Falls. Just beware that though looking calm and peaceful, these smart animals are actually one of the most dangerous species you can meet on this continent.
Feel the excitement of racing at the Sage’s Raceway
Drag racing is a tremendous fun and excitement for the whole family. If you never been to one before, you shouldn’t miss Idaho Falls’ Sage’s Raceway and some of its superb events. Their schedule includes at least two major events every month and besides watching, you can participate too, of course! Make it a whole day out, since you can also enjoy some meals and drinks on the site with your friends and family.
This place is a dream-come-true of a 71-year old Terry Ray, who grew up with the smell of gasoline and returned to his beloved sport once his children grew up and moved away. Roaring crowds and rumbling engines of beautifully crafted dragsters will touch your heart and fill you with adrenaline for sure. As Terry Ray himself says, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re coming from. Once you’re near a drag race, you’re 18 again.
See the world from a bear’s perspective
Yellowstone Bear World is located just a mere 30 minutes away from the bustling city of Idaho Falls. Exciting drive-thru wildlife park will let you meet the stunning beasts face to face without risking an incident. This unique institution has a mission to educate and familiarize its visitors with the true nature of these often feared and loathed animals, who can present a gravely danger if we cross its path in the wild. All of the animals living in the park were bred and raised in captivity, so there is no exploitation of naturally wild animals involved.
You can roam through the park on the recommended trail, or participate in some of numerous activities organized by the experienced animal keepers. Encourage your little ones to try popular bottle feeding of lovely bear cubs. Or meet some of the other animals living in the park’s petting zoo area. A lovely way to spend the day with your family!
Master you fly fishing skills at the Snake River
Fly fishing is pretty much a native sport here in Eastern Idaho. This famous angling method is all about using the light-weight lure, also commonly referred to as an artificial fly. Iit focuses on some specific fish species, which are commonly present in the Snake River.
Thanks to being the place where Henry’s Fork and South Fork of the Snake River converge, Idaho Falls represent a perfect spot to learn or master your fly fishing skills. Are you a complete beginner? It’s super easy to find an experienced guide, who will take you to the best fishing spots around and show you a trick or two. Besides having a chance to catch yourself a delicious dinner, you will also spend a day in the beautiful natural surroundings, doing what English writer Izaak Walton referred to as “the contemplative man’s recreation”.
Ski or bike down the Kelly Canyon
Idaho Falls area is a beautiful place all year long. It doesn’t really matter when you happen to be there, the natural beauty stays equally great only changing its colors and moods. Of course, each season has its own incentives. But if you fancy active sports with a little bit of adrenaline attached, you should definitely put the Kelly Canyon on your to-do list.
It takes just about 40 minutes driving to forget about the city at the foot of the Kelly Mountain, where the wonderful selection of downhill bike trails and ski tracks known as the Kelly Canyon spreads. There’s a well equipped gear rental, so no excuses if you travel light! In the winter, as much as 51 ski runs accommodating all levels of experience provide a great fun for everyone. And if you feel like fooling around, there’s a jump park that will test your skills on a variety of rails, pipes and terrains.
Take it easy at the great Heise Hot Springs
There is nothing quite as good as submerging your tired limbs into the hot mineral water after a long day of sightseeing. Heise Hot Springs just about 23 miles away from the city of Idaho Falls has exactly what you need. Although nowadays this natural spring is occupied by a fancy spa resort with multiple pools, amusement attractions and high-end services, this natural treasure was recognized long before the white men arrived. Native tribes used the bubbling hot spring to take a bath while hunting in the area.
Today, the beautiful Heise Resort hosts many attractions and activities that will keep you occupied and happy all day long. You can even bring your RV and camp directly on the site, grabbing your chance to explore this more remote area thoroughly. There are picnic areas, shelters and even a pizza parlour, and recently a network of tempting ziplines appeared here too.
Tired of Idaho? Escape to Japan!
Located on the island, right in the middle of Snake, a little piece of Japan awaits for those who like to change scenery for a while. Charming Japanese garden with a pavilion was opened for public in 2016 to commemorate a delegation from Idaho Falls’ Japanese sister city Tokai-Mura. The whole project began with arrival of the beautiful stone lantern, which was given to people of Idaho Falls by their Japanese counterparts.
Both pavilion and the adjacent garden are currently open to all visitors 24/7, offering beautiful views of the river and its cascades day and night. This place is also very popular with wedding couples, who organize their photoshoots or even the whole ceremonies in this beautiful surroundings.
We hope our list of the best things to do in Idaho Falls helps you with planning your best visit of this beautiful region. But if you’re still unsure if this is the right destination, you should definitely check our list of the surprisingly good things to do in Bend, Oregon, the ultimate itinerary for your visit of Cherokee, NC, or our guide to all-year-round fun activities in Colorado.