Mesa Falls Scenic Highway

With Memorial Day weekend arriving the crowds have definitely started getting crazier. In order to see how much traffic is at the gate we have started looking at the Web Cam at the West Yellowstone gate and when it looks like the picture below we have started exploring outside of the park!

You can see for yourself what the West Yellowstone entrance looks like, any time.

Actual picture of traffic at gate during Memorial Day weekend.

These trips may be farther away mileage-wise but they are often less time because you can travel on the highway. On this particular day I wanted to explore the Mesa Falls scenic highway…because waterfalls…and since we had a full day we also decided to go into the Targhee National Forest and see Cave Falls as well. Route 47 starts (or ends) in Ashton Idaho so we drove straight there and started from that end.

The road into the National Forest is actually called E1400N and is right off of 47. It’s a 19 mile drive on a dirt road, which can get a little bumpy in spots but wasn’t too bad the day we went. It’s a beautiful drive with lots of woods and ponds and I even saw a beaver and a beaver dam, although I didn’t get a picture of the beaver. There were lots of boondocking spots all along the road and since it was a holiday weekend lots of people were taking advantage of the numerous spots. No cell coverage unfortunately back in there but it was a great place to get away from the crowds. And speaking of boondocking if you have been thinking about getting Solar I really recommend reaching out to our friends at RV Solar Solutions or you can email our buddy Bill at bill.rvss@gmail.com and he can walk you through your options. I only mention it because we love finding out of the way places to stay when we can and our solar system makes it possible for us to go off grid. And Bill does a FANTASTIC job.

We finally arrived at the falls and it was absolutely gorgeous. It is three distinct levels, and you can get as close as you would like. National Forests are much more relaxed in their rules than National Parks and Jack had a blast running around.

We hardly saw anyone all day but as we were at these falls two vehicles rolled up and lots of people jumped out. We moved on to the next section and decided to walk right up to the falls. This was a great decision for two reasons. First, by the time we were done those folks were gone, and more importantly it was incredibly cool being so close to the main section of falls. The wind was damp from the spray and we all loved getting so close. Even Jack wanted to get right into the water.

The third level we drove up to and this part was actually back in Yellowstone. This area goes into the very southwest corner of the park and is a jumping off point for back country hiking. I wish I had the guts to hike deep into the backcountry because there are tons of barely explored waterfalls (some weren’t even discovered until the 1920’s) but with all the bear activity that’s a little too off the beaten path for me. Still we got some great shots and I used a very clean bathroom which was much appreciated.

The pictures we got from this viewpoint were wonderful and I wish I could have captured how gorgeous it was. Here is my best attempt, but it was a very magical place and we had it all to ourselves.


I didn’t think much could beat that but then we headed to Mesa Falls. For us Cave Falls was actually better, but Mesa Falls was huge and had lots of beautiful walkways that take you right down to the falls. The Upper Falls section also has a gift shop but since we arrived after 5pm it was closed. First up we stopped at the lower falls which are incredibly special the only bummer was it was super far away and I really wanted to see it close up. We did have the place all to ourselves though which was great since the large parking lot suggests that this is a popular place.

So cool

About a mile down the road is the Upper Falls and this area is day use and costs $5. The National Forrest ranger let us stay for free with our America the Beautiful card but I would bring $5 with you in cash. Again this area had very few people and that was really cool. There is a great walkway right down to the waterfalls edge, but let me let the pictures do the talking here.

And here it is as we saw it walking along the path.

This is the edge before it goes over the falls

This waterfall is a monster. If you want some scale look in the middle right for the viewing platform to see how small the people are. That platform is just two feet from the edge of the falls.


We weren’t quite done yet though because on the way back we stopped at Connie’s Restaurant in Island Park and had one of the best meals we have had here. Small town businesses are interesting and Connie’s has a restaurant, work out center, and women’s boutique all in the same building. It was really nice and the food was great, I highly recommend it.

It had been a long day but we had one last surprise when we saw a momma and a baby moose along the side of the road. Moose sighting for us have been pretty rare and we have never seen a baby. It was really awesome and a perfect cap to a great day.

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