The Pacific Northwest has been setting precipitation records since last October, leaving normally dry trails muddy and damaged by erosion. Avoid those trails, and seek out a trail where water is the main attraction. As the largest undammed waterfall in Montana, Kootenai Falls is well worth a visit in any season; however, the spring run-off makes its churning water especially scenic right now.

From a paved parking area along Highway 2, the trailhead boasts a seasonal ice cream stand, several picnic tables, outhouses, and interpretive signage about the history of the area. The narrow hiking trail is paved for the first tenth mile, then begins a series of switchbacks down the slope to a railroad crossing. A set of stairs and a concrete walkway takes hikers up and over the train tracks. If you hear a train whistle in the distance, train buffs in the group may want to linger as the pedestrian overpass provides an excellent viewing platform to watch the thundering trains.

A short distance beyond the train tracks, the trail forks. Take the trail to the right first for the best view of the falls. Keep close watch on small hikers when approaching the rocks near the river. Kootenai Falls boasts a wide series of cascades rather than one dramatic drop, and there are excellent vantage points from several points along the river’s edge.

When you return to the trail junction, continue downstream for the impressive swinging bridge. The signs warn that no more than five people should be on the bridge at one time, and crossing is sure to raise the heart rate of anyone with a fear of heights. The narrow bridge allows just enough room for two hikers to squeeze past one another should they meet while crossing. There are additional rocky viewpoints on the far side of the bridge, and several spots that are popular with local fisherman. Take in the view, then retrace your steps to return to the parking lot, or extend the hike by continuing up FS trail #218 to Koot Creek Canyon.

Round Trip Distance

1.5 miles with 200′ elevation gain.

 

Getting There

Take Highway 2 eastbound through the Idaho Panhandle and into Montana. Continue three miles beyond Troy (past the intersection with Highway 56) to Kootenai Falls County Park. No parking pass required. //

 

Holly Weiler can often be found wandering Inland Northwest trails with a crosscut saw or other trail maintenance tools in tow on the Washington Trails Association trail maintenance projects she leads.