Small town, big mountains – Island Park, Idaho
Heading out of Montana, we crossed the Continental Divide at Targhee Pass, excited to experience more of the beauty of Idaho.
We arrived at Henrys Lake State Park, located in the city of Island Park. Scanning around the park as we entered, we were looking for Barney – the coach owned by Kevin and Laura of Chapter3 Travels. You see, we had just learned that not only were they in the area, but they were already parked just a few spaces down from ours! We’d previously met up with these fun folks in Tucson, so we knew good times were ahead!
Henrys Lake SP is in the city of Island Park. We learned that in the late 19th-century local stagecoach drivers would use natural clearings in the forest as rest areas for horses and passengers. As businesses started popping up in these areas the drivers began calling them “parks”, and one of them became known as Island Park since it was surrounded on all sides by beautiful rivers, forests, waterfalls and lakes.
Alcohol turned the park into a city. To circumvent Idaho’s liquor laws prohibiting the sale of booze outside city limits, businesses along the strip of U.S. 20 banded together and incorporated the city in 1947. The current population of 272 living in the city that’s 500′ wide and 33 miles long have claimed that it has the longest “Main Street” in the world.
While following a hiking trail around and through the park, we noticed numerous insects fluttering around a carpet of flowers in the meadows:
Suddenly I noticed two groups of butterflies on the ground, attending what appeared to be a “poop party” on dried cow pies. I’ll never think of butterflies the same way again!
Given the beautiful backdrop of mountains, lakes, rivers and forest, it’s no wonder this place was buzzing with all kinds of recreational activities. Island Park is also only 20 minutes from West Yellowstone’s gate. The proximity to Yellowstone explains the landscape here, for Island Park is situated within the 23-mile wide caldera of an extinct volcano, with its west rim visible along U.S. 20:
The day of our arrival, we got together with Kevin and Laura to set up a hike for the next morning. The 7.2 mile moderate trek went by quickly as we all chatted endlessly, and the girls had a field day photographing vibrant wildflowers in the dense meadow. If there were any bears around they would have heard us coming from miles away! The 9,000’+ elevation really wiped me out, but the company of great friends certainly made it all worthwhile.
Camera overdrive on wildflowers!
While Kevin and Laura were being captivated by wild and scenic Yellowstone National Park for several days, Steve and I explored nearby Harriman State Park and later drove the Mesa Scenic Byway and Teton Scenic Byway. It once again confirmed what a truly wild and beautiful scenic area this is.
Harriman State Park
Once the site of the “Railroad Ranch,” Harriman SP is located on the Henrys Fork of the Snake River. We followed several intersecting loop trails that led us past the preserved original buildings of the ranch, then continued on to meadows, lakes and forest. We did run into mosquitoes in the forest area, which we haven’t had to deal with in a long time.
Mesa Falls Scenic Byway
At 114′ high for Upper Mesa Falls and 65′ for Lower Mesa Falls, we enjoyed a double-dose of waterfall adventure. Both natural beauties cascade into the Snake River in a beautiful forest setting. They were the highlight of our drive along Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.
Teton Scenic Byway
We drove Teton Scenic Byway through the backcountry of eastern Idaho, passing through agricultural communities while gawking at the western side of the Teton Range. The sharp contrast of the mountains against the rolling fields of potatoes, wheat, barley and canola was a feast to the eyes.
Before we went our separate ways, Kevin and Laura once again invited us to their home to savor another of Kevin’s creations. We had them over for dinner one night as well, but I somehow forgot to take pictures as good conversation, laughter and fine wine flowed on into the evening!
Our final stop in eastern Idaho was at Ririe, where we camped at Juniper Campground. This was a fitting final stop, since the region grows a great deal of Idaho’s potato crop. This is where the state began its association with potatoes, leading to the “Famous Potatoes” slogan still embossed on their vehicle license plates.
Other crops covered the rolling hills, including wheat, alfalfa, and all-important barley for beer 🙂
That wraps up our Idaho adventures for now. The state left us with lasting impressions and we already plan to return!