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Ep. 109: Island Park | Idaho RV travel camping


Would anyone care to venture a wild
guess which state we’re in this week? Boy it’s not even the Fourth yet, and
this holiday traffic is already baaaaaaaddd! Hey friends, welcome back to Grand
Adventure! I’m your host Marc Guido, and we are in
Island Park, Idaho for the Independence Day holiday, the Fourth of July. You know,
I can’t think of a better place to spend a summer holiday than right alongside a
wonderful lakeshore. It is so quiet here, even with the holiday week I’ve seen two
boats in three days. This is just perfect! In Island Park the Henry’s Fork of the
Snake River is impounded by Island Park Dam, built in the 1930s and operated by
the US Bureau of Reclamation to form Island Park Reservoir, which provides
irrigation for farmland along the Snake River plain. It’s here that the eighth
coldest temperature ever recorded in the United States was observed, a
bone-chilling minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit. But it’s a lot warmer in July!
We’re boondocking on Caribou-Targhee National Forest land along the lake’s far
southwestern shore, accessed by the 11-mile dirt Green Canyon Road. Here
a number of small peninsulas jut out into the lake to provide isolated
campsites for those looking to get away from the holiday masses. The geology of Island Park is actually
unique and distinctive. The area known as Island Park is mostly a large crater, or
caldera named the Henry’s Fork Caldera that was created by the same volcanic
hotspot that created the later and much larger Yellowstone Caldera. The Henry’s
Fork Caldera is still one of the largest in the world,
and is the only large caldera in the Yellowstone region that is plainly
visible. The entire south bank of Island Park Reservoir upon which we’re camped is
formed by the northern slope of this caldera. The area receives abnormally
high precipitation for the region, nearly three times that received in the nearby
Teton Valley or Jackson, Wyoming, even though they’re all at similar elevations. Population a mere 286, the city of Island
Park was incorporated in 1947 by the owners of lodges and resorts along US
Route 20 primarily to circumvent Idaho’s liquor laws that prohibited the sale of
liquor outside of city limits. Located in the far northeastern tip of
southeastern Idaho, a scant 25 minutes from the entrance to Yellowstone
National Park, the city is only 500 feet wide in most locations, and at 33 miles
long it lays claim to the longest Main
Street in the world. The Henry’s Fork gently meanders across the relatively
flat floor of this caldera, with topography very similar to that of
nearby Yellowstone National Park. When it reaches the rim of the caldera, however,
it does so with some rather spectacular results. These are the upper Mesa Falls, where a
thunderous curtain of water as tall as a 10-story building pours over remnants of
an ancient volcanic super-eruption. It spewed ash over much of the current US.
Some layers are more than a million years old. The Mesa Falls Visitor Center occupies
the historic Big Falls Inn, built around 1915 by the Snake River Electric Light
and Power Company. With its spectacular setting, the Inn was a popular spot for
social gatherings in its past lives. It had its day as a hotel, a cafe and a
dance hall. Later it became a way station on the Yellowstone Highway for
ranchers, sportsmen and tourists. A mile downstream of Upper Mesa Falls lies — you
guessed it — Lower Mesa Falls. The falls are visible
below the Grandview overlook below the road, and are accessible via a nature
trail extending below Upper Mesa Falls. Adjacent to Grandview point, right
through these trees, Grandview Campground has seven single sites and one double
site. It has recently added electric hookups to its sites. The campground is open
from May until mid-September. Grandview is not on the Forest Service reservation
system. Sites are only available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Single sites cost $20 per night including electric, and the double site
costs double that. Discounts are available for holders of the inter-agency senior pass. Along the banks of the Henry’s Fork,
where the Green Canyon Road leaves US-20, sits Harriman State Park. Owned by Union
Pacific Railroad investors from 1902 to 1977, the park acreage served as a cattle
ranch and private retreat for the Harriman and Guggenheim families. Today
Harriman State Park provides visitors a perfect setting to enjoy the unique
history and natural beauty of the area, offering 22 miles of hiking, mountain
biking and horseback riding trails that slink through meadows, meander along
riverbanks, and through lush evergreen forests. Some of the best fly-fishing
waters in the nation flow through 8 miles of Harriman State Park. Visitors can hike, fish, paddle and even
rent horses. But one thing that visitors can’t do in
Harriman State Park is camp, and we found the part to be rather
unfriendly to dog owners as dogs cannot wander beyond the parking lots, even on a
leash. For kayakers and canoeists, this is an incredibly interesting stretch of
shoreline, with bays and coves reaching well inland between the peninsulas to
explore. There are extensive wetlands that are home to pelicans, great blue
herons, and all manner of waterfowl. We’re joined on this trip by our friends and
neighbors Kay and Arnie; together we’re going to hit the lake for a paddle right
from camp. So we really hope that you’ve enjoyed
coming along with us to Island Park, Idaho!
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