Whether you are interested in historical landmarks, fishing or snowmobiling, Island Park’s natural splendor will captivate you. Most people think of an island as something belonging in an ocean. But deep within the boundaries of the Targhee National Forest lies an almost magical island that offers world-class fishing, snowmobiling and more.
Island Park, located south of West Yellowstone near the border of Yellowstone National Park, is an island of lakes, woods, rivers, meadows and mountains lightly sprinkled with ranches, summer homes and fishing lodges. Legendary fishing at the Henry's Fork of the Snake is but one of the superb angling locales. Other fishing jewels include Henry's Lake and the Island Park Reservoir.
In the winter, locals and the increasing number of visitors trade their fishing tackle for snowmobiles to explore the hundreds of miles of forest and mountain trails. Cascading over groomed trails and waist-deep powder on a powerful snowmobile cannot be beat.
Aside from the fishing and snowmobiling, bird watching, hiking, horseback riding, rodeo, cross-country skiing, hunting and touring, Island Park's scenic and historical sites are some of the other popular activities. Outfitters for nearly every activity abound, and there are also plenty of maps and guide books for the visitor who wants to experience Island Park on their own. Nearby Yellowstone Park and its trails and streams are also popular day trips from the area. Yellowstone's proximity is part of the allure of Island Park. Since the late 1800s, tourists commonly passed through Island Park on their way to Yellowstone.
Around 1908, the railway to the west gate of Yellowstone Park and to the new town of West Yellowstone, Montana brought more visitors, some of whom saw value in Island Park's surrounding forests. Thus began the logging boom. In the post WW II years, Island Park had the longest main street in America, a 33-mile narrow, incorporated strip on either side of highway 20. This strip allowed Island Park residents to bypass a law that threatened the lively gambling economy. The law stated that gambling could not occur outside incorporated cities and towns, so one businessman decided to make that 33-mile strip the entire town.
Like many western towns, Island Park got a huge boost from the advent of railroads. A legacy of the railroad boom, Harriman State Park, also known as the Railroad Ranch, is a tribute to several East Coast notables who brought the iron horse to Idaho. The Harriman and Guggenheim families operated the Railroad Ranch, finding a balance between conservation, ranching, and the needs of a small number of summer guests. A great concern for preserving the magnificent wildlife habitat prompted the Harriman family to donate the 15,000-acre ranch to the state of Idaho. Island Park is also an extremely convenient entrance to the southwest Bechler entrance to Yellowstone. The Bechler is home to the park's greatest number of waterfalls and some of its best hiking. Cave Falls is a popular destination for families and offers a wonderful opportunity to experience first hand the roar and spray of a waterfall and escape the heat on a summer day.
Nearby, Upper and Lower Mesa Falls offer views of the Island Park caldera's edge, dropping 105' and 65' respectively. These dramatic drops were created between 600,000 and two million years ago when an immense shield volcano exploded repeatedly, finally collapsing, leaving behind the world's largest caldera. Accessed by turning off of Highway 20 onto State Highway 47 and following the signs, the setting of the falls is the perfect location for a picnic or short hike.
Big Springs, the source of the Henry's Fork of the Snake River, is also well worth a visit. Because of Big Spring's constant 52° temperature and even, crystal clear flow, the Henry's Fork is a favorite early in the fishing season when other nearby rivers are cold and muddy from sediment picked up by the melting snow. Big Springs is also near the beginning of a beautiful 5-mile canoe or boat trip along a stretch of a National Scenic Water Trail. Other activities in Island Park include a bicycle ride or hike on the Old Union Pacific railroad bed, a game of golf at the Island Park Resort, a horseback trail ride or a visit to Johnny Sack's cabin. The longer you stop and linger in Island Park, the more difficult you may find it to leave, and the more you'll want to come back.