With the political standoff over the government shutdown continuing without any apparent progress toward resolution, travelers planning trips to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are struggling to decide whether to cancel, or come up with an alternative itinerary outside the parks.
In the interest of providing some options for those who can’t cancel their travel plans without losing deposits, vacation days or other investments, Yellowstone Gate asked travel and tourism experts and industry insiders in gateway towns around the parks to offer their top picks for things to see and do at the fringes of Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
We’re presenting their ideas this week in an ongoing series, Next Best Things. Nothing quite matches the unique experiences you can have in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, but these ideas represent the Next Best Things in nearby communities.
Laurie McConnell, a spokeswoman for Idaho Tourism, offers a few of her picks for the Next Best Things to see and do in and around southeastern Idaho.
The Next Best Things in Idaho
By Laurie McConnell
Tourism is a fast-growing and important industry in Idaho, thanks in part to its close proximity to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. But while those federal lands are inaccessible during the government shutdown, there are still plenty of outdoor activities, charming small towns and amazing attractions nearby.
Near Island Park
Mesa Falls and Mesa Falls Scenic Byway
Mesa Falls are the only major falls in Idaho not used for irrigation or hydroelectric projects, and as such maintain a look and feel of nature undisturbed. At 110 feet and 85 feet, respectively, the Upper and Lower Mesa Falls offer equally spectacular views in a beautiful forest setting. Both falls can be viewed in full, with the area surrounding the upper waterfall enhanced with paths and viewing areas that make it easily accessible to all. Though only about an hour’s driving time, the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway is often a half-day’s journey, with travelers mesmerized by the spectacular display in the midst of a truly back-country setting. In addition, the historic Mesa Falls Lodge has been restored to its original splendor and is now open seasonally for visitor information.
Ashton Visitor Center: (208) 652-7520
Harriman State Park
Fall makes for perfect hiking weather at Harriman State Park. Colors are beginning to emerge and the elk bugling is becoming more prevalent. Visit http://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/harriman and download a trail map to help with your planning. Owned by Union Pacific Railroad investors from 1902 to 1977, the park acreage served as a cattle ranch and private retreat for the Harriman and Guggenheim families. Today, Harriman State Park provides visitors a perfect setting to enjoy the unique history and natural beauty of the area.
3489 Green Canyon Rd., Island Park, ID 83429; HAR@idpr.idaho.gov; 208-558-7368
Nature Conservancy’s Flat Ranch
The Nature Conservancy’s Flat Ranch offers a great place to view wildlife and learn about the Conservancy. The working cattle ranch protects important habitat along the Henry’s Lake outlet, the headwaters of the famous Henry’s Fork. An interpretive center, located just off the highway, is open to the public daily from Memorial Day through late October. A spotting scope is available for use in wildlife viewing. Moose, pronghorns and sandhill cranes can often be seen from the visitor’s center; a spotting scope is available for use.
The Nature Conservancy’s Flat Ranch: 4770 Highway 20, Island Park, ID 83429; 208-558-7629
Yellowstone Bear World
No vacation to the Yellowstone National Park or Grand Teton National Park region is complete without an adventure into the wild at Yellowstone Bear World, a drive-thru wildlife park just 5 miles south of Rexburg. During your visit you will be surrounded by free-roaming wildlife of North America as you drive.
Legacy Flight Museum
The Legacy Flight Museum is an operational hanger, and all aircraft therein are maintained airworthy. Many can frequently be seen in the Rexburg skies
Near Lava Hot Springs
Idaho’s World-Famous Hot Pools
Lava Hot Springs is world famous for its odorless hot mineral water. The beautiful setting along the Portnuef River gives bathers a great experience.
Bear Lake State Park
Situated in a high mountain valley straddling the Idaho-Utah border, is Bear Lake. The lake’s crystal-blue waters provide a plethora of recreational opportunities for swimmers, anglers, water-skiers and boaters. The lake teems with native cutthroat and lake trout. Bear Lake’s 20-mile (32-kilometer) length entices boaters and anglers to explore, and families to enjoy the beach and water sports.
5637 East Shore Rd. St. Charles, ID 83272
Near Idaho Falls
Museum of Idaho
The current exhibit, GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked The World” is a touring exhibition of The National GUITAR Museum that offers attendees an entertaining, engaging, and hands-on experience with one of the most important cultural icons in history—the guitar. The Museum also features exhibits on the history of the area and Idaho.
200 N. Eastern Ave., Idaho Falls, ID 83402
Heise Hot Springs Zip Line
Heise Zip tour consists of seven ziplines which cover almost a mile of terrain! Experienced guides will give a brief orientation of the tour, get you geared up with all the safety equipment, and take you on a short ride in one of our awesome Heise Zip utility vehicles up to the first zipline (first zipline is 800 ft. long.) Our tour is designed so that our guides do all the work so you can take in the whole experience of this adrenaline pumping, jaw dropping thrill ride! Plan to spend up to three hours, and reservations are needed.
5116 East Heise Road, Ririe, Idaho 83443
Oregon/California Trail Interpretive Center
The National Oregon/California Trail Center is located near the Idaho/Wyoming border on what was once a major stopping point for emigrant wagons on the original old Oregon Trail. It offers visitors a unique and entertaining interpretive indoor adventure; simulating an actual wagon train experience of the 1850s. The interpretive experience features historically accurate interpretive areas and live actors. Patrons will go back in time to visit a gun shop, mercantile, ride in a covered wagon and spend time around the evening in an encircled wagon train at the Clover Creek Encampment.
320 North 4th Street, Montpelier, Idaho 83254
Contact Laurie McConnell, spokeswoman for Idaho Tourism, at (800) 847-4843.