Spanning over 7,500 square miles in six eastern Idaho counties and adjacent to internationally acclaimed Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Yellowstone Teton Territory boasts majestic mountains, grand vistas, a fabulous array of wildlife, plunging canyons, spectacular waterfalls and quaint communities.
Unique environmental and ecological habitats coupled with outstanding year-round activities place this Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem at or near the top on bucket lists as the premier destination for tourists and recreational enthusiasts from all corners of the globe.
Whether it’s a three-day adventure or a week-long experience this region offers a lifetime of memories for anglers seeking trophy Yellowstone Cutthroat trout, for hikers and climbers intent on scaling breath-taking peaks and for trail riders retracing the trails blazed by Jim Bridger, Kit Carson and a host of other early-American frontiersmen, explorers and fur trappers.
With such a large geographical area to explore and with so many options from which to choose, where to start and what to see and to do are the biggest decisions; however, this sample circular itinerary, which can start in any community, includes a variety of sight-seeing opportunities, many cultural and historical stops as well as a number of outdoor recreation and adventure choices.
Eastern Idaho’s largest city presents an extensive selection of venues appealing to all age groups and interests. Begin the day at the Museum of Idaho for a tour of exhibits, some of which are hands-on and all are educational. Another stop sure to attract the fascination of the kids is the Tautphaus Park Zoo.
A leisurely walk along the Greenbelt and the Falls followed by lunch at one of the popular eateries in the historic downtown district will energize you for a casual walking tour of the Colonial Theater, the Willard Arts Center or the Eagle Rock Art Museum.
A 15-minute drive up Highway 20 north of Idaho Falls to Rigby brings visitors to the Philo Farnsworth TV and Pioneer Museum. Surprisingly, this little-known agricultural community is the birthplace of television, and in addition to marveling at the world’s first TV sets, visitors also can view an assortment of eclectic antiques dating back to the turn of the 20th century.
Next up is a tourist favorite, Yellowstone Bear World. Idaho’s number one wildlife attraction is just a short jaunt up the road, and the drive-thru tour covering over 200 acres presents bears, bison, elk, deer and mountain goats, all viewed from the comfort of your car. This attraction also provides a thrill for kids who can pose for pictures and bottle-feed the bear cubs.
From the excitement of being up close and personal with wildlife, it’s on to Rexburg, “America’s Family Community,” and the Legacy Flight Museum where you can climb into the cockpits of the Mormon Mustang and a P-63 Kingcobra. If you are lucky, you may catch an air show and can even buy a ride in one of the planes.
The Idaho Centennial Carousel, one of this country’s few wooden carousels still in working condition, is another must see and ride experience. The hand-crafted horses date back to the early 1920s, and kids always enjoy the thrill of a ride timed to the pipe organ music.
Exhibits featuring Mountain Men, including Richard “Beaver Dick” Leigh and his Shoshone wife, Jenny, are the main attractions at the Museum of Rexburg. Leigh and his squaw helped explore Teton Valley, Idaho and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The best “living sand dunes” of the intermountain west start about eight miles west of St. Anthony and stretch for 41,000 acres, offering dune buggy and ATV enthusiasts unparalleled thrills and excitement. These white rolling hills of sand range in height up to 400 feet above the 4,900-foot valley floor and stretch about 35 miles in length and from one to five miles in width.
On the way from Rexburg to the dunes, be sure to stop at the original site of Fort Henry, a fur trapper’s camp built in 1810.
Treat the family to a refreshing old-fashioned root beer float and curbside service.
After navigating the sand dunes, you will be parched, so the next stop on your adventure is in nearby Ashton where you can time travel back to the 1950’s and treat the family to a refreshing old-fashioned root beer float and curbside service at the Frostop Drive In.
Be sure to pick up a loaf of bread next door at Dave’s Jubilee Market so you can feed the famous giant fish at Warm River, and after the amazing feeding frenzy, continue north on the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway to Mesa Falls, one of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest’s most photographed water features.
The cascades of the Upper and Lower Falls can be viewed and photographed from walk ways and the wooden boardwalks, and the staff at the site’s visitor center and gift shop in the historic lodge can provide more information about the surrounding flora and fauna.
As an exciting day draws to a close with Mesa Falls in your rearview mirror, there may be enough daylight for a stopover at Harriman State Park before journeying on to Island Park as you wend your way to Yellowstone National Park.
The eruption of Old Faithful Geyser, the crown jewel of Yellowstone National Park, always draws oohs and ahs as shutter bugs click away furiously to capture the blasts of steam which can reach from 90 to 180 feet. It is not the biggest or most regular geyser in Yellowstone, but it is the biggest regular geyser.
