The drive from Bonners Ferry, Idaho to Kalispell, Montana on Route 2 offers spectacular scenery of lakes, rivers, vistas of mountains and valleys. One of the must stops along the way is Kootenai Falls just west of Libby, Montana.
We have passed the parking lot for this hike many times as we have traveled back and forth to see family and this time we decided to stop. We are so glad we did. The hike is short, about a quarter-mile to the Falls and about a third of a mile to the Swinging Bridge, but well worth the time.
There is a short hike on a dirt trail to an overlook through the trees for those who cannot climb stairs or hike rough trails, but the best views are from the edge of the river. From the overlook, the rough and rocky trail runs through the forest on a very knobby trail with rocks and tree roots before coming to a bridge over the railroad tracks and 64 metal steps down to the level of the river.
From the bottom of the stairs, you can go right to the view of the falls or left to the Swinging Bridge. Both are worth doing. The trails run along the river and offer stunning views of the rapids and glacial river. The color of the river results from “glacial flour” consisting of fine-grained, silt-sized particles of rock. This sediment comes from rocks grinding together underneath the glacier. The fine powder is then suspended in the meltwater and absorbs and scatters varying colors of sunlight, giving a milky turquoise appearance.
Kootenai Falls is the largest undammed falls in Montana. It offers an unforgettable and breathtaking view as the Kootenai River loses 300 feet in elevation traveling a few hundred yards down river.
The Kootenai tribe, who once called this area home, regards the falls as a sacred site. They view it as the center of the world, a place where tribal members can commune with the spiritual forces that give direction to the tribe and to individual members.
The main falls is 30 feet high and can be viewed from a “swinging bridge” that crosses the river. During the Depression, CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) crews did a lot of work in the area constructing roads and bridges, including the first swinging bridge, across the Kootenai River.
There is a picnic area, food services, May through September, and restrooms at the trailhead.
There is a handicapped accessible paved trail about 4 foot wide and about 500 feet to an overlook where one can get a glimpse of the falls. It’s just a glimpse of white water through the trees, but the trail to this overlook is under the trees with picnic tables and benches along the way. There are handicap-accessible restrooms near the parking area.