Kootenai Falls, Montana, is a breathtaking bucket list-worthy place that instantly seduced my adventurous spirit.
As a traveler, I make a point of taking an enjoyable nature-filled trip at least once a year. With the pandemic still making travel particularly difficult this year, I decided to look for a local adventure to satisfy my wanderlust.
The forests and waterfalls of Montana are calling out to me. Join me as I plan out my adventure through the Kootenai National Forest to the Kootenai Falls, as well as the surrounding areas and towns like Libby and Troy. Here are some of the amazing things I want to see and do on my trip:
Kootenai National Forest
Stretching over 2.2 million acres, The Kootenai National Forest is nearly three times the size of Rhode Island. The forest is bordered on the north by British Columbia, Canada, and on the west by Idaho as it lies in the Northwest corner of Montana.
The forest’s stunning mountain ranges call out to my nature-loving side. I’m particularly excited to see the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness’s highest point, Snowshoe Peak, a whopping 8,738 feet high and promises stunning views.
Activities Within The Park
Aside from staring at the stunning mountains, I look forward to hiking around the beautiful Ten Lakes Scenic area. I haven’t quite decided if I also plan to take advantage of the horse or bicycle trails just yet, but the option is there if I choose to do so later.
Honestly, I plan to spend a lot of time enjoying the water recreation activities offered at the park, especially at Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River. When I’m done exploring the fun stuff, I’ll probably spend some lazy afternoons swimming, enjoying a boat ride, or even fishing.
While relaxing for a bit is fun, the adventure must continue. Hidden within the Kootenai National Forest is the Libby Creek Recreational Gold Panning Area, just 23 miles south of Libby.
At the creek, visitors can pan for gold. Even more exciting is that you can keep any gold you do find, keep in mind that there are a few rules disclosed before you begin panning. Best of all, it is the perfect opportunity for the whole family.
Aside from the activities I already mentioned, the forest also offers rock climbing and lookout rentals. And although I plan to visit in the Summer, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that The Forest also houses the Turner Mountain Ski Area that boasts a 2110 feet vertical and offers cross country skiing and snowmobiling.
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Places To Stay
Since I intend to camp in the park, I’m taking my picnic blanket and a good book along with me to kick back and relax, surrounded by the wilderness.
If camping isn’t your thing, don’t fear, the park also has cabins or houseboats on Lake Koocanusa (which I might try out if I get cold feet about camping.) There are also a variety of hotels in the area and more luxury options like log cabins and guest houses just outside the park itself.
Still inside the forest and an obvious must-see is the main reason for my trip; The Kootenai Falls! The stunning waterfall is a result of the Kootenai River entering a canyon and flowing over. This makes it one of the largest free-flowing waterfalls in the northwest.
While researching the area, my need to visit was solidified by the rich history of the falls. The Kootenai Falls is the setting of the movie “River Wild,” and lies within the sacred lands of the Kootenai tribe whose ancestors had lived in the region.
According to research, the tribe views the site as the center of the world. Thus the tribal members often gather at the falls to communicate with the spiritual forces to get direction. Archaeologists also discovered that the Kootenai built encampments along the river.
The Kootenai Falls Trail
Getting to the waterfalls is relatively easy via the 0.8 mile Kootenai Falls Trail, a well-known back trail near Troy, Montana. The dirt trail cuts through the forest and gives hikers glimpses of the river.
It is the perfect hike for any skill level, much to my relief because I’m certainly no pro-hiker. There are many benches and boulders along the trail should you need to sit down or take a break during the walk.
Though the trail is reportedly Dog friendly, some reviews warn against it unless you can carry your pet through some of the rougher terrains. One hiker’s review of the trail read:
“Easy for humans but not for dogs. You walk through a bridge over railroad tracks then down fire tower-like steel stairs with sharp metal so think twice before taking your dog unless you can carry them. One couple couldn’t get their golden retriever to go back up the stairs because be was so afraid and the sharp steps hurt his paws. It was super hot and the dog was roasting. Also saw a few terrified dogs on the swinging bridge.”
With this in mind, I’m two-minded about taking any pets with me unless I use the alternative paved trail designed for disabled visitors to an overlook with a view of the falls.
Unfortunately, after the overlook, the path becomes quite rough and challenging to climb. However, while the reviews were discouraging regarding pets and handy-capped access, they helped confirm that the best time to walk the trail is between June and September.
Picnic At The Falls
There is a stunning picnic area set up by The Libby Lions Club in a grove of trees near the parking at the beginning of the trail. The fully equipped picnic site has picnic tables, barbecue areas, and restroom facilities.
The site also has a concession service open from May to September selling food and souvenirs and providing visitors with information about the falls. The store also has an ATM on-site.
Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge
While a picnic is a great idea, I am more interested in the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge. The bridge hovers thirty-five feet above the raging Kootenai River. The original structure of the bridge was washed away in the spring of 1948. It was replaced with what is now fondly referred to as The Swinging Bridge in 1950.
The new bridge was built higher up and included upgrades like solid concrete foundations for the stair towers. Structure aside, the bridge is the perfect place to get some Instagram-worthy snaps, but I also heard that it is a great way to access a small area on the banks of the river.
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Other Activities At The Falls
Though you can only cross the river using the bridge, you can swim in the river once you are across as there is a small beach or bank area that is safe for swimmers.
Another option, it to follow the trail to the Kootenai Falls. The natural pools in front of the falls are perfect for catching a dip and cooling off after the long hike.
After days within the forest, I’ll probably be ready to adventure outside the park. Since The Kootenai National Forest falls within the Libby Area, it’s the nearest place to explore outside the park. Since the area has multiple camping grounds, I plan to continue roughing it.
There are many hotels in the region, though.
The area is also known for its dear, elk, moose, bear, and mountain sheep hunting and offers many local Outfitters & Guides to those visiting from outside the state. However, there are far more intriguing sites to see for those of us who are uninterested in hunting.
History lovers will be thrilled to note that the city of Libby has something just for you. Sitting less than a mile south of the town on Highway 2 is The Heritage Museum.
Opened in 1978, the Museum is a piece of history itself. However, it also boasts multiple exhibits with artifacts from Native Americans, loggers, trappers, and pioneers of the area.
To my surprise, the entire project was initially started by volunteers who wanted to celebrate and preserve the area’s unique history. To this day, the Museum boasts a variety of cultural and natural history exhibits.
I am most intrigued by the famed wildlife displays that include a silver-tipped grizzly bear. Unfortunately, travelers should note that the Museum is only open during Summer.
Cabinet View Golf Course
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After a trip down memory lane at the Museum, I know I’ll be ready to spend the rest of the day playing a casual game of golf. Luckily for me, Libby has precisely what I need at Cabinet View Golf Course.
Sitting atop a hill overlooking the city is the stunning 9-hole course with uninterrupted views of the Cabinet Mountains. It boasts a driving range, clubhouse, practice green, and pro-shop and hosts various leagues and tournaments during the Summer. Visitors can rent carts and clubs.
After unwinding and resting for a day or two in Libby, I know I’ll be ready to move on to my next adventure. The City of Troy appears to be the perfect place to turn to with its wide variety of accommodation options which offer a nice break from camping.
The lowest point in Montana at 1,892 feet above sea level, Troy lies on the banks of the Kootenai River. Troy has something for everyone, whether you’re looking to go fishing or explore local farmers’ markets and rodeos.
Ross Creek Cedar Grove
Ross Creek Cedar Grove is filled with western red cedars. Located just 29 miles south of Troy, the area is one of the things you need to do when visiting this county.
The grove boasts a temperate rain forest climate that many believe helps its cedars grow as big as 10-12 feet in diameter and around one hundred seventy-four feet tall. Some of the trees in the grove are at least five hundred years old.
Visitors can enjoy an easy nature trail loop that is just a mile long and filled with informative signs explaining the history of the area and local ecology. It is family and wheelchair-friendly.
There are no camping grounds here however if you would like to stay in this beautiful location I recommend checking out Bad Medicine and Dorr Skeels campgrounds nearby.
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Troy Museum & Visitor’s Center
The Troy Museum and Visitor Center is a great place to stop off at Highway 2 on the east side of Troy. This attraction which is run by volunteers houses a variety of historical items from the local area.
At the very front of the museum you are greeted by a large wooden sign made by a man named Dave Clarke of Eureka, Montana amazingly using only a chainsaw.
Aside from the artifacts on display, the Museum also hosts many events. One such event is the annual Arts on the Grass event co-hosted with Troy Glass Art Guild.
The Troy Museum and Visitors’ Center is also the home of the local Frisbee golf course. It also boasts easily accessible public restrooms, a public posting area, picnic tables, and a parking area.
Roosevelt City Park
The park will be my final stop before I make my way home. Roosevelt City Park on the banks of the Kootenai River is near the Troy Bridge. However, be prepared to cross the BNSF railroad tracks to get to the park.
Trust me; the trip is well worth the effort as the park has tons to offer. From picturesque picnic areas to its many sports fields, pavilion, and children’s fishing pond, it’s the perfect place to take the family for a day out. The park also has a playground and public bathrooms.
But that’s not all. It also boasts a long list of things to do, including a water play area, skate park, and yurt rental for visitors. No wonder it is a firm favorite for weekends, even among locals.
I plan to visit the park just in time for Troy’s Old Fashioned 4th of July special event. Other events to attend at the park include the Kootenai River Bluegrass Festival and Troy’s Annual Easter Egg Hunt.