My dad and I always have chuckled about the idea that Shoshone Falls is the “Niagara of the West.”
We fell for that moniker in July 1989, on a cross-country drive from Minnesota to California. What we found was some rocks, some concrete and precious little water.
Twenty-seven years later, we finally returned on Wednesday evening while driving home from Salt Lake City. And now we know what all the fuss is about.
Water was flowing nicely over the falls, a natural feature in the Snake River that has been augmented by a diversion dam and Idaho Power plant. Late spring and early summer is the prime viewing time for the falls, which is 900 feet wide with a 212-foot drop.
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But the good flow won’t last much longer. There’s about 1,000 cubic feet per second going over the falls this week. That flow is expected to remain steady until July 5, when it will drop to about 400 cfs indefinitely, said Brad Bowlin, a communications specialist for Idaho Power. Water will stop flowing through Milner Dam, upstream from the falls, so that water can be used for agricultural purposes, Bowlin said.
Idaho Power is required to allow 300 cubic feet per second to flow over the falls from April 1 to Labor Day, unless there’s less water than that available. Flows typically rise in late spring as water is released upstream for steelhead and juvenile salmon.
“If you get lucky enough to get there in a big water year, it’s really quite spectacular,” said Bowlin, who grew up in the Twin Falls area. “That’s one of the reasons we’re required to maintain those scenic flows — there is a lot of public interest.”
Idaho Power’s plant can take 900-1,000 cfs from the river at full strength. Any flows above that go over the falls.
A few modifications have been made to the falls over the years. A scenic-flow structure was added recently to distribute water more evenly across the falls in low-water situations. Some of the rocks have been “contoured and secured with concrete,” too, Bowlin said.
For more on Shoshone Falls, including a live camera, click here.
Admission is $3 per car at Shoshone Falls Park. It’s a 2-hour drive from Boise. Take I-84 east, turn toward Twin Falls on U.S. 93, turn left on Bridgeview Boulevard after crossing the Perrine Bridge, turn left on Pole Line Road, veer right on Eastland Drive, turn left on Falls Avenue and turn left on Champlin Road.