Mesa Falls: A Hidden Gem of Idaho
The sun is just rising, peaking through the green forest. It has not yet burned away the morning mist. Moose, deer, and other wildlife, are drinking from the river. Just feet away, the water drops away, plummeting over 110 feet, and crashing into a brilliant rainbow spray. The thundering roar of the waterfall can almost be felt. After all, you’re only a few feet from the top of the waterfall yourself, safe on the viewing deck. It’s an awesome experience. Tucked away from civilization, this part of the Henry’s Fork of Snake River is almost pristine. It’s virtually untouched; a hidden gem. So here you are, feeling the awesome power of unbridled nature. But don’t get settled in just yet. This is only one waterfall. There’s still another one just down the river, past the bend.
The Mesa Falls are an impressive experience. Upper Mesa Falls drops a staggering 110 feet straight down, and Lower Mesa Falls drops 85 feet straight down. And you can be right next to them. There are overlooks at both locations that allow you to get up close and personal with this amazing, and hidden away, attraction. Apart from the pathways, parking lots, and seasonal lodge, this part of Henry’s Fork is untouched. It’s nature, pure and simple. And it’s nature you can get right in to. The viewing deck at Upper Mesa Falls is right at the top of the falls. You can almost feel the water crashing down and creating fantastic rainbows in the morning mist. Lower Mesa Falls has a viewing deck located on a canyon edge relatively close, as well.
What makes the Mesa Falls truly unique, however, is not just how secluded they are, or even how close you can get to them. Their uniqueness comes from just how untouched both falls really are. If you head over to VisitIdaho.org, you’ll discover that “the Mesa Falls are the only major falls in Idaho not used for irrigation or hydroelectric projects.” And that, perhaps, is the biggest draw to Upper and Lower Mesa Falls. They are, essentially, completely untouched by humans. Of course there are the pathways, viewing decks, and parking lots. But once you get close to the waterfalls, all of that disappears. At the top of Upper Mesa Falls, it’s just you, the water, and the beautiful forest of evergreens. You can experience these impressive waterfalls cascade unobstructed by machinery or dams. This part of Idaho is incredibly beautiful and remote, and the Mesa Falls are a testament to that.
Experiencing the waterfalls for yourself is easy. It’s a short drive from Ashton in an astoundingly beautiful part of Eastern Idaho. Lower Mesa Falls is free to access. There aren’t any fees, but you aren’t able to get as close to the waterfall. You can go to either Grandview Campground or Overlook. Simply park, and follow the pathway as it twists away into the forest and takes you toward the river. Upper Mesa Falls requires a fee, but it offers the opportunity of experiencing the waterfall from the very place it cascades down. Paying the fee also allows you to visit other nearby parks and lakes for the day, like Harriman State Park. A full breakdown of the fees and amenities are available at VisitIdaho.org, as well as what passes can be used to gain entrance. You can visit the Mesa Falls anytime of the year, however, during the winter the road is only groomed for snowmobiling and Nordic skiing, and the visiting hours are reduced.
The Mesa Falls make one thing abundantly clear: Idaho isn’t just called the “Gem State” because of the abundance and variety of gems that are found here. Idaho holds all kinds of hidden gems. It has little pockets of nature that have remained untouched by people. Even the parking area at Upper Mesa Falls, while paved, is set back far enough from the waterfall to keep the water undisturbed. It is easy to forget than anyone has even been here. You can easily pretend that you are the only one (apart from the moose) near the pinnacle of the waterfall, taking in the bountiful nature and crashing thunder of the water. With places like this to this explore all across Idaho, you’ll never run out of adventures.