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Hub of the Greater Yellowstone AreaHub of the Greater Yellowstone Area

Idaho Falls, IdahoIdaho Falls, Idaho

This little town will surprise you with some cultural attractions worthy of a big city—including a fine aviation expo. And it’s surrounded by more wild nature than you could explore in a lifetime.

  • Bob Hoff (flying above) and his son James pilot their nearly identical Boeing Stearmans in perfect formation near the windmills just east of Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Hoff family owns the Aero Mark FBO at Idaho Falls and a potato farm south of town. You may have seen James flying his Stearman with the checkered tail in the nationally-televised Idaho Potato ads. Photo by Thomas Hoff.
  • The Snake River runs through downtown Idaho Falls; man-made waterfalls used for electricity generation give the city its name. IDA’s Runway 17/35 is shown on the right. Local pilots are fighting to keep this second runway open. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • IDA’s larger Runway 2/20 is used by regional airliners as well as general aviation pilots. Photo by Thomas Hoff.
  • Although the area immediately surrounding Idaho Falls is mostly rolling farmland, you’ll find dramatic landscapes just a bit farther out, including huge lava fields from the southwest to northwest, Yellowstone and the Absaroka Mountains to the northeast, the Tetons due east, and the Wyoming Range to the southeast. Photo by Thomas Hoff.
  • The South Fork of the Snake River provides 54 miles of big water that is best fished out of a Mackenzie-style drift boat. Portions of the river flow through a beautiful canyon complete with waterfalls in spring, when stonefly nymphs, egg patterns, various worm patterns, and bead heads are staples in the fisherman’s arsenal. The South Fork is a wild trout fishery—no planted trout—and is considered by many as the best wild trout fishery in the lower 48 states. The Lodge at Palisades Creek is right on the river and provides expert fishing guides. Photo courtesy Lodge at Palisades Creek.
  • In other areas like here near Swan Valley, the terrain around the South Fork opens to wide views backed by snow-topped mountains. Summertime flows are dictated by irrigation demand. As water demand subsides, gravel bars, and riffles emerge and insect hatching beckons fish to focus on these areas. Summer is the famous time: Large hatches begin in early June and include salmon flies, green drakes, and golden stones. Pale morning duns, caddis, and terrestrials like grasshoppers, beetles, and ants become more prevalent mid-Jul–Sep. Floating early or staying out a little later provides extra opportunities and fewer fishermen. Photo by Chad Chase, courtesy Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce & Snake River Territory CVB.
  • The South Fork is predominantly a native cutthroat fishery (a fine-spotted cutthroat is shown here), but the rainbows are gaining in number and there is a fear that the cutthroat trout will be displaced in time. Release the ‘cutts’ and keep the ‘bows’! The Angler Incentive Program, sponsored by Trout Unlimited, Orvis, and Idaho Fish & Game, motivates anglers by placing invisible chips in the snout of rainbows and cut-bow hybrids. Anglers who catch these species are encouraged to harvest the fish and turn the heads in to Idaho Fish & Game. The chip has a corresponding dollar value the angler may receive. There are no limits to size and quantity. Photo courtesy WorldCast Anglers.
  • A beautiful brownie. Fall on the South Fork of the Snake is one of the best kept secrets in trout fishing. Water flows slow and trout focus on fattening up for winter. Chilly days trigger blue winged olive hatches to carpet the river. This is the time to find big, aggressive brown trout as they gear up to spawn. Favorite streamer patterns include muddlers, zonkers, and weighted marabou flies in white and olive, brown and yellow, and black. Photo by RIO Products.
  • The Beech Model 17 and Model 18, aka “Staggerwing” and “Twin Beech” at the Idaho Aviation Expo. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • In 1946, this Cessna 120 was purchased new for $2,650 by Mark and Onita Hoff, who both became pilots. Their CFI, Bob Jones, right, has instructed four generations of Hoffs in this aircraft, including great-granddaughter Savannah, left. Meet them at the Idaho Aviation Expo in May. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Waterfalls on the Snake River provide electricity to Idaho Falls. The Greenbelt is beautifully lit in the evening, as is the Mormon Temple in the background. Photo courtesy Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce & Snake River Territory CVB.
  • Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and cruise along the Snake River through Idaho Falls. Photo courtesy Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce & Snake River Territory CVB.
  • A Bluegrass band entertains visitors during the Saturday Farmers Market. Photo courtesy Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce & Snake River Territory CVB.
  • The Japanese Friendship Garden and Pavilion sit on an island in the Snake River, near the Broadway Bridge. Foot bridges provide access from both sides of the river. The best place to park is the Key Bank, where parking is allowed in spaces not reserved for bank business. Idaho Falls is a friendly town! Photo by Brian Brown, courtesy Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce & Snake River Territory CVB.
  • There are truly big fish on the South Fork of the Snake, but you can also fish right from the Greenbelt downtown, especially convenient for a fun weekend day or weekday afternoon. Photo courtesy Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce & Snake River Territory CVB.

