Hike to Cataract Falls

0.5 miles  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Jen Weir

Take a quick 0.5 mile roundtrip hike to a tranquil waterfall and enjoy expansive mountain vistas. 

Located in the Lewis and Clark National Forest on the Rocky Mountain Front, this hike will give the best bang for your buck -- it's about as easy as they come but still boasts outstanding views. The falls are roaring in the spring with snow melt, tranquil in the summer and fall, and permit some decent ice climbing in the winter months.

It takes a reasonable amount of time to get to the trailhead, especially when you consider the hike is only about a half mile roundtrip (about seven minutes one way and that’s 2-year-old speed). But the drive is well worth it – the gradual approach of the Rocky Mountain Front is pretty epic.

The hike starts at Elk Creek Trailhead where there is ample parking, a hitching post, outhouse and signage regarding the area. Elk Creek, which you'll have to cross several times, runs parallel to the parking area.

As you look up from the trailhead, you'll see Steamboat Mountain towering in front of you at 8,297 feet. The trail is easy to spot -- just look for the clearing towards the mountain. Here you'll come upon your first creek crossing; there is a sturdy rock path across so you should stay dry, unless the water is high from run-off.

The trail itself is very hiker friendly – you’ll find a bit of gravel but mostly soft dirt. There are three creek crossings to get to the falls, but they are maintained and even if you go in, the creek is only a few inches deep. The trail is littered with wildflowers and wildlife can be observed on a good day -- including bears, so stay alert.

A couple hundred feet into the trail you’ll find a sign directing you to the left (going the other direction will take you on a two-hour excursion to the top of Steamboat Mountain). The trail is mainly soft dirt and moss with the occasional rock and stump sticking up, so make sure you watch your footing. There’s no question of when you reach the falls; the water cascades off a steep granite face a hundred or so feet up. You’ll find smaller falls over logs and rocks as the water works its way down the mountain and flows into Elk Creek.

There is a partial trail (possibly a full trail for the experienced hiker) across the granite, giving you a bird’s eye view of the falls as well. The pool the falls flow into is shallow – great to soak the footsies in if you’re up for some chilly mountain water. Take a seat and enjoy your peaceful surroundings on one of the large rocks that litter the area.

Tips: 

  • At the trailhead you’re about an hour away from the nearest town (Augusta), so you’ll want to pack food and water with you. 
  • Keep your pooch on a leash to prevent any unnecessary animal encounters or other problems that can occur. 
  • Because the trail is so remote, it’s never overcrowded – most the time you’ll be lucky to encounter even one other hiker. 
  • If you venture out in the winter, you’ll need to, at least, have four-wheel drive if not chains. The snow can get pretty deep up there and it’s easy to get stuck – the chance that someone will stumble upon you way up there to help you out is pretty low. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you plan to be back.
Read More

Tags

Chillin
Photography
Running
Snowshoeing
Hiking
Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Forest
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

Family Friendly Fun

Looking for an awesome family friendly short hike with spectacular views? Look no further!

Amazing!

Probably one of my most favorite waterfalls in Montana

Explorer

🥈 Contributor

about 5 years ago

Beautiful views and about as family friendly as it gets -- we had a 2, 3 & 4 year old that hiked it with no problems (except for a mishap with a toe and a rock). If you have free time on a weekend and want to get out to enjoy some awesome Montana scenery, head to Cataract Falls.

Stay Nearby

Continental Divide Trail

Kenck Cabin

Overview Guests can stay at Kenck Cabin for a rustic getaway in the fresh mountain air. The cabin was built in 1924 by a traveling doctor who arrived in the area in 1904 and spent his entire career...

Lincoln, Montana

Aspen Grove Group Use Area

Overview Aspen Grove Group Use Campground sits in forested mountain terrain on the banks of the Blackfoot River in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. At an elevation of 4,800 feet ben...

Lincoln, Montana

Cummings Cabin

Overview Located 8.5 miles east of Lincoln, Montana, Cummings Cabin is a historic structure, representative of the old mining cabins that dotted the countryside in the greater Lincoln area around ...

Ovando, Montana

Monture Guard Station Cabin

Overview Monture Guard Station sits in the Lolo National Forest in western Montana, offering excellent winter recreation for visitors.Recreation Monture Guard Station offers modern amenities and fu...

Nearby Adventures

  • Hike Crown Mountain, Augusta

    Located an hour and forty minutes east of Great Falls Montana, Crown Mountain is a fun day hike, and you'll see few if any other people. The nearest town is Augusta and a great place to stop for a burger and beer at Buckhorn Bar afterward.  From A...

    8 miles 4200 ft gain

  • Hike to Willow Creek Falls

    The hike up Willow Creek Gorge is one of my favorites so far. Unfortunately, because of the terrain and elevation gain, I wouldn't recommend taking young kids but if you do, make sure they're attached to you in some way. There are no services at t...

    4.5 miles 1000 ft gain

  • Hike the Continental Divide Trail via Roger Pass

    After driving over Rogers Pass more times than I can count, we finally made it a point to stop and check out the Continental Divide Trail No. 440 -- glad we did. If you've driven the pass, you've seen the trail head about 66 miles west of Great F...

    2.33 miles 665 ft gain

  • Pick Huckleberries at Reservoir Lake

    If you live anywhere near the Pacific Northwest, you've likely heard of huckleberries -- if you haven't, what are you doing with your life? These juicy little gems are worth every once it takes to pluck them from the bush. While there are plenty o...