Yellowstone also is home to a diverse population of wildlife ranging from the largest land-dwelling animal in North America to small mammals which barely will dot one’s palm. Two herds of bison, wolves, grizzly and black bears, golden and bald eagles, herds of wild horses, elk, moose, deer and bighorn sheep are just a few of the species to populate this expansive wonderland.
Continue south to Grand Teton National Park on the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway with camera handy because wildlife is abundant. Kayak and canoe rentals provide an opportunity to navigate Jenny Lake, where the jagged peaks of the Tetons reflected in the alpine waters present surreal photo opportunities.
If a paddle is not your choice of recreation, Grand Teton National Park is the “climbing capital of the Rockies,” and hikers and climbers will find an assortment of trails and walls ranging from easy grades and climbs for beginners to challenging routes for advanced hikers and mountaineers.
Antler Square and its arches provide a postcard-perfect picture of one of the most famous landmarks in a resort community in the Rocky Mountain region. The town boasts exclusive galleries with exquisite pieces and unique boutiques, appealing to an international shopper seeking one-of-a-kind purchases.
Mad River Boat Trips is the hub for white and still water float trips on the Snake River, and it is not uncommon for thrill seekers to encounter Class III rapids on the Hoback Junction section of the river.
Wildlife viewing, photography safaris or a ride on the Rendezvous Mountain Tram are options for those who desire a less hairy adventure.
Leave Jackson and Teton Village on Wyoming 22 West for a 27-mile trek that drops you from a summit topping 8,300 feet to the state line and back into Idaho. The communities of Victor and Driggs comprise the Teton Valley, and provide a range of accommodations from cozy cabins to spacious lodges and resort properties.
Known as “the quiet side of the Tetons,” this majestic valley with rich and abundant farm land also features numerous sites for RV hook-ups and plenty of campgrounds. Outdoor recreation and adventure seekers can feast on opportunities to hike, to bike and to horseback ride until their hearts are content. The Teton River and near-by streams offer world class fishing and plenty of accesses to float, to paddle or to beat the summer heat.
Ski Hill Road in Driggs leads to the fabulous Grand Targhee Resort, providing spring and summer visitors a tram ride to the summit where spectacular views of the Tetons offer pristine photo ops. Mountain bikers also can tow their bikes to the top via the lift and enjoy a variety of trails as Targhee’s extensive biking and hiking trail network offers many options for exploring the timber forests and fields of wildflowers.
For those who relish learning more about the valley, the Teton Geotourism Center in Driggs is the first of its kind in the country and is devoted to the “distinctiveness of this locale,” offering visitors numerous interpretive exhibits connected to the spectacular landscape, wildlife, culture, recreation, history and the region’s unique geological features.
Thursday evenings during the summer season in Victor feature “Music on the Main,” and it is impossible to leave town without stopping at the Victor Emporium for a tasty huckleberry shake.
Twenty miles down the hill from Victor on Highway 31 over Pine Creek Pass drops you down into Swan Valley and brings you to the Rainey Creek Commissary where everybody stops for its very popular Square Ice Cream cones.
Swan Valley also is the hotbed for premier dry-fly fishing on the South Fork of the Snake River, the premier tail water in all of North America for trophy-size Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. Fall Creek Falls, accessible from Snake River Road, and several pull-outs throughout this lush valley provide spots for picnics and photo shoots.
Resort-style accommodations, RV parks, dispersed camp sites and a variety of restaurants are available to meet the needs of tourists, trail riders and outdoor adventurers.
A must stop as you head west towards Idaho Falls on Highway 26 over Antelope Flats is the Heise recreation area where there are hot springs, a huge pool with a giant water slide and seven zip line stations guaranteed to awe even the most brave thrill seeker.
A pizza shack and ice cream shop on the property meet your lunch needs, and 7N Ranch, adjacent to Heise, provides after-lunch recreation with its bike park, driving range and mini golf course. Kayak and float tube rentals are available for those who want to frolic in the waters of the South Fork while those who enjoy exploring the trails and surrounding terrain can rent an ATV or a mountain bike.
It’s show time with singing and square dancing. Audience participation is encouraged.
Wrap up the day with entertainment and a hearty cook-out at near-by Mountain River Ranch. The evening begins with your hosts in Rock Bottom Springs. Once you are checked in and branded as part of their herd, the action begins with an old-fashioned western shoot-out on Main Street followed by a scenic wagon ride to the Meadow Muffin Dinner Theatre.
After a belly-filling meal topped off with homemade huckleberry ice cream, it’s show time with singing and square dancing. Audience participation is encouraged.
As the sun disappears behind the hills to the west, it’s time to pack up your belongings and head the final 15 miles back to Idaho Falls and on to your departure to wrap up an adventure that surely will provide a lifetime of memories.