Standing next to the thundering waters of Kootenai Falls in Kootenai National Forest is a must to experience if you’re traveling through Montana. This very accessible trail is good for all ages and there’s even a viewing point that is considered wheelchair accessible. Early summer is the best time to visit, but since it’s not a far walk, I recommend it any time you’re passing through this area.
We stood next to this impressive waterfall just a few weeks ago, and it’s even more impressive than you can describe. Tyler and I have been visiting Kootenai Falls for 13 years, and I’ve been to this spot at least 20 times now. And even though we go every June, it never disappoints or fails to impress.
This year we took a little extra time to sit on the rocks near where the waterfall thunders over the edge. You could feel the vibration of the water in the rocks we sat on and the sound of the water was incredibly peaceful.
We ended up spending about 45 minutes watching the water go by and just enjoying nature. It also happened to be very hot, so we found a spot to safely soak our feet. (You don’t want to be anywhere near the power of this water, it’s very dangerous!)
From there we headed back down the trail and over to the Kootenai Falls swinging bridge which gives you another vantage point of the river. And we also got to see a tour boat navigate the waters up into the falls a ways as well which was fun to watch.
Everything you need to know about Kootenai Falls
- Elevation gain – 150′
- Distance – roundtrip 1.6 miles to the falls and the swinging bridge.
- Rating – Easy
- Trailhead – is on US Highway 2, (US-2) 6 miles east of Troy and 12 miles west of Libby Montana at the Kootenai Historical Marker (at the 21-milepost). You will see brown historical signs just before the pull-off for the falls parking lot.
- Trail – dirt trail with rocky and rubbly sections throughout. There is some asphalt paved walkway at the beginning of the overlook before the trail begins that some people in wheelchairs may be able to navigate. The asphalt isn’t in good condition, so it would take some work to go the short distance to the overlook, but I have seen wheelchairs there.
- Bathrooms – The restroom facilities are pit toilets located about a 1-minute walk from the parking area.
- Facilities – the large parking lot can fit pull-throughs for campers and RVs. There’s also a small cafe concession service with snacks, drinks, ice cream, souvenirs, etc. operating from May through September. There is also a picnic area with a few picnic tables, but if you can get by without a table, I recommend eating closer to the falls.
- When to hike – late May through June is the best time of year to visit this waterfall for the most impressive amount of water. Once the snow runoff is done, the river and falls aren’t raging quite so much, but it’s still worth a stop.
The Kootenai Falls hike is 1.6 miles roundtrip to visit both the falls and the Kootenai Swinging Bridge.
I would say a resounding yes for 2 reasons. First up Kootenai Falls is impressive and the swinging bridge is always a fun place to see the river from. Secondly, it’s just a short walk from the parking area, so if you’re passing this way on a road trip, it’s definitely the perfect way to stretch your legs and sightsee as well!
The short answer is no, you can’t swim at Kootenai Falls. We’ve found a few places to wade around above the falls. And there’s another place you can get your feet in across the swinging bridge and up the trail a little way. However we’ve always been there during the high water season, and there’s never been any place close to the trail to swim.
The Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge is 210 feet across the river and 100 feet above the river. Refer to the photo below for some perspective of us standing in the middle of the bridge, we’re basically 2 little dots!
Tips for Kootenai Falls and the Swinging Bridge
- Late May through mid-June is the best time to visit for the most impressive amount of water thundering over the edge. But since this is a short adventure, it’s worth going anytime if you’re in the area.
- Bring a picnic to enjoy near the falls so you can spend a bit of extra time here.
- Be careful of the water, there is nothing between you and the power of this river, so keep a safe distance. This hike is very popular with families, but keep a very close eye to make sure no one gets near the water!
- This area is home to bighorn sheep, elk, and the black bear so be careful and keep a safe distance.
- Kootenai Falls is the largest undammed waterfall in Montana and the Pacific Northwest, and one of the largest in the United States by flow rate. You can’t possibly describe the way the water thunders by until you’re sitting next to it in awe of nature.
- 4 Hollywood movie shoots have been located at Kootenai Falls including The River Wild and The Revenant.
- The swinging bridge was originally built for Forest Service efforts to fight forest fires but has been rebuilt twice to ensure better safety for the increasing number of visitors.
- Kootenai Falls is a historically sacred site to the Kootenai Tribe, please respect this area and do your best to keep it pristine!
- The Kootenai River is relatively peaceful, but it goes through the China Rapids just before the falls, then plunges over 90 feet in less than a mile to make up these gorgeous falls.
- Canadian explorer David Thompson visited this area in the 1800s using trails and cairns marking the way made by the Kootenai Tribe.
More Travel Inspiration in this area
- 25 Best Hikes in Glacier National Park
- Going to the Sun Road Guide
- Top 10 Tips for Visiting Glacier National Park
- Top 3 Short Hikes in Glacier National Park
I sure hope you enjoy a visit to Kootenai Falls and the Swinging Bridge if you’re planning a trip to Montana. And for even more inspiration you can head on over to our Montana page for everything we’ve ever written to help you plan your trip.