It has always been on my bucket list to visit all fifty U.S. states. For years, I saw the list shrink down to three and the past two years the list had shrunk to one remaining state being Idaho. For whatever reason, I always seemed to miss visiting Idaho–even coming as close as Yellowstone National Park but never making it across the Wyoming state line.
After watching air fares for some time and on the recommendation of a friend, I decided to book a cheap fare to Salt Lake City, renting a car to drive to Idaho’s Twin Falls area. At long last, I was going to enter my final remaining state.
As I headed north in Utah to the Idaho state line, I started seeing cars with license plate holders which read “Idaho—Powered by Potatoes”, as this is a state famous for its potatoes.
With just two days to explore, I decided to experience Idaho’s Magic Valley.
Twin Falls, Idaho
I.B. Perrine Bridge
Visitors driving south into Twin Falls on Route 93 are in for a pleasant surprise. Just before approaching the town of Twin Falls (and changing counties), signs will alert drivers of a scenic overlook, where the earth opens up into a 486 foot drop. I had no idea I was on the top of a spectacular bridge, the Perrine Bridge, sitting high above the Snake River Canyon, with a bright green river below.
This bridge is popular with BASE jumpers from around the world as the bridge is the only U.S. manmade structure where parachutists can leap from the top of the bridge into the canyon without a permit. Winds in this canyon can be severe and there have been stories of BASE jumpers whose parachutes get tangled in the bridge.
I was also surprised to learn that this canyon was where the stunt motorcyclist, Evel Knievel, tried to jump the Snake River Canyon in September, 1974 (unfortunately, he wasn’t successful).
On immediately crossing this unexpected scenery, a helpful visitors’ center is located on the south side of the canyon with lots of information on sights in the area. Visitors may also want to stop along the canyon for a glass of wine at a restaurant, Elevation 486, which has amazing views of both the bridge and the Snake River below. Elevation 486 serves “pub grub” including pizza, burgers and even green bean fries, as well as Pacific Northwest wines and local beers. If the weather is nice, there are relaxing seats on the patio for a view with an unmatched landscape.
Shoshone Falls and Dierkes Lake Parks
Just east of Twin Falls (follow the signs on Falls Avenue) are the parks of Shoshone Falls and Dierkes Lake.
Driving back a country road with farms and homes, tourists are not going to expect what lies ahead as the road suddenly enters the Snake River Canyon. Entering the parks, visitors will start with an observation point of the Shoshone Falls, which are 212 feet high and 950 feet wide. Nicknamed “the Niagara of the West”, these falls are not commercialized and I was surprised by how quiet and peaceful these falls are.
Displays around the falls include a history of the Snake River Canyon, which was formed in the Great Bonneville Flood, a six-week flood which occurred roughly 11,000 years ago. Interestingly, Utah’s Great Salt Lake is all that remains of Lake Bonneville from thousands of years past.
Shoshone Falls includes trails as well as a quiet picnic area with a view of the falls. For a relaxing “coffee with nature”, stop at Java Espress in Twin Falls, a local Idaho chain with first-rate coffee. On a cool summer morning, I took my coffee to the falls, and spent roughly an hour just looking at the stunning scenery below.
Dierkes Lake Park is on the way into the descent to Shoshone Falls and includes hiking trails, a playground for kids, and even a small beach. Scuba divers and kayakers will both be in/on the lake.
Admission to the Shoshone Falls and Dierkes Lake is $3.00 per car and well worth the trip. I was amazed at the size of Shoshone Falls and as the adjacent land was donated to the City of Twin Falls in 1932, these falls will not be built up like Niagara Falls. The atmosphere is relaxing, silent and colorful.
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Until visiting the Twin Falls Visitors’ Center, I didn’t realize the National Park Service had different sites not fall from Twin Falls. Located about 80 miles northeast of the city, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve gives visitors an idea of what life on the moon might be like. This preserve includes the remains of lava flows as recently as 2,000 years ago, and the black, brittle lava sharply contrasts against the surrounding landscape. It’s hard to believe that there is any vegetation or wildlife as the stark lava looks bleak.
The Oregon Trail even went through this area to avoid hostile Shoshone Indians via “Goodale’s Cutoff”, which was the cutoff through the lava section of the trail. It was hard for me to imagine how covered wagons could navigate such hostile terrain.
More recently, in 1969, NASA’s Apollo astronauts (Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, Eugene Cernan and Joe Engle) studied volcanic geology here prior to preparing for their moon missions.
Craters of the Moon offers a visitors’ center including films on the types of lava, as well as displays including the history of how this location became a national monument in 1924.
Tourists can explore hiking trails as well as experience lava tube caves (which require a permit). Ranger-led tours are offered throughout the day.
As always, being a big fan of the National Park Service, I was impressed with the surprising scenery as the remains of spatter cones, lava, and craters did seem like being on another planet.
Before leaving southern Idaho, I wanted to bring home some souvenirs of my visit back to Houston. On the recommendation of some Twin Falls’ locals, I was referred to Rudy’s in downtown Twin Falls. For kitchen fans, this store is an unexpected treat.
With two rooms packed floor to ceiling with kitchen cookware and gadgets, I had no idea there were some many things available for cooks! Rudy’s advertises as “A Cook’s Paradise” and there seemed to be every type of cooking gear imaginable.
In the very back of the shop, Rudy’s also features local beers and Idaho wines. The owner was helpful in suggesting some picks which I brought back to Houston (hint: try Idaho’s Cinder Viognier wine).
Rudy’s also offers special evenings including musicians, an open house on Twin Falls’ First Fridays, and cooking classes. I could spend hours just exploring the different cooking gadgets, which come in every color and size one can imagine. Like children in a candy store, Rudy’s is a candy store for cooks.
Idaho is low-key and keeps its scenery hidden for its locals. I had troubles finding guidebooks on Idaho but don’t be deceived—there is a lot to see. Information about Idaho almost seems to spread by “word of mouth” and I almost hesitate to publicize a good thing. Being undiscovered, uncrowded and scenic, the visit to my last state was memorable.