Lower Mesa Falls

Caribou-Targhee National Forest / Ashton, Idaho, USA

About Lower Mesa Falls

Hiking Distance: 0.1 mile round trip
Suggested Time: 15 minutes

Date first visited: 2004-06-18
Date last visited: 2017-08-14

Waterfall Latitude: 44.17527
Waterfall Longitude: -111.3195

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

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.

Lower_Mesa_Falls_17_024_08142017 - Lower Mesa Falls
Lower Mesa Falls

This eruption was 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).

Lower_Mesa_Falls_17_009_08142017 - Slope consisting of jumbles of huge volcanic boulders related to the rhyolite tuff that gave rise to the Lower Mesa Falls
Slope consisting of jumbles of huge volcanic boulders related to the rhyolite tuff that gave rise to the Lower Mesa Falls

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.


Lower Mesa Falls resides in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest near Ashton in Fremont County, Idaho. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website or Facebook page.

Lower_Mesa_Falls_17_002_08142017 - Following along the paved walking path (wheelchair-accessible) leading to the lookout for Lower Mesa Falls
Lower_Mesa_Falls_17_003_08142017 - Approaching the overlook for the Lower Mesa Falls as we followed along some fencing before it ended by the actual overlook
Lower_Mesa_Falls_17_007_08142017 - Beyond the overlook for Lower Mesa Falls, there was a trail that eventually hooked up with the Upper Mesa Falls
Lower_Mesa_Falls_17_008_08142017 - Volcanic boulders fronting this context of the Lower Mesa Falls gushing way in the distance as seen during our August 2017 visit
Lower_Mesa_Falls_17_011_08142017 - This contextual look at Lower Mesa Falls revealed some of the tuff and basalt cliffs exposed by the erosive forces of the Henry's Fork of the Snake River further downstream
Lower_Mesa_Falls_17_017_08142017 - Zoomed in look at the gushing Lower Mesa Falls as seen during our August 2017 visit
Lower_Mesa_Falls_17_030_08142017 - Tahia checking out the distant Lower Mesa Falls from the overlook during our August 2017 visit
Lower_Mesa_Falls_17_031_08142017 - Looking back at the fenced walkway leading to the Lower Mesa Falls lookout at the end of our trip in August 2017
Lower_Mesa_Falls_001_06182004 - This was what the Lower Mesa Falls looked like back in June 2004. This photo and the rest of the photos in this gallery came from that visit
Lower_Mesa_Falls_004_06182004 - Broad contextual look at the Lower Mesa Falls as we saw it back in June 2004
Lower_Mesa_Falls_007_06182004 - Another zoomed in look at Lower Mesa Falls back in June 2004
Lower_Mesa_Falls_008_06182004 - Contextual view of Lower Mesa Falls and its surroundings from back in June 2004

We managed to visit Lower Mesa Falls 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.

Lower_Mesa_Falls_17_001_08142017 - The parking lot for the Lower Mesa Falls
The parking lot for the Lower Mesa Falls

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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Checking out the falls from a couple of different lookout spots starting with an informal one revealing lots of loose volcanic boulders before moving over to the official one

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Tagged with: idaho falls, idaho, waterfall, targhee, caribou, national forest, ashton, west yellowstone, yellowstone, henrys fork, freemont, mesa falls scenic byway

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