Do you want to see one of Idaho’s most impressive waterfalls?! Driving from Grand Teton towards Yellowstone National Park? Looking for a family-friendly outing in eastern Idaho? Exploring the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway is a great way to spend a few hours outdoors or break up your drive to Yellowstone. In this article, we’ll cover the major landmarks along the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway and help you plan your trip.
Mesa Falls Scenic Byway
- Driving distance | 28.7 miles
- Total time | 2 – 3 hours
- Hiking distance | 0.5 miles (Upper Mesa Falls boardwalk), 2 miles (Mesa Falls Nature Trail)
- Epic-ness rating | 5
- Cost | $5 per vehicle entrance fee (cash only!), or included with the America the Beautiful Pass
The Mesa Falls Scenic Byway stretches nearly 30 miles between Ashton and Island Park in eastern Idaho. While the entire drive is beautiful, the main highlights are the Upper and Lower Mesa Falls. Both falls can be viewed from overlooks, but to get up close to Lower Mesa Falls, you’ll need to hike about1 mile from the Upper Mesa Falls overlook.
If you’re driving from Grand Teton National Park to Yellowstone, the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway is an awesome detour that makes a great way to break up the drive.
- Chance to see two beautiful waterfalls
- Teton views along the drive
- Makes a great stop driving between Grand Teton & Yellowstone
- Can get crowded on summer days
- Limited hiking trails
- Views of Lower Mesa Falls are obstructed
How much time do I need?
Point to point, the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway takes 1 hour to drive with no stops. However, if you plan to explore Upper Mesa Falls, hike to the Lower Mesa Falls overlook and stop at the viewpoint, it’s best to plan on spending about 3 hours.
- Purchase your Annual U.S. National Parks Pass online here!
Lower and Upper Mesa Falls are located Caribou Targhee National Forest. There is a $5 per vehicle per day entrance fee, which can only be paid in cash upon arrival. The entrance fee is also covered by the “America the Beautiful” Pass, which includes entrance to all U.S. National Parks for one year for just $80.
Tip | If you are planning to visit Yellowstone, Grand Teton and at least one other U.S. National Park over the next year, it makes sense to purchase the America the Beautiful Pass!
Things to know before you go
- There are no gas stations along the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. Fill up in either Ashton or Island Park if you’re running low on fuel.
- There are no services along the drive. Be sure to back plenty of food and water for the day.
- This is bear country! Make sure to carry bear spray and do no leave food or scented items unattended.
- The Mesa Falls Scenic Byway closes down during the winter due to snow, and the waterfalls are reachable only by snowmobile. The best time to visit is spring through fall.
- There are two campgrounds along the route: Warm River Forest Service Campground and Grand View Forest Service Campground.
- If you don’t have a U.S. National Parks Pass, be sure to bring $5 in cash to pay the entrance fee at Upper Mesa Falls.
Mesa Falls Scenic Byway Details
In the following section, we’ll give you an overview of the major landmarks along the scenic byway to help you prepare for your trip.
Mesa Falls Scenic Byway Map
The map below displays the location of the main landmarks and key reference points along the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.
- To email this map to yourself for future use, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
- To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map.
The Mesa Falls Scenic Byway begins from the small town of Ashton in eastern Idaho. Ashton is located about 30 minutes north of Rexburg, 45 mins from Driggs, 1 hour north of Idaho Falls, 1 hour 30 minutes north of Pocatello, and 1 hour 30 minutes from Jackson, Wyoming.
As you drive east from Ashton, enjoy beautiful views of the Tetons in the distance. After about 15 minutes, there is a small pullout on the side of the road that offers the chance to stop and enjoy the view of the Tetons through the leaves.
Lower Mesa Falls Viewpoint
Past the Teton Overlook on the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway at about 14 miles from Ashton, you’ll come upon the first waterfall: Lower Mesa Falls. Just a short walk from the parking area is a stunning viewpoint overlooking the Snake River and Lower Mesa Falls.
This viewpoint does not bring you up close to the falls but offers a beautiful bird’s eye view of the water and surrounding forest.
Upper Mesa Falls
Without a doubt, Upper Mesa Falls is the main highlight along the scenic byway! A boardwalk and paved walking trails get visitors up close and personal to the massive falls with incredible views of the surrounding river.
The entire boardwalk totals about half a mile of walking and is wheelchair accessible. Plan to spend about 30 minutes enjoying Upper Mesa Falls.
Big Falls Inn
Located right next to the Upper Mesa Falls boardwalk is the historic Big Falls Inn. The inn was originally built in the early 1900s and used as a hotel and dance hall. In 1986, Big Falls Inn was restored by the US Forest Service and now houses the visitor center for Upper Mesa Falls along with cultural and natural exhibits.
Big Falls Inn is open daily from 9:30am to 5:30pm during the summer. However, you can visit Upper Mesa Falls at any time of day.
Mesa Falls Nature Trail
- Distance | 2 miles
- Elevation gain | 100 feet
- Total time | 1 hour
- Epic-ness rating | 2
Find this hike on AllTrails: Mesa Falls Nature Trail
If you want to stretch your legs and extend your visit to Mesa Falls, check out the easy 2-mile Mesa Falls Nature Trail. The trail leads along the river down to a closer viewpoint of Lower Mesa Falls.
Personally, I wasn’t too impressed with the view of the lower falls, and thought the Lower Mesa Falls viewpoint right off the scenic byway was more beautiful. That being said, the nature trail is worthwhile if you want to extend your visit and spend some extra time enjoying the beautiful scenery that Caribou Targhee National Forest has to offer.
The scenic byway ends in the town of Island Park. From Island Park, the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park is about a 30-minute drive, making it a solid home base for exploring America’s first national park!
Other things to do nearby
Looking for more to do near the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway in southern Idaho? Check out the resources below for more help planning your trip!
- Best Things to Do in Victor & Driggs, Idaho
- 19 Amazing Hikes in Grand Teton National Park
- Kayak to the bottom of Shoshone Falls
- How to Find Perrine Coulee Falls in Twin Falls, Idaho
- How to Hike to Alice Lake: the Gem of the Sawtooths
- How to Visit Devil’s Washbowl: 1000 Springs State Park
- Kayak to Blue Heart Springs, a “Tropical” Lagoon in Idaho
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For all things Idaho: Idaho Travel Guide
Do you have questions or comments about exploring the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway? Leave us a note in the comments section below!