Small town, big mountains – Island Park, Idaho

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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 State Park

At Henrys Lake State Park, Betsy and Barney were practically neighbors

Each morning began with this view outside our windshield

Steve serves from a growler of stout beer we brought from Smelter City Brewing in Anaconda, MT

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.

Can you spot the black bear?  Steve says it doesn’t count as a sighting, since I didn’t even notice it until I was reviewing the picture on my computer 🙂

Beautiful summer homes circle Henrys Lake

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:

In the distance is the west rim of Henrys Fork Caldera, the remains of violent volcanic activity

Caldera Landscape

Description of the caldera landscape

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.

Everyone looked pretty perky before we started!  Kevin and Laura had their bear spray holstered and ready

Camera overdrive on wildflowers!

I’ll never forget this meadow!

A photographer in wildflower heaven

Hubbies captured us as we captured our “same shoes” moment

We’re sporting the same Keen hiking shoes!

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.

Harriman State Pa

He’s asking, “What’s not to like about this trail?”  He found out later when the ‘skeeters attacked!

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Cranes calling their friends

Tundra Swans

Golden Lake is home to Tundra Swans

Moose

Bullwinkle having breakfast in Silver Lake

Another section of the huge caldera rim is visible across the park’s large meadow

I didn’t have to use my bear spray, but it would have been cool to see one from a distance

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.

Upper Mesa Falls

Upper Mesa Falls

Lower Mesa Falls

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.

Teton Mountain Range

Western side of the Teton Mountain Range

Seemingly endless miles of agricultural fields lined the byway

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!

Flank steak with excellent veggie fixings – yum!  Please invite us for dinner again!

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.

Potato fields in full bloom

Other crops covered the rolling hills, including wheat, alfalfa, and all-important barley for beer 🙂

A wheat field at sunset

That wraps up our Idaho adventures for now. The state left us with lasting impressions and we already plan to return!

A last dance in Idaho, but we’ll be back!

 

Next up:  A spring that breathes?



 

30 thoughts on “Small town, big mountains – Island Park, Idaho

  1. Fabulous photos MonaLiza! You have given us sooo many great ideas for places to visit in Montana and Idaho. Thanks so much!

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  2. We absolutely love Idaho, your pictures of its beauty just remind of us that we can’t wait to explore the state more one of these days. Not sure what’s going to happen after next summer, my recent visit with my folks leads me to think we may have to be spending time near them soon. Until we can get back west we’ll live through our friends adventures.

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  3. Where to start with the comments … so much to say. I’ll start with … really looking forward to spending more time in Idaho … you sold me on the state with all those photos of beautiful meadows filled with wildflowers. I’ve got a pair of those Keens, too … they are the best. The falls … breathtaking. Never thinking of butterflies in the same way? You just ruined them for me 🤪. Great blog post. Oh and I disagree with Steve, a bear sighting is a bear sighting … even if it is after the fact.

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    • Thank you Erin, for agreeing with me it was a bear sighting 🙂 That was the third butterfly poop party i saw on the trail!

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  4. Your visit to Idaho should be the tourist guide for the state…spectacular MonaLiza. There is no way to pick a favorite from all the stops you made as each is beautiful and unique. Thank you for taking us along on your Idaho trip. Awesome photo of you and Steve. So cool to see Laura and Kevin…

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    • Idaho is an under rated state, it is mostly known for great trout fishing. We like the state so much that we plan to be back next summer.

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  5. What a beautiful meadow with the wildflowers! Nice location for visiting Yellowstone. What a nice bonus you you got to meet-up with friends!!

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  6. Your photos of those fields of wildflowers are gorgeous! And the wildlife (so much variety!) and the waterfalls…but seriously, the only thing better than those wildflowers are the good times you shared with Laura and Kevin. Henry’s Lake has been on our list for a while and all of the nearby places you visited look fantastic. I’m busy adding them to our list. 🙂 That final photo of you two is wonderful.

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    • You said it right, hiking with friends are real good times and most of all I have buddy to hang back and take as many photos as we want!

