Idaho Falls was one of those waterfalls that not only pertained to the name of the waterfall, but it was also the name of the city in which it sat at its heart. In our experience, we’ve seen many cities with the name “Falls” in them (Grand Falls, Klamath Falls, Twin Falls, Sioux Falls, Wichita Falls, etc. just to name a few), but they usually only pertained to man-made waterfalls or waterfalls that were once there but had been completely destroyed in the name of development (usually because such large waterfalls would provide power for electricity, transport, milling, etc.). So we didn’t expect to be checking out a waterfall worth visiting when we stayed in the city of Idaho Falls as a stopover for our drive from Yellowstone National Park to Boise. Even then, we never considered this being a legitimate waterfall worthy of being discussed on this website. But with the history of the falls before it was interfered with (said to have occurred as early as the 1900s) being murky at best, it was hard to tell whether this particular waterfall was legitimate or not.
One could argue that it was because of the man-made dams that the flow of the Snake River was made to flow over the rocks that you see pictured above. If that was true, then those rocks were nothing more than riverbanks to channel the Snake River and not necessarily having water naturally coming over them. I’ve also heard of reports that this site used to be rapids on the Snake River. Nevertheless, we’ve erred on the side of giving the benefit of the doubt to this waterfall being legitimate though I’m sure the truth about it will come out some day. This website courtesy of Bonneville Heritage shed some light on the history of the Snake River. It reported that back at the turn of the century in the early 1900s, the Snake River through Idaho Falls was “a series of rough rapids”. When a project to create the city’s first power plant was underway, it “tamed the rapids into the picturesque falls we enjoy today.”
The waterfall also had a bit more of a recent history when a massive surge of water from the Teton Dam failure (in the town of Newsdale, Idaho some 45 miles away) in 1976 overwhelmed downtown Idaho Falls and resulted in about two feet of standing water throughout the downtown area. Old pictures showed the waterfall being completely inundated leaving behind a small dropping cascade over where the rock walls were. That event resulted in the rebuilding of the dam maintaining the Snake River diversion over the present-day waterfall as well as some additional diversions and infrastructure (for a new bulb-turbine hydroelectric plant) further downstream.
We managed to experience this waterfall by parking at the Residence Inn by Broadway Street, then crossed that street to a viewing area and walkway along the Snake River looking right across it at the rocks supporting the cascade. The city planted flowers alongside the walkway to give the area a bit of color. We were also able to view the Sanke River and waterfall from the Broadway Street Bridge, which also allowed us to view the scene with the Idaho Falls Temple in the background. Further downstream, there was a pleasant little Japanese-inspired garden in a spot known as Friendship Park, where there were the familiar trimmed hedges, mini pagodas, and coy ponds – basically stuff you’d expect to see in a typical Japanese Garden. It only took us a few minutes to take all this in.
We’ll start the driving directions from the interchange of the I-15 and the US Hwy 20 at the city of Idaho Falls. Going south along the I-15 from the interchange, we took the exit 118 towards Historic Downtown and Arco. We then turned left at the light onto Broadway Street and follow it for about a half-mile to the traffic light right besides the Residence Inn. Turning right at the light, there were a few parking spaces for the park (amongst the Residence Inn guest parking spots) as well as some street parking going left at the light, and a parking lot on the right at the next traffic light across the Broadway Street Bridge.
For some geographical context, Idaho Falls was about 52 miles (under an hour drive) north of Pocatello, 108 miles (under 2 hours drive) south of West Yellowstone, Montana, about 88 miles (under 2 hours drive) west of Jackson, Wyoming, and 214 miles (3 hours drive) north of Salt Lake City, Utah, and 287 miles (4 hours drive) east of Boise.
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