There are more than 120 named waterfalls in the state of Montana and dozens of unnamed falls. Many waterfalls can be found in Glacier National Park or Yellowstone National Park, but there are plenty of gorgeous waterfalls you can access that are not in the National Park system.
Waterfalls are of particular interest to geologists as they reveal information about the underlying structure of the earth and how it erodes over time. Here are five impressive cascades in Montana that are relatively easy to get to and can be enjoyed by the whole family.
1. Kootenai Falls, Libby
Kootenai Falls, on the Kootenai River between the towns of Libby and Troy, is a sacred area to the Kootenai Indians. The site is believed to be the center of the world, where spiritual entities advise the tribe. Ancient sweat lodges and encampments have been found by archaeologists in the area.
The falls drop more than 300 feet in less than a mile, with the main falls being about 30 feet high. You can access the Kootenai Falls by an easy half-mile long foot trail from a parking area at milepost 21 along US Highway 2.
The trail offers great views of the river and includes a traverse of the river on a swinging bridge that was built by the Civil Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. The bridge offers a spectacular vantage to watch the waterfall.
There is a series of grated stairs that you must climb along the trail, however, a wheelchair-accessible paved trail about 500 feet long is also available to an overlook to view the falls.
2. Ousel Falls, Big Sky
The South Fork of the West Forks of the Gallatin River near Big Sky Montana includes a wooded alpine canyon, several rapids, and the stunning Ousel Falls. Ousel Falls, named after the dipper bird often seen bobbing along the shallows of the river in search of aquatic insects, is 50 feet tall and can be observed from the side, front, and from above.
Ousel Falls is accessed by an easy 1.6-mile hike from Ousel Falls Road off of Highway 191. The trail is shady and cool in the summertime and meanders over three bridges on the way to the falls overlook.
3. Palisade Falls, Bozeman
Right in the backyard of Bozeman in the Gallatin National Forest sits the beautiful Palisade Falls. This is a very popular falls to visit in the summer, and the hike in can be busy, but the 1-mile paved walk to view the 80-foot high falls offers a spectacular scene.
The vertical drop falls over an ancient lava flow, with columns of basalt offering stunning photographic opportunities. The trail is accessed from FS 3163 out of the Hyalite Reservoir campground off Hyalite Canyon Road. The trail is wheelchair accessible. If you wish to avoid the crowds, try getting there earlier in the day or in the off-season.
4. Natural Bridge Falls, McLeod
The Natural Bridge Falls on the Boulder River is within the Gallatin National Forest. The river is constrained by a deep chasm before dropping over a 100-foot tall limestone cliff face.
During times of low water, the river travels underground and spews out of the limestone wall through a network of dissolved limestone channels and caverns. A natural arch once was located over the Boulder River but collapsed in 1988.
The easy 1.4-mile hiking trail is well maintained and offers several viewing and interpretive areas of the river and falls. A new footbridge allows you to cross the Bolder River. The trailhead is off of Boulder Road (298) south of McLeod in the Gallatin National Forest.
5. Crow Creek Falls, Townsend
For those looking for a longer excursion, the trip up to Crow Creek Falls in the Helena National Forest makes for a good day hike to see one of the more impressive falls in the Elkhorn Mountains.
Originally part of a patented placer mining claim, the Crow Creek Falls became publicly accessible in 2004 after the Forest Service purchased the claim. The narrow falls are 50-feet tall, plunging into an alpine pool.
The hike goes through the river bottom, through meadows, and through deep timber offering a great slice of the varying ecology along the way. Short sections of steep climbs are interspersed with gradual grades, making the overall hike easy to moderate.
Crow Creek Falls is a longer hike, about 6 miles on a more moderate trail. The trailhead is off of Crow Creek Road (NF#424), North from Radersburg. This is a dirt road and can be rough.
There are many spectacular waterfalls in the state of Montana that travelers can enjoy. Getting off the road to enjoy these spectacular features under your own power allows for a fuller immersion into the landforms, ecosystems, and wildlife habitats that make them so special. These easy hikes will not disappoint.