Located inside of the beautiful Kootenai National Forest, Kootenai Falls is a spectacular site to visit in the northwest corner of Montana. The Kootenai National Forest comprises over 2.2 million acres of land, and while Kootenai Falls is a small piece of the forest, it is certainly beautiful, easy to get to and worth a few minutes (or even a full day!) of your time.
Most people come to the area to see the falls, either from an overlook or up close. But in addition to the falls, which drop over 300 feet in a short distance over a series of rockfalls, there is great hiking and a suspension bridge that is a ton of fun to cross. It also leads to completely different views from the other side of the Kootenai River.
Most people don’t find themselves in northwest Montana randomly, so it does take a bit of work to get here. However, Kootenai Falls is a fantastic stop to help break up your trip on the way into Glacier National Park, which is just about 2.5 hours to the east. It is also a good day trip if you are staying in the Whitefish, MT or Kalispell, MT areas.
We highly recommend the stop, even if it is only for 15 minutes. Here are some tips on what to see and do and what you can expect when visiting Kootenai Falls!
HOW TO GET TO KOOTENAI FALLS, MONTANA
There are restrooms at the trailhead and no entry fee.
KOOTENAI FALLS HIKING
Kootenai Falls Trail map, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service
There are two main hiking trails for Kootenai Falls. Both trails are fairly easy. However, the biggest issue you need to watch out for is the that the trails require you to be steady on your feet. The trails start off with pavement, but change to stairs and dirt quickly. Along the trails you’ll encounter plenty of roots from trees which are tripping hazards.
Once you arrive at the falls, there are no guardrails. It’s also easy to get up-close to the Kootenai River, but to do this you’ll have to walk on boulders which take a lot of care.
Both trails are accessed from the same trailhead on the eastern side of the parking lot. A large sign marks the trailhead and is easy to find.
Here are a few details about the hiking trails at Kootenai Falls:
- The Kootenai Falls Trail is the most popular trail and is the best way to get up and close to the falls quickly. This an easy 0.8-mile (round-trip) hike that descends a total of 90 feet on the way down to the falls. After first starting off in the forest, after about 0.2 miles, the trail comes to a bridge that crosses two track that belong to the BNSF railroad. This railroad route is quite popular, and It's likely that you’ll encounter a train or two that passes under the bridge while you are on the trail. If you are on the bridge when a train comes, you’ll be able to feel it shake a bit, which the kids thought was really cool. After the bridge, the then comes to a fork. To get to the Kootenai Falls, take a right. After another 0.2 miles of flat hiking, the trail arrives at Kootenai Falls.
- If at the fork you take a left instead of a right, you’ll be on the Kootenai Falls and Swinging Suspension Bridge Trail. We recommend that you take both trails while visiting, and if you do the entire trail will be 1.6-miles (round-trip) with about 150 feet of elevation change during the hike. The hike to the suspension bridge is fairly flat. After waiting your turn and crossing the bridge, the trail continues about 0.1-mile to a viewpoint on the northwestern side of Kootenai Falls. The view of the falls doesn’t get old-you'll find that seeing it from all three points provides a different perspective and are all worth seeing. If you are short on time, just visit the suspension bridge and return back to the trailhead.
KOOTENAI FALLS SWINGING BRIDGE
Once you arrive at the bridge, you’ll be shocked at what you’ll find! The Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge is just that-it's a suspension bridge that swings as you cross it. The more people that are on the bridge, the more it will swing, which is why the number of people allowed on the bridge is limited.
The suspension bridge is 210 feet long and sits 100 feet over the water. It can be a bit daunting if you are scared of heights, but trust us, it’s worth it!
Make sure you are patient while waiting in line, but also don’t take too much time while on the bridge so that others may come onto the bridge without waiting too long.
A new bridge is being built in 2019, but the current bridge has been in service since 1948. It was originally built to help firefighters access the area across the water. The new bridge is being built just upstream of the long-standing bridge. It is also going to be a bit lower and able to handle more traffic, so wait times should be reduced significantly, if not eliminated.
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT NEARBY KOOTENAI FALLS
If you are passing through this area, you also have to visit Glacier National Park, which is just 2.5 hours to the east. Another good stop for a picnic, boating and camping is the beautiful Logan State Park, which is 1 hour to the east.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON MONTANA FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Make sure you check out our other blogs on Montana.
- We’d love to work with you to create one of our unique, custom, vintage-style travel posters. Check out our gallery and see if you see something that interests you. We’d love to work with you!
- In addition to our custom photos, we also have a large array of vintage-style posters, ready to be printed and shipped. Check out our Kootenai Falls poster, created in the WPA style!