Lower Mesa Falls was a gushing 65ft waterfall on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River that was just downstream from the more accessible Upper Mesa Falls. Similar to the other waterfall, this falls resulted from a combination of rhyolite tuff (referred to here as the Mesa Falls tuff) and basalt lava that originated from a supervolcano eruption said to have occurred about a million years ago (said to be the second of three such eruptions each in their own separate giant calderas of which the most famous one was within the Yellowstone National Park boundary to the northeast of here). Tuff was basically the result of superheated volcanic ash and molten granite fusing together in the high temperatures of the eruption to form the hard erosion-resistant rock layer. The softer layers around it wore away at a faster rate than the tuff, and the result was the Lower Mesa Falls. Evidence of the violent past of this area were all around us as we could see the dark vertical cliffs with skirts containing a curious jumble of boulders piling along these slopes.
While the Upper Mesa Falls had a visitor center and some boardwalks, the easiest way to experience the Lower Mesa Falls was by a short paved walk to an overlook peering right down at the waterfall (as you can see pictured above). The walk was a mere 0.1-mile round trip and took no more than 15 minutes away from the car. Apparently, there was a less sanctioned way to hike closer to the waterfall, but we didn’t try that and can’t say more about it. There was also a 1.7-mile trail that linked both the Lower and Upper Mesa Falls to prolong the experience if one were so inclined to do so.
We managed to visit this waterfall by driving along the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway (Hwy 47), which detoured from the Hwy 20 in two places. The nearest town to the south was Ashton and the nearest major town to the north was West Yellowstone, Montana.
So coming from Ashton, we’d exit the US Hwy 20 at Main Street, then drive east for over 14 miles to the well-signed turnoff for the Lower Mesa Falls on the left. A short 0.7-mile spur road led down to a couple of fairly large parking lots near the Big Falls Inn. There was someone collecting USDA Forest Service fees at the parking lot, but she accepted our Interagency Pass (formerly the National Parks Pass). This drive would take under 30 minutes.
Coming from West Yellowstone, we’d drive west then south along the US Hwy 20 for a little over 35 miles before turning left (easy to miss) onto the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway (or Hwy 47). We’d then follow that road for almost the next 13.5 miles before turning right onto the well-signed turnoff for the Upper Mesa Falls (roughly 0.6 miles south of the turnoff for the Lower Mesa Falls). This stretch of driving was about 50 miles (taking just under an hour).
For additional context, West Yellowstone, Montana was 55 miles (under an hour drive) north of Ashton via the US Hwy 20, 58 miles (at least 90 minutes drive) south of Gardiner, Montana, 90 miles (over 90 minutes drive) south of Bozeman, Montana, 72 miles (under 2 hours drive) north of Flagg Ranch (near Yellowstone’s South Entrance), 108 miles (2 hours drive) north of Idaho Falls, Idaho, 158 miles (over 2.5 hours drive) north of Pocatello, and 321 miles (about 4.5 hours drive) north of Salt Lake City, Utah.
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