Known as Eagle Rock in the 19th century, the city of Idaho Falls got its name from a man-made waterfall created for a hydroelectric plant on the Snake River in the 1890s.
The city takes a lot of pride in its famous river, which can be admired from paths along both banks and linking a series of beautiful waterfront parks.
Idaho Falls is Eastern Idaho’s commercial and cultural hub, home to the region’s only professional sports team, as well as an assortment of prominent attractions, like the Museum of Idaho and Idaho Falls Zoo.
Downtown Idaho Falls is scattered with interesting historic buildings, and imbued with a lot of life at independent restaurants, mom-and-pop stores and museums.
1. Idaho Falls Greenbelt River Walk
The beautiful Snake River, winding through the Pacific Northwest for more than 1,000 miles and six states, is a defining feature of the Idaho Falls cityscape.
A lot of work has gone into making this stunning feature accessible to the public, and you can now stroll, jog or cycle along several miles of riverside on both banks of the Snake River.
You’ll come across art installations and interpretive signs on the route, as well as a string of pretty waterfront parks where you can linger for a picnic.
One of the main landmarks along the way is of course the waterfall that continues to generate more than half of the city’s power.
Another sight impossible to miss is the striking modern spire of the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple for the Church of Latter-Day Saints on the east bank.
The Greenbelt project has been led by the Idaho Falls Rotary Club, raising funds for expansion through annual events like the Duck Race in August.
2. Museum of Idaho
Opened in 2003, the Museum of Idaho links the Idaho Falls’ historic Carnegie Library and Masonic Temple with a modern glass atrium.
The museum has amassed important collections covering fields like paleontology, archaeology, geology and the history of Idaho’s native inhabitants and its 19th-century settlers.
These are displayed in wonderfully curated short term exhibits, and are often combined with high-profile traveling exhibits.
Past shows have dealt with topics as varied as dinosaur eggs, pirates, steampunk, bioluminescence, guitars, Egyptology, Ancient Rome and artifacts from the Titanic.
The Museum of Idaho organizes a wealth of educational programs for children and adults, from archaeology tours to special Nights at the Museum.
3. Idaho Falls Zoo
Touted as the “best little zoo in the West”, Idaho Falls Zoo is in the southwestern corner of Tautphaus Park and home to 300 animals from 130 species around the world.
This organization is heavily engaged in animal conservation, taking part in more than 40 Species Survival Plans. The zoo is arranged by zones like Patagonia, North America, Australia, Africa, Asia, Primates and a Children’s Zoo.
For just a brief summary of the animals on show there are lions, lemurs, penguins, sloth bears, wallabies, kookaburras, snow leopards, golden eagles and otters.
At the Children’s Zoo kids can feed sheep, pet goats and explore an interactive playground that shows you what it’s like to be a bird.
4. Japanese Friendship Garden
On a little rocky island, beside the man-made waterfall on the Snake River is an exquisite Japanese garden.
This was laid out in 2011 to mark thirty years of Idaho Falls’ association with its sister city, Tōkai-Mura in Japan’s Ibaraki Prefecture.
The setting is also significant as the site of the first bridge to cross the Snake River back in the 19th century.
Much of what you see at the Japanese Friendship Garden is the result of volunteer effort, and among the many charming features there’s a viewing platform, a pond crossed by a “Dragon’s Path”, a large lantern gifted by Tōkai-Mura and numerous water features.
One lovely touch is the authentic Japanese Pavilion, unveiled in 2016 and boasting ornamental tiles presented by Tōkai-Mura. A delegation from the Japanese sister city visits Idaho Falls every other July.
5. Downtown Idaho Falls
In a process that’s mirrored across the country, Downtown Idaho Falls has been revitalized in the last couple of decades, and is a lovely place to shop, dine, get a drink, be entertained and take in some culture.
Many of the spots on this list can be found downtown, and there’s a catalogue of independent shops for fashion, one-off gifts, furniture, antiques, flowers, jewelry, photography, musical instruments, toys, art and specialty items.
On Saturdays the thriving Idaho Falls Farmers’ Market also sets up at Bonneville County Civil Court, for fresh seasonal produce, handmade specialty foods and tasty baked treats.
As for dining, there’s a truly cosmopolitan selection, whether you’re hankering for Mexican (Pachangas), American classics (Snakebite), Pizza (Lucy’s New York Style Pizzeria), Thai (Krung Thep), Chinese (Happy’s), Indian (Cardamom), to name just a small few.
6. Art Museum of Eastern Idaho
Right on the Idaho Falls River Walk, the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho is a local champion for the visual arts, founded in 2002.
This attraction puts on captivating and innovative temporary exhibitions in a range of media, and has a growing permanent collection.
There are five galleries to explore, as well as a gift shop with interesting pieces by local artists and an interactive art learning area for children.
The Art Museum of Eastern Idaho is also a firm fixture in the community, hosting workshops and classes in a variety of disciplines at the designated classroom/workshop space.
7. Tautphaus Park
The zoo is only one corner of this expansive park, named for the Idaho Falls entrepreneur and developer Charles C. Tautphaus (1841-1906).
The park is one of the oldest in the city, having been purchased in the 1930s. In fact the log hut that serves as the executive office for the zoo, is part of a WPA project from 1934.
Later the park was used as a German prisoner of war camp during WWII. There’s a small amusement park next to the zoo, named Funland, with origins going back to the 1940s. Just south of this is the beloved Joe Marmo/Wayne Lehto Ice Area, opened during the winter months.
