Southern Idaho's Shoshone Falls is often called the Niagara of the West, and the landmark certainly resembles the New York falls, especially when in full flow. The views of Shoshone Falls from the observation deck can be incredible, and the sound can be deafening. When you’re in Idaho (or even Salt Lake City, Utah, which is only 3 hours away), you simply must visit.
My son lives in Twin Falls, and my wife and I recently visited the area to see him and his new fiancée. The drive to Twin Falls is amazing. You won’t believe the majesty of the Snake River Canyon as you head across the Perrine Bridge into Twin Falls. Our afternoon trip to see Shoshone Falls, however, was the highlight of our visit.
Where Is Shoshone Falls?
Shoshone Falls is located 3 miles outside of Twin Falls, a city of 50,000 people in the southern part of Idaho. Twin Falls is only an hour’s drive from the Nevada border, 1 hour and 30 minutes from the Utah border, and 2 hours and 30 minutes from the Oregon border. Magic Valley Regional Airport in Twin Falls offers daily flights to Salt Lake City on Delta Airlines, but the closest international airports are in Salt Lake City (a 3-hour drive) and Boise (a 2-hour drive).
Twin Falls is located right next to the Snake River Canyon. Some may remember Evel Knievel’s attempted Skycycle jump in the Snake River Canyon in 1974. The spot where it took place was just a mile outside of Twin Falls, between Shoshone Falls and the city itself.
If you drive from Salt Lake City to Twin Falls, you will cross over the Snake River near Rupert, Idaho (approximately 50 miles east of Twin Falls), and notice that there’s no canyon. The Snake River flows near the elevation of the land. In the 50 miles from Rupert to Twin Falls, however, it cuts into one of the more amazing canyons of the West. By the time it reaches Twin Falls, the canyon is nearly 500 feet deep, with steep cliffs on either side. This is where you’ll find Shoshone Falls.
How To Get To Shoshone Falls
The magnificent landmark is a 5-minute drive from the city limits of Twin Falls. If you’re coming from the city, take Falls Avenue eastward until you get to Champlin Road. Signs at that intersection will direct you to turn left toward Shoshone Falls. If you’re coming from the east, you’ll likely be on Highway 30. There is a right turn for Champlin Road from the highway, and that road will take you to Shoshone Falls.
Once you reach the rim of the canyon, Champlin Road will turn into Shoshone Falls Grade, a steep, winding road into the canyon. Approximately a mile down the grade, you will come to the entrance of Shoshone Falls Park. If you arrive between March 1 and September 30, you’ll have to pay $5 per car to enter the park. If you arrive during the off-season, you won’t have to pay anything.
Once you pass through the gate, you’ll head down a second winding road to the main parking lot. The ideal spot to view the Falls -- the observation deck -- is located only 75 feet from the parking lot. You’ll walk down a set of stairs and then out onto the observation deck.
If you are arriving in an RV, there are two RV parking locations. There is RV parking in the main parking lot near the observation deck. But if those spots are full (and many tour buses visit Shoshone Falls, so the spots are often full), loop back up the main road to the second RV parking area farther up the hill. It will be on your right as you enter the park and on your left if you’re returning to it from the main parking lot.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Shoshone Falls?
As is true of most waterfalls, the best time to visit is when the water is plentiful. The Snake River is the passageway through which melting snow from the northern Rockies heads to the Columbia River in Oregon and eventually out into the Pacific Ocean, so late spring is absolutely the best time to visit.
But this does not mean that the late spring is the only time you can visit the Falls. The fall is typically the low-flow time for Shoshone Falls (reservoirs upstream that have been depleted during the summer months are being restocked), but you can still catch the Falls in decent form. The photo below was taken on September 23, and the flow was still very strong.
During the spring, the area to the right will be much more spectacular -- you’ll see twin waterfalls. But as you can see, even a lower autumn flow is quite stunning.
Since the tourists will be out in force during the regular vacation season, the perfect time to visit the Falls is probably on or around May 1. The snow melt will be charging through the Snake River Canyon and over the Falls, creating an incredible scene.
What To Know About The Flow
The flow of the waterfalls is controlled by the Milner Dam, 20 miles upstream from Shoshone Falls. The United States Bureau of Reclamation maintains the dam and the entire Snake River Basin in order to regulate the amount of water available for agriculture in the region. If you look at an aerial photo of Idaho, you will see a green band extending through the southern part of the state. Every ounce of that green comes from the Snake River and its associated irrigation canals.
The priority of the Bureau of Reclamation is to maintain enough water in the reservoirs for the irrigation canals to remain full. The excess water is sent down the Snake River on its way to the Pacific Ocean, and that excess water is what feeds Shoshone Falls.
In the spring, especially in late April and May, you are nearly guaranteed to get a great view of the Falls, since the snow melt is feeding the entire system with more water than it can handle. In the summer, fall, and winter, the flow depends on the rainfall that year and the fullness of upstream reservoirs. You can visit this site to look at the reservoir levels. If the reservoir for Milner Dam is fairly full, there’s a good chance that the Shoshone Falls will be flowing well. If it’s not, the Bureau of Reclamation is likely holding back water to fill the reservoir.
You can also visit the Shoshone Falls website for a recent CFS (cubic feet per second) rating for the falls. On the day that the photo above was taken, Shoshone Falls was at 400 CFS. If the number is higher, the falls will be more impressive. If it’s lower, the falls will have a restricted flow.
There’s no way to perfectly plan for the highest flows. With a dam upstream controlling the flow, it can fluctuate from day to day. Your best bet is the spring, but really, there are incredible views year-round.
What Else Is There To Do In The Area?
Twin Falls has much more to offer than Shoshone Falls. Here are some other things to do around town.
Walk The Rim Trail
The rim trail is a 12-mile network of trails that extends from the western end of Twin Falls all the way to Shoshone Falls and Dierkes Lake. Perhaps the best portion of the trail is the portion in Twin Falls.
Park at the visitor center that overlooks the Perrine Bridge when you enter Twin Falls from the north. From there, you can walk the trail either to the east or the west. The entire trail is perched right atop the canyon, so the views from every angle are incredible.
Golf At The Base Of The Canyon
From the rim trail, you will see two golf courses at the base of the canyon. The course you see on the north side of the canyon, Blue Lakes Country Club, is a private course, but the course on the Twin Falls side of the canyon, Canyon Springs Golf Club, is a public course.
I played the course with my son while visiting Twin Falls. I hadn’t brought my golf clubs with me, but the course had several sets of rental clubs available. And the environment is like nothing I’ve experienced before. It’s not often that you get to golf at the base of a canyon with 500-foot cliffs on either side and one of the more iconic bridges in the American West hovering over you.
Walk Across The Perrine Bridge
Speaking of the Perrine Bridge, there is a lane for pedestrians that is completely separated from the traffic. So if you’re interested in getting some amazing photos, you can walk out on the bridge. Start at the visitor center and follow the path to the bridge walkway.
While you’re there, you’ll likely see BASE (Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth) jumpers leaping from the bridge with parachutes. The Perrine Bridge is the only man-made structure in the United States that allows BASE jumping without a permit, so BASE jumpers from around the world flock to Twin Falls. Watching them jump, open their parachutes, and float to the base of the canyon is an incredible sight.