Hike to Willow Creek Falls

Montana Willow Creek Falls Trailhead

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If you love the mountains, scenic waterfalls, a good