Swinging over the river
This hike has two features, a lot of bang for such a little walk: the bridge, the falls. Both of which can be accessed via trails thru a cedar grove from the parking lot.
12 people have died around this river so please be careful. Signs are posted as such when you start your hike from the parking area.
The Swinging Bridge was built by the Forest Service to access forest fires across the Kootenai River. It was destroyed by a 1948 flood. The bridge (featured in the movie The River Wild) is now on concrete piers and protected from flooding by Libby Dam 23 miles upstream. Going over this bridge and wandering to the east above the river, you will get a view of the largest undamned falls in the state of Montana: Kootenai Falls.
The brilliant turquoise blue water is colored from the residues and deposits of the steady carving of glaciers primarily located in its British Columbian headwaters. The geology of the area is fascinating and there are interpretive signs at the parking area to fill you in about some of the facts.
The falls can be reached via a short (half mile) hike from the parking area located on Highway 2. Starting from the parking lot, head east past two moss-roofed outhouses, a barbecue area, past some more interpretive signs, across a railroad overpass (overpass bridge, a metal staircase of 64 see-through metal grate steps) to an intersection where you have the option to go to the bridge first or the falls, your choice. It is a total of 1/4 mile hike to the falls from the signed intersection on a flat trail though there is one side trail for an extra viewpoint. Stay on the main trail to get to the falls.
The river drops 90 feet in less than a mile before creating the 30 foot high Kootenai Falls. The main falls is wide. After the initial drop the river splits around an island. According to what I read, the right channel, which is unseen to the eye of one on the left bank, tumbles over a twenty-foot drop called Tahiti falls. I read that: In the winter, the falls transforms into a spectacular cascading iceflow, and bald eagles can be seen perched in the bare cottonwood trees along the water's edge.
To get to the bridge from the intersection, it's about 1/3 mile thru some great smelling cedar forest (western and hemlock). You can hear the rush of the water as you get closer to the bridge which spans Kootenai River Gorge. Once on the bridge (limit of 5 people per crossing), you not only have a view of the river but of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness. After crossing the bridge I suggest taking at least the short walk to the (right) east, observe some of the geology (Stromatolites) and take in the falls from this viewpoint.
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WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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