Teton Dam ruins.

Collapsed Teton Dam Overlook

Field review by the editors.

Newdale, Idaho

One Saturday morning, June 5, 1976, a family on vacation turned off an Idaho highway, following signs to an observation spot for the brand new Teton Dam.


The parking lot and platform were ideally located on the cliffs overlooking the vast earthen wall, 305 feet high and 3,000+ feet wide -- a spectacular achievement, now holding back a lake of water.

The family -- geography college professor Dale Howard, his wife Linda, and three daughters -- arrived at an auspicious moment for snapshots. The dam had been completed the previous November, and the 280-foot-deep reservoir had filled with water from Winter and Spring runoff. But that June morning there was frantic activity at its base. As the Howards and other tourists watched, two bulldozers far below pushed dirt against a "wet spot." Suddenly, the crew scrambled up ropes for safety as the dozers disappeared in mud.

Just before noon the crest of the dam gave way as water and mud poured into the canyon below. Dale snapped photos of the entire sequence of the dam's demise, in what may have been the most exciting vacation slide show ever. It was also one of America's largest engineering disasters.

Historical marker.

The ensuing flood left a wake of destruction. When it hit the city of Rexburg the water wall was 15 feet high. The deluge blasted through a lumber yard, scooping up logs, some of which smashed open gas storage tanks, which then exploded and set fire to trees and buildings. The flood water ravaged other towns before finally stopping at the American Falls Reservoir. It ultimately destroyed an 80-mile-long region and 100,000 acres of farm and grazing land. Eleven people died.

Investigations after the flood noted conditions that contributed to the failure: porous fractured volcanic rock and caverns (inadequately plugged with concrete grout), and excessive rainfall that filled the reservoir before primary outlet tubes were completed.

Today, travelers on Idaho Route 33 encounter a large historical marker, and can detour for a look from the same observation point. What remains is a huge scar and gap in the canyon. The overlook and weathered parking area is large, unattended. You may have it all to yourself. There's no reason to remove the observation site, or the dam remnants. And no one will try to build a dam there again.

Also see: Museum of Rexburg: Teton Flood Exhibit

Collapsed Teton Dam Overlook

Teton Dam Rd, Newdale, ID
From Teton, drive east seven miles on Hwy 33. Turn left at the historical sign and electrical substation onto Teton Dam Rd. Drive north 1.5 miles. When the road bends right, turn left into the parking lot. A short walkway leads to the overlook.
RA Rates:
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Nearby Offbeat Places

Frostop Root Beer MugFrostop Root Beer Mug, Ashton, ID - 12 mi.
Museum of Rexburg: Teton Flood ExhibitMuseum of Rexburg: Teton Flood Exhibit, Rexburg, ID - 13 mi.
Yellowstone Bear WorldYellowstone Bear World, Rexburg, ID - 20 mi.
In the region:
Spud Drive-In Giant Potato, Driggs, ID - 26 mi.

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August 14, 2020

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