How to Escape to Island Park, Idaho
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, Island Park, Idaho is the perfect escape from the wear of everyday life. Every time I have been there, our time is composed of two things; relaxing and playing. And maybe eating our favorite comfort foods. This is a place ideal for anyone who is looking to make memories with their family, forget about to do lists, and enjoy the beautiful mountains around them. I know you will love it there! Without further ado, how to escape to Island Park, Idaho.
Cuddle up in a Cabin
The majority of residential buildings in Island Park are vacation homes or rentals, with only a small percentage of people living there year round. That being the case, there is a plethora of cabins or lodges available to rent. You can find great options on any of the following sites: Island Park Rentals, Island Park Idaho, AirBnB, or VRBO.
If you are interested in spending less money, another option is camping. There are many camping grounds in the area, including Upper Coffee Pot Campground and Henry’s Lake State Park. You are in them mountains so be prepared for chilly nights, visits from wild animals, and the beautiful scent of the forest.
With either option, be sure to haul in your food. You will be limited to a handful of restaurants, a couple convenience stores, and one small grocery store for food options. As you would expect in any tourist town, these stores are on the pricey end and are limited in variety.
See 360 Degrees of Views from Sawtell Peak
Rising above Island Park is the towering Sawtell Peak, topped with it’s distinctive weather tower. If you were to take a turn up Sawtell Peak Road from the main highway, about a half an hour later you would reach a parking lot and incredible views. The road up is well maintained, but does require patience and care to navigate the turns, especially with other cars coming from the opposite direction. In the end, the payoff is worth it!
This is one of my absolute favorite places to visit! On a clear day, you can see Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Henry’s Lake, and layers upon layers of mountains. If you are eager to see a spectacle, definitely try making it up to the peak before dawn. From that vantage point, the sunrise is incredible! Make sure to bring a coat and blanket to ward off the cold. And maybe a yoga mat so you can do some sun salutations.
Float Henrys Fork River
If you happen to get a clear and sunny day, take a trip floating the chilly waters of the Henrys Fork River. Starting at Big Springs, it gently winds its way through meadows and forests, eventually to joining the Snake River. This portion of the river doesn’t have any rapids, and is easy enough for the most inexperienced to navigate. During the 2-3 hour trip, in addition to beautiful scenery, lucky floaters may also see eagles, river otters, deer, elk, or moose (Did you see the one that came out of the bushes about 10 feet from us? If not, check it out in our Island Park video. He was not happy to see us.).
Didn’t bring a flotation device? Rafts, canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards are all available to rent! Mack’s Inn Rentals is located right on the river. They have the ability to haul you and your rental to the drop in location and when you get to their building, it’s time to get out. High Mountain Adventures also offers rentals, often less expensive, though located further away. You will need to be able to haul the rental and get yourself to and from the drop zone (we do this by parking one car or ATV at the bottom of the river and leaving the car at the drop zone). It takes longer to get home after the trip, but it gives you time to get a shave ice and a couple tacos from the Shaka stand next to Cafe Sabor (also a good place to visit).
Something to note, the weather in the mountains can be unpredictable. I remember a time that a thunderstorm rolled in during our float, forcing us to paddle furiously for cover. Thankfully my dad wasn’t with us and was able to find us just in time. I’m talking thunderstorms so close and raging that the hair on the back of your neck stands up due to the electricity in the air. Take my word for it, pay close attention to the weather and have a contingency plan in case it is needed.
Get Dusty on an ATV
Weaving in and out of the trees are hundreds of trails made for ATVs, RZRs, snowmobiles, and bikes. Though I have snowmobiled here a number of times, I hadn’t been out on the trails in the summer. We rented a RZR through High Mountain Adventures, and borrowed ATVs from a family member. It was my first driving either, but had a blast! It allowed us to get to places that we wouldn’t normally be able to go with a car and get covered in dust from head to toe.
Don’t let having kids with you stop you from getting on the trails! Obviously, those types of vehicles are not safe for children. However, the “play and swap” system works beautifully here. One person stays with the little one(s) while everyone else goes and plays. After a while, swap who is hanging out with the kid(s). That way everyone gets to have a little fun and the kid(s) stay safe! Don’t let kids be your excuse; there is always a way.
Catch your Dinner
Though we didn’t go fishing this time, Island Park is a favorite destination for many fishermen (and women). My family has spent hours along the banks near Coffee Pot Rapids Trail while trying to catch fish (that is also a very nice 2.5 mile hike). Even if you aren’t fishing, the scenery is beautiful! There is also a chance you may see a bear or other wildlife. Though I haven’t personally done this, Kyle and my father-in-law also enjoy fishing on Henry’s Lake.
