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This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Kootenai Falls and Swinging Bridge, MT

no permit
41 1 0
Guide 1 Triplog  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List MT > Western
4 of 5 by 1
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Difficulty 1 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 1.44 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,953 feet
Accumulated Gain 162 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 1.5
Kokopelli Seeds 2.25
Interest Perennial Waterfall & Perennial Creek
Backpack No
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
41  2014-07-24 tibber
Author tibber
author avatar Guides 21
Routes 574
Photos 25,460
Trips 834 ( 10,369 miles )
Age 63 Female Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
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Preferred   May, Sep, Apr, Jun
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:17am - 7:00pm
0 Alternative
Culture Nearby
Swinging over the river
by tibber

Likely In-Season!
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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2014-08-07 tibber
    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.

    Most recent Triplog Review
    Kootenai Falls and Swinging Bridge
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    On my summer vacation and on our way to Priest Lake, ID to visit with relatives, my cousin Connie and me had to travel west on Hwy 2 in Montana; something neither of us Montana natives had done. This meant passing thru Libby and Troy, Montana. Obviously, neither of us had been in either place. I put up a notice on FB regarding our travel plans and where would people suggest we stop. This place was recommended by a couple people so I put it on the agenda.

    We had just finished our stay in Woods Bay in Bigfork, MT with some other cousins so now it was time to head out (don't want to wear out the welcome from our two day stay). It was a beautiful day for our drive :) , though a bit blustery at times. We grabbed a Subway lunch at Libby to take with us to eat at our next scenic stop. The folks at the Subway seemed delighted to talk with the tourists about the touristy things we had planned.
    Well the lunch stop was scenic in the cedar grove and there are even picnic tables but it was windy and cold so we just ate in the car :cry: .

    We bundled up a bit before heading out on our little hike to the Bridge and Falls. The outhouses have moss tops 8) so that was kind of interesting. There is also a refreshment house. We read a couple of the signs along the way including two warning signs about 12 deaths that have occurred down by the water. We finished walking thru the very nice picnic area and headed toward what appeared to be a bridge and it was; going over the double set of railroad tracks. There was a long row of train cars parked there and one was getting ready to pass thru; missed the picture of the engine.

    We walked across and down this very interesting steel staircase and onto the path that takes you to the intersection where you can go left to the bridge or right to the falls. We chose the Bridge first in case the weather would turn. You walk thru the cedar tree-lined path and soon you get glances and sounds of the river. We finally arrived at the bridge where you have to walk up a few stairs. Connie and I were going to let others pass but they backed out. It may be a bit frightening with the roaring river running far below.

    I got the camera rolling and across this narrow suspension "swinging" bridge :whistle: we went enjoying the views to each side of us. The rush of the dark turquoise color water 100 feet below is intense. (Oh, I just read that the bridge is 210 feet long.) Once to the other side it looked like there was a trail that ran straight and one to the right. We decided to stay close to the river and walked a bit to above where the water made a slight curve. The geology right around here was great with the flat rocks showing old signs of glaciation or being at the bottom of water flow.

    Also, in the distance is a set of falls :DANCE: . In the middle of the Kootenai River is a rock formation that resembles a ship. The water is forced on either side of the “ship’s hull”, with part of the overflow traveling along a wide ledge that runs the length of the rock. As the river drops in altitude the ledge is gradually suspended several feet above water-level and creates a small but pretty fall at the back of the “ship”.

    At this point we are very near where the Pacific Ocean began or ended depending on what direction you were coming from. Upon my arrival at GNP a few days prior, I had bot a book on the Natural History of Glacier National Park and of course, that involved stories of the formation of the earth in western Montana and the Idaho panhandle to Sandpoint, ID where the ocean started at one time.
    The last advance glaciers reached their maximum extent 15,000 years ago and had almost completely melted by 10,000 years ago. It was during this glacial advance that a finger from the glacial ice sheet moved south through the Purcell Trench in northern Idaho, near present day Lake Pend Oreille (ponderay) by Sandpoint, ID, dammed the Clark Fork River creating Glacial Lake Missoula.

    This information would play a big role while I was in GNP, our travels on Hwy 2 and then back on Montana 200... and lucky for all of you ;) , I will be doing a couple trip logs on these scenic drives of our "glacial geology" road trip. Those few chapters in that book really inspired me to want to know and see more.

    We lingered on the bridge for just a bit, soaking it all in. Truly amazing :y: . Next it was to see the falls. We really had no idea what was in store as we walked back to the intersection and continued east. We saw a few other people who had come from a side trail but we kept going as we wanted to see the main show. And WOW was it something; though not as tall as I thot they might be. The terraced bedrock of Kootenai Falls plummets forty feet over one of the Northwest’s most voluminous waterfalls. It is indeed a marvelous and dramatic site! and it's loud. The first 30 seconds of this other person's video from 2 years ago shows the scale of the falls much better than I did: The water was flowing even heavier then when we were there.

    We hung around for a bit and tried to get a little higher to see what looked like a sideways bedrock shelf that the falls were sliding over upstream. It was a bit surreal. The Falls put off a good spray too. We are standing on an open and large bedrock area and when it's not so loud, it would be a fun place to picnic.

    We headed back to the TH. We stopped on top of the railroad pedestrian bridge as a long train passed below us. We missed the engine again but were hoping for a caboose; nope. I read somewhere that a train passes thru here every 45 minutes. Back in the cedar grove I got some pictures of the moss-covered tree trunks. The low lighting here and our next stop didn't help with the picture and movie taking but as you know, that didn't stop me from doing both ;) .

    I highly recommend this if you're in the area. You get a lot of bang for the buck; it's family friendly for the most part too.

    Video of the Swinging Bridge hike (seen in the movie "The River Wild":
    Video of the Kootenai Falls, Montana's largest undamned falls:

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    US Hwy 2 between Libby and Troy, milepost 21. (3 miles east of Troy, MT or 20 miles west of Libby, MT).
    There is a concession stand, restrooms and interpretive signs.
    page created by tibber on Aug 07 2014 9:57 am
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