If you love the outdoors, southwestern Montana, northwestern Wyoming, and eastern Idaho just might be your idea of heaven—it is mine. The folks who live in Idaho Falls have easy access to it all. If you’re flying to Idaho Falls Regional from Missoula or Yellowstone, detour over Dubois to see the newly restored beacon, generator shed, and giant yellow arrow once used by pilots who flew America’s early air mail runs 100 years ago. Follow I-15 south and you’ll overfly the Camas National Wildlife Refuge, followed by a 162,000-acre lava flow called the Hell’s Half Acre Lava Field, created by an eruption 4,100 years ago. 

You’ll also see the mighty Snake River, which runs right through Idaho Falls. The Snake begins in nearby Yellowstone National Park, flows south into Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park, and then into the Palisades Reservoir near Alpine on the Idaho/Wyoming border. Below the reservoir, it’s generally referred to as the South Fork of the Snake River, and home to one of the world’s finest cutthroat trout fisheries—an estimated 5,000 wild trout of various species per mile. Remember to release the cutts and keep the rainbows, which helps the cutthroat population. Drift-fish this section of the Snake during a good hatch and be amazed. Stay at the luxurious, Orvis-endorsed Lodge at Palisades Creek, right on the river, for the complete experience.  

A wild, native, Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout. Photo by Corey Kruitbosch.

Not just one, but two legendary trout-fishing rivers converge near Idaho Falls. The Henry’s Fork, primarily a rainbow fishery, comes in from the north and is great for waders. I should mention that if you really love fly fishing, land at the Henry’s Lake airstrip some time for the best lake fishing in Idaho. It’s about 10 nautical miles west of Yellowstone Airport and 75 nm northeast of Idaho Falls. Pick up fishing supplies in Idaho Falls at Jimmy’s All Seasons Angler or The Fly Rod Co. 

Now that we’ve mentioned just a few of the natural wonders surrounding Idaho Falls, what can you find in the city itself? First, you’ll encounter the friendly folks at the Aero Mark fixed-base operation, owned by the Hoff family. The Hoffs have a multi-generation history in both potato farming and aviation; they host the Round-Engine Roundup each June. Each May they produce the Idaho Aviation Expo when they fill their giant hangar with gorgeous airplanes, including some of their own: You might see a Beech Staggerwing, Twin Beech, or Stearman. Visit the booths, attend a seminar, and indulge in locally crafted huckleberry ice cream. Free shuttles take you to hotels including Le Ritz, Fairfield Inn and Suites, and the Hilton Garden Inn. We like Le Ritz, so we can walk to the Snake River. Fine dining and waterfall views are yours at the Copper Rill, or you can choose the Snow Eagle Brewing and Grill, which also is home to the Wasabi Sushi Bar, or local fave Smitty’s Pancake and Steak House. Long summer evenings leave plenty of time to stroll along the Snake River Greenbelt (aka Riverwalk), paved for five miles. You’ll see the man-made waterfalls that lend their name to this town as they provide electricity to keep it humming. For daytime exploration, rent bikes or kayaks at Idaho Mountain Trading.

In 2018, the Museum of Idaho presents the world debut of the “Discover Steampunk” exhibit. Interact with 'futuristic' inventions that 19th-century thinkers like Jules Verne and Isaac Singer envisioned, and explore creative problem-solving and other STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) concepts. What is steampunk? It’s a genre of science fiction and design reflecting 19th-century visions of the future. It features technology (often steam-powered) reminiscent of the Victorian era, but often performing modern functions. Shown here is Jules Verne’s “SubHuman Man.” Photo courtesy Museum of Idaho.Idaho Falls is also home to the Museum of Idaho, a science and humanities museum that can hold its own with big-city museums. Idaho Falls even boasts a symphony, plus a minor league baseball team, the Idaho Falls Chukars, affiliated with the Kansas City Royals (Jose Canseco, Rick Sutcliffe, and Jake Peavy, among many others, played here). The historic Colonial Theater hosts national acts like the Blue Man Group, while its Willard Arts Center, ARTitorium on Broadway, and other Idaho Falls Arts Council programs provide cultural enrichment for adults and kids, year-round. 

Summer Saturdays along the River Walk are perfect for visiting the Idaho Falls Farmers Market, which also has live music and crafts, gifts, and fun foods. The city also hosts art fairs every Saturday along the River Walk. And just in case you didn’t get enough fishing, you can fish the Snake right in town. 

Golfers head to the links at Pinecrest, Sand Creek, or Sage Lakes, while others might prefer the zoo, aquatic center, ice arena, archery center, or the Japanese Friendship Garden in Sportsman Park, constructed as part of a sister city partnership with Tokai, Japan. That’s Idaho Falls for you: a little city with a lot of culture, surrounded by some of the most spectacular outdoor places in the United States.

This immaculate Beechcraft Model 18 “Twin Beech” is among the many remarkable aircraft on display at the Idaho Aviation Expo. Photo by Jeanine Grant.


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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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