When you think of waterfalls in North America, there’s a good chance that Niagara Falls is top of mind. While those falls are certainly majestic, they’re not even close to the highest. Falls in Yosemite and Hawaii are also easy to point to. Waterfalls in Idaho, however, probably don’t crack your top 10. Well, they should.
Idaho is home to some of the country’s most stunning natural beauty, not least of which is Shoshone Falls. Dubbed the “Niagara Falls of the West,” Shoshone sits just outside Twin Falls, Idaho, and it surpasses Niagara in height by nearly 50 feet. While the falls themselves are an ideal destination for sightseeing, the broader Twin Falls area is perfect for those craving outdoor adventure, and a solid brewery and culinary scene. From kayaking the Snake River Canyon to exploring the city of Twin Falls itself, here’s how to make the most out of your visit to the Niagara Falls of the West.
At 212 feet high and 900 feet wide, Shoshone Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the US. The falls are located just seven miles outside Twin Falls, a city of just under 50,000 people in southern Idaho. They were created around 15,000 years ago during the Bonneville Flood of the Pleistocene ice age, when the water that covered much of the Great Basin carved the Snake River Canyon and created Shoshone and other regional waterfalls.
To get the best view of the falls, your first stop should be one of the observation decks. The first deck is located at the park’s entrance and is accessible via a set of stairs. From here, you can get an unparalleled bird’s eye view of the falls. The second viewpoint affords a wider and closer view, and is located farther up the path from the entrance. You can also consider taking one of the hiking trails around the falls, which begin in nearby Dierkes Lake Park or Centennial Park. The Canyon Rim Trail, for example, is a 12-mile trail from the western side of Twin Falls to Shoshone Falls. There’s also the easy Shoshone Falls Observation Deck Trail and the slightly more challenging Dierkes Lake Trail, which is often steep and damp.
Truly adventurous visitors might crave an up-close look at the falls, which is best obtained via kayak. Move over Maid of the Mist: You can kayak to the bottom of Shoshone for a stunning (and terrifying) view of the thundering falls. Rent a kayak from AWOL Adventure Sports in Centennial Waterfront Park, and paddle for two to three hours down the Snake River to Shoshone. Along the way you’ll see Pillar Falls, pass under the Perrine bridge, and take in the views of the canyon before finally arriving at the imposing waterfall.
Explore Snake River Canyon
Shoshone Falls might be the visual highlight of the area, but Snake River Canyon is definitely the adventure highlight. Whether it’s hiking, boating, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, or even golfing, there are no shortage of activities to keep you busy in the canyon.
Snake River Canyon extends over 50 miles, features two waterfalls and several springs. The canyon might sound familiar to adrenaline fans as the site of Evel Knievel’s 1974 infamous jump, which proved unsuccessful. The Perrine Bridge, which crosses the canyon 500 feet from the bottom, is popular among base jumpers as the only place in the US open to base jumping year-round.
One of the best ways to explore the canyon is the hiking path to Pillar Falls. It begins on Pole Line Road in Twin Falls, where you’ll find a dirt pull-off to park. From here, descend to the bottom of the canyon, where you’ll feel the refreshing spray of Pillar Falls. You can also take the trail to a section of the canyon farther east, on rugged terrain through trees and bushes. You’ll eventually arrive at a shaded camping area near the shore. You’ll also see a rock-stepped path in the water, which leads around the canyon wall. Once you clear the wall you’ll be rewarded with views of the Perrine Bridge and water cascading down the rock face.
You can also explore the nearby Hells Canyon — the deepest river gorge in North America — on an unforgettable jet boat tour. The tour begins at Pittsburg Landing, and heads upriver to see the Bighorn Sheep and other wildlife that call the canyon home. You’ll stop at the Kirkwood Ranch and Museum, Sheep Creek Cabin, and other points of historic interest. The trip continues upriver to Rush Creek, Granite Creek, and Hells Canyon Dam, where you’ll be able to swim in the calm pools to cap off an eventful day.
Don’t leave the canyon area without stopping at Dierkes Lake, located inside the canyon just a mile away from the waterfalls. The calm lake is known for its swimming, fishing, hiking, and boating, while the surrounding 191-acre park is perfect for holding a family barbecue or picnic. Only non-motorized boats are allowed on Dierkes Lake, so you’ll have to stick to paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks. The lake is also one of the most popular destinations in the state for scuba divers, as its deep waters hold curiosities like sunken rowboats, a metal shark cutout, and a hidden treasure chest.
Don’t forget downtown Twin Falls
While you can’t go wrong spending most of your time at the falls or Snake River Canyon, it would be a mistake not to check out what the Twin Falls has to offer. For a relatively small city, Twin Falls has a thriving craft beer scene. KOTO Brewing Co. is owned by a family with deep roots in the Twin Falls community, with the building itself infused with pieces of the city’s history. Then there’s Milner’s Gate, a brewery and full bar and restaurant that’s named after the Milner Dam completed in 1905.
Your trip can take a more educational turn at the Herrett Center for Arts and Science. Located on the campus of the College of Southern Idaho, this museum of natural history has an impressive collection from the prehistoric Americas. These include geological specimens, material relics of the Buffalo Nation, and artifacts from Peru that date back to before the Inca. The museum also houses the Faulkner Planetarium, the largest in the state with one of the biggest wheelchair-accessible public telescopes on Earth.
You don’t have to kayak through Snake Canyon to get a healthy dose of the outdoors on your visit to Twin Falls, either. Rock Creek Park, on the southwestern edge of the city, has 12 acres of green park land running alongside the canyon. You can follow the Old Towne Parkway Trail from downtown Twin Falls through the park, or take advantage of facilities like a disc golf course, fishing holes, horseshoe pits, picnic tables, and volleyball courts.
If you happen to be visiting the area in early September, you’re in luck. The Twin Falls County Fair runs for five days at the beginning of September (the first through sixth in 2021), and has been a popular event since 1916. The fair has all the classics like vendors, carnival rides, livestock competitions, and country music concerts, but it also coincides with the Magic Valley Stampede PRCA Rodeo. If you’ve never been to a rodeo before, here’s what to expect. Just know that alone might make the trip worth it.
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