Elsewhere you’ll find facilities for baseball/softball, tennis and volleyball, as well as a skatepark, horseshoe pits, picnic shelters and a children’s playground with musical instruments.
8. Melaleuca Field
Idaho Falls lays claim to the only professional sports team in Eastern Idaho. This is the Minor League Baseball team, the Idaho Falls Chukars, who have a history going back to the 1920s, when they went by the less dashing “Idaho Falls Spuds”.
Over the last century the Chukars have been affiliated with more than a dozen different Major League teams, but were totally independent when we wrote this article.
Their home is the cozy Melaleuca Field, built in 2007 and seating 3,500, with extensive brickwork, an imposing grandstand, eight luxury boxes and even a sponsored hot tub.
Funding this project was tricky, and many local residents and businesses chipped in. You can read all their names engraved in plaques and bricks around the stadium.
9. ARTitorium on Broadway
Created to inspire children aged 12 and under, the ARTitorium on Broadway is an art-themed educational attraction in downtown Idaho Falls.
ARTitorium has lots of interactive exhibits, that involve kids getting messy, noisy and creative, many using technology at computer Creation Stations, a stop-motion animation studio, a green screen, a motion wall or a touchscreen Virtual Gallery.
ARTitorium also comprises a 136-seat theater and recording studio with surround sound and state-of-the-art recording equipment.
Check the schedule for all kinds of activities, like the weekly Family Fun Art Night, a scavenger hunt and age-specific art sessions.
10. East Idaho Aquarium
Established in 2013 on the north side of Idaho Falls proper, this lovingly maintained aquarium grows by the year.
The East Idaho Aquarium has immersive decor, with tropical vegetation, replica caves and ancient ruins.
Among the marine animals awaiting you are sharks, beautiful tropical fish, stingrays and starfish that can be touched, eels, octopuses, jellyfish, as well as the various fish species inhabiting Idaho’s lakes and rivers.
Out of the water there’s an aviary with colorful parakeets, an albino boa constrictor, turtles, bearded dragons and iguanas
11. Freeman Park
Part of that string of green spaces lining the Snake River, the beautiful Freeman Park is on the east bank, just south of the Idaho State University Campus.
On the river walk you can take a little detour or find a spot in this ample green space for a picnic.
Paved trails for walking, jogging and cycling course through Freeman Park, past tall mature trees.
Among the many facilities on hand there’s an 18-hole disc golf course, a children’s playground with newly updated equipment, an outdoor shelter and picnic tables.
Maybe the most relaxing spot is right by the Snake River where there are plenty of benches if you just want to watch it flowing past.
12. Collectors Corner Museum
Just the kind of museum you’d hope to stumble upon in a town like Idaho Falls, Collectors Corner is all about collectibles, reflecting the passion of its owners.
Husband and wife, Jim and Nida Gyorfy have been collecting for more than 60 years, and on show at their quirky museum are more than 125 different collections.
These might be stuffed animal toys, hubcaps, coins, troll dolls, Precious Moments figurines, commemorative plates, Barbies, stamps, model trails, Ron Lee clowns or wind-up monkeys.
Everything you see has been sourced manually, as the couple doesn’t use computers, and you’re sure to come across plenty of rarities hiding in these display cases.
13. Idaho Brewing Company
Based out of a warehouse by the Snake River, the Idaho Brewing Company has been in business since 2009 and has forged a reputation across Eastern Idaho for its award-winning ales and lagers.
The brewery has a line-up of eight year-round brews, including What a Pear (Fruit Lager), Idaho Pale Ale, Red Warrior (India Red Ale), Deep Creek Ale (Blond Ale), Maggie’s Dog Slobber (Brown Ale), Black Lager (Schwarzbier), Highland Scotch Ale and Wolf’s Oatmeal Stout.
Black Lager and Wolf’s Oatmeal Stout have been recognized several times in the North American Beer Awards.
The core brews are complemented by a range of seasonal beers, and the tasting room, open Monday to Saturday, has 12 beers on tap, so there’s always something new to try.
14. Eagle Rock Fountain
There’s a stirring modern landmark for Idaho Falls, just in from the west bank of the Snake River, and downriver from the falls.
At the center of a roundabout, and designed as the centerpiece of a housing development stands the Eagle Rock Fountain.
This refers to Eagle Rock, an early name for Idaho Falls, adopted in the 1860s and then replaced by “Idaho Falls” in the 1890s for marketing purposes. Eagle Rock Fountain is billed as the largest eagle monument in the world, completed in 2006.
The base is made up of locally quarried rocks, rising to 26 feet and cascading with water. The sculptor Vic Payne was commissioned to produce the bronze eagles, consisting of a mother and father, three times life size, with a wingspan of 21 feet. The mother tends to her two young eaglets, standing 4.5 feet in height.
15. Hell’s Half-Acre Lava Field
Idaho Falls is the jumping off point for a remarkable basaltic lava plain, covering some 155 square miles, around 25 miles west of the city.
A National Natural Landmark, Hell’s Half-Acre is thought to have been formed around 5,000 years ago by the Lava Ridge-Hell’s Half-Acre fissure vent.
Molten rock was forced upward from a depth of as much as 50 miles before cooling on the surface.
The dramatic name was coined by fur traders in the 19th century, and makes a lot of sense when you see the deep chasms in the terrain, ripped open by immense pressure from below.
More than five millennia later there isn’t much vegetation at Hell’s Half-Acre, but nature is slowly starting to take over.