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  7. Wow! Your pictures are just fantastic! You got great pics from our hike as well as the area near Juniper and Harriman, which we missed entirely. We really did love that entire region. Such a spectacular landscape! And you actually figured out why the place is called ‘Island Park’… I thought about looking it up, but was too lazy to type it into Google. Ridiculous, I know… Anyway, thanks for educating me! We had so much fun with you guys! Wish we could have hung out longer and we certainly owe you a couple more steak dinners, that’s for sure. Now if we could just get you to cancel your winter plans and stay out west. Who wants to spend the summer in Florida, really? (Ok, ok, I know… everyone… I’m just sayin…) 🙂

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    • Oh Thank you Laura, you also did have some great photos from our hike. And like me you have to wade through hundreds of them too:) It was driving me crazy that I could not get a decent explanation about the naming of the city but my research paid off and I was happy again. Ha ha nice try, our minds are set to Florida, I think it is you who should be in Florida with us and hung out at the beach! Can you imagine this, lounging in white sand with a nice cold beer in hand…aah, yet you chose to be with the saguaros 🙂

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  8. Henry’s Lake is a great looking state park. You do find the most interesting places. I just laughed at a city that is 500’ wide and 33 miles long. It is pretty yuck to see beautiful butterflies just lovin’ poop.
    I think you have some sort of knack for wildflowers being where you are. That picture of the hike through the meadow is wonderful. All the wildflower pictures are fabulous. How do you do it? And speaking of how do you do it, how did you get that picture of your steps and distance over laid on top of you? Love that. What’s the program. Seems a lot better than my odometer. I think you have me beat for the size of your waterfall. That’s a beauty. You are a great advertiser for Idaho with your fantastic pictures. The last one is the best of all!

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    • We just luck out to be in areas when the wildflowers are just at their peak. I know those butterflies are stinky 🙂 About the hike, I used an app “Pacer” which allows me to super impose a photo to our hiking summary. Idaho lived up to its license plate “Scenic Idaho” and “Famous Potato”

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  9. What spectacular pictures MonaLiza! Idaho is such a stunning place, it’s been awhile since we’ve been there and this post just made me drool! I can almost hear the falls thundering, the cranes calling and good friends laughing together. It looks like you had a great time with Kevin and Laura, hiking and eating and drinking. Nothing better! I wonder if we’ll cross paths with you (or them) this next year? Something to look forward to.

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    • We had a wonderful time with Kevin and Laura, they are so energetic and Kevin is a good cook (sorry Laura 🙂 We might cross paths late 2019 and I hope you will be in the desert at that time too. We will be back in Idaho next summer!

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  10. Your adventure reminded me and confirmed that Barb and I need to revisit Idaho. We motorhome circumnavigated it years ago after my involvement representing the State of KS planning the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. We re-traced many of the trails taken by the guys in search of the Pacific Ocean. We also visited the WERC (Wolf Education and Research Center) to visit our adopted/sponsored pack leader Kamots. Retirement now offers us the opportunity to set our OWN schedule. I know you’ll be impressed, and we’ll stay up with your posts for sure!

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    • Wow you get to retraced the trails L&C took. It might have been work but I know you enjoyed it and learned a lot from that experience. Be sure to give me a link to your blog should yo decide to document your travels and who knows we might cross paths. Have you read my post about our three week​ stay in KS​ ?

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  11. Wow oh wow – again such gorgeous photos and a great synopsis of an amazing state with unlimited beauty! You make me feel like we are there with you….

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  12. Very nice, you saw a lot of the far eastern part of the State. Did you guys drive over to Big Springs? That is where the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River begins. Water comes right out of the ground and forms a river. There is also a cabin there listed on the National register. Also back in that area is now an ATV and hiking trail that is located on the old right of way of the Yellowstone branch line. Down by Mesa falls you can pull out at bear gulch and walk the right of way to the warm river canyon tunnel. The views of the river in the canyon are impressive and the tunnel is neat. Well have fun in Jackson.

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    • Unfortunately not, maybe a revisit is in order since it looked like we still have many places and things to do in the area.

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  13. I have to agree with Steve that it doesn’t count as a true bear sighting since you didn’t notice it in “real” time, but how funny to have captured it that way! Gosh but your pretty photos and fun hiking tales keep me afloat while we are unable to get out there ourselves right now. Thank you for allowing us to virtually hitchhike.

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    • Oh oh, It’s a tie, Erin made a comment above, that she agrees with me, even if it is after the fact! ha ha ha

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  14. Idaho is beautiful and offers such diverse landscape. I am so excited to visit and get hiking again. Wildflowers, wildlife, water, mountains, hiking trails, and friends…what’s not to like! You had it all. The wildflower meadows are spectacular. Mesa Falls is beautiful especially the lower falls. It’s great that you met up with Laura and Kevin again. Love you final Idaho dance:)

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    • We had it all while in Idaho, all of the above you mentioned. Our meet up was meant to be, we had a wonderful time hiking, talking, eating and drinking!

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