Enjoy a Night in West Yellowstone
Located about a half an hour from Island Park, West Yellowstone offers a variety of things to do, on any budget. Some of our favorite things include: eating bison burgers at Buckaroo Bills, watching a movie at Yellowstone Giant Screen, finding unique jewelry pieces at New Pioneer, picking up fudge from the Rustic Candy Shop, and dressing up for an old time photos at Wild West Old Time Photos. Our family also enjoys visiting the Playmill Theater for a night of entertainment. Each summer, Playmill puts on three family friendly plays/musicals. Little children are even allowed, which is a huge win for our family since most theaters don’t allow them.
Get your Golf On
Looking to get in a round of golf while on vacation? Island Park Village Golf Course is the place to go with it’s 9 holes nestled in between the village cabins. Expect to pay a little more if you do not own a cabin around the golf course, but the prices are still reasonable. If you need to practice, the golf course also has a driving range and putting green.
Stroll around Big Springs
The crystal clear water of Big Springs was once the home of an early settler’s cabin and now one of the most visited locations in Island Park. The Johnny Sack Cabin is open most days and showcases the handy work of Johnny himself. There are several trails located around the springs, which offer plenty of chances to spot moose, muskrats, ducks, and the giant rainbow trout that wait under the bridge for visitors to feed them.
Gaze at the Stars
The beauty of being in the mountains, is the lack of light pollution, which can make for some great star gazing. We are able to see beautiful stars right from the deck of our cabin, but if you were to get away from the cabins, perhaps by going up to Sawtell Peak, I’m sure you would get even more spectacular views. Don’t forget your telescope and star charts!
Visit Yellowstone National Park
The West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park is located only a half an hour from Island Park. As Yellowstone was the first, and is perhaps the most famous of the American National Parks, it is not one to miss. Composed of an Upper and Lower loops, explorers could spend all day just driving through the different landscapes that Yellowstone has to offer. Many of the iconic sites, like Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, or Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls, are also located conveniently near pull offs or parking lots for easy access.
If you are looking for a more adventurous visit, try out one of the many day hikes! Some of our favorite hikes include Lone Star Geyser (eruption times here), The Hoodoos Loop, and Mystic Falls, among many others. Other favorite stops include swimming in the Firehole River, with its waters warmed from nearby geothermal activity, watching the mudpots (affectionately called “bloop-bloops” by my family from when we were younger – one stop there and you will understand why), and searching for wildlife as we drove.
Bond with your Family
I can’t say enough about all the wonderful things there are to do in Island Park. I’ve been going there at least once a year since I was young, and have so many fond memories of spending time exploring with my family. We’ve seen black and grizzly bears (and even a white bare… thanks to the woman popping a squat off the side of the road). Sung songs as we walked along hiking trails, to motivate tired legs. Kyle even proposed to me there while going cross country skiing! There are too many memories to count, and all include my family enjoying being together and sharing those special family bonding experiences.
A Final Anecdote
Which brings me to a final story… When I was about 16, our family went on a day trip to Yellowstone. While there, our car broke down. Thankfully, we had another family with us, so while one car went to get a toe truck, the other car stayed pulled off on the side the road. Side note, when animals are spotted in Yellowstone, a line of cars often forms. The cars will slowly drive by in hopes of seeing an exciting animal, but ultimately delaying the people behind them.
Back to our story. I’m not sure who got the idea, but as we were waiting, someone decided to pull out their camera and pretend to be filming something in the forest next to our car. Noting this person’s mischievous idea, we all pulled out whatever device we had that looked like a camera (my little sister used an early version of an iPod that definitely did not have a camera) and started to pretend to take pictures of something that wasn’t really there.
Soon enough, cars driving by started to get curious about what we were doing. People in the cars would jump out with cameras in hand, hoping to get a prize winning shot. Time after time we were asked what we were looking for, to which we responded that we weren’t sure but it was big. Sometimes we would even get my brother to go out into the bushes and rustle them around, intriguing them further. The people would wait excitedly with us but then disappointingly move on as we would secretly giggle with delight over our prank.
Moral of the Story
I tell this story not just because it is humorous, or because it was based around our time in Island Park, but because it is a favorite memory of our family explorations. More often than not, trips do not turn out like we want them to. But that doesn’t make the experience less impactful. Nor should the thought of something going wrong stop you from going on those adventures. Though I’m sure my parents would have happily foregone a broken down car, twelve years later, my siblings and I still laugh over that experience. I truly believe that taking the time to explore with your family will bring you closer together. The unfortunate will happen; it is up to you to decide how you are going to remember that adventure.