Mesa Falls Scenic Byway

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About

Summary

This summertime scenic byway about two hours from Jackson Hole makes a wonderful Nordic ski or fat bike ride to impressive waterfalls come winter.

Written by

Dina Mishev

Distance

17.0 miles

17 miles of groomed trails, one way

Destination Distance From Downtown

53.5 miles

Difficulty

2 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

3 hours

Seasonality

Winter

Dog Friendly

No

Fees Permits

Yes

$25 annual pass; supports trail grooming

Review

Intro

Ashton, Idaho is getting farish from Jackson Hole, but this fat bike ride from the Warm River Campground to Mesa Falls is worth the ninety-minute to two-hour drive. About twelve miles out-and-back, it’s also a great Nordic ski. In summer, you can drive the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. Or ride it on your road bike. Or run it.

What Makes It Great

However you can get there, you should. Mesa Falls, which is actually two separate waterfalls—Upper Mesa Falls and Lower Mesa Falls—is a gem. Also, these two waterfalls are the last cascades of any significance on the Snake River to be free. There are no dams around here.

Upper Mesa Falls, where there is a visitor center open daily in the summer and limited hours in the winter (when it serves hot chocolate), is the more spectacular of the two. It’s about 100 feet wide and ten-stories tall. Beneath and behind the water is lava and solidified ash (some of it over one million years old) from prior eruptions of the Yellowstone super volcano.  In the winter, the water doesn’t thunder as much as in the summer because 1) there’s less of it 2) some of the rivulets on the sides freeze. The argument could be made that this makes the upper falls even prettier though.

 A mile south of Upper Mesa Falls, Lower Mesa Falls pours over the same petrified ash and lava. Its flow isn’t quite as dramatic though.

But the falls are only part of the fun of this fat bike ride.  Seventeen miles of the scenic byway are groomed. This is mainly done for snowmobilers, but fat bikers and Nordic skiers are welcome to use the road too. You might even spot dog mushers.

If you want to minimize the number of snowmachines you encounter, your best bet is to do this ride in the middle of the week. But even if a weekend is all you have, the snowmachines should not be horrible. There’s so many miles of groomed snowmobile trails in this area, the traffic gets spread out.

Who is Going to Love It

The three hour time estimate given for this adventure is for an average cyclist fat biking in average conditions only to the falls and back. The entire road and back to your car would likely take six hours.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

If you start at the southern entrance, by the Warm River Campground, Upper Mesa Falls is about 1/3 of the way along the road. Local expert Scott Fitzgerald, the owner of Fitzgerald’s Bicycles and an ardent fat biker himself, says the entire ride is gorgeous, but also that the section past Mesa Falls doesn’t have any fresh scenery. Aside from the falls themselves, the scenery is pine forest. The road winds and rolls through it. But far be it from us to deprive you of further fat biking.

If you want to turn it into an overnight, nearby Harriman State Park (in Idaho) has winter yurt rentals available

Location

Mesa Falls Scenic Byway

ASHTON, ID, 83420
44.187462, -111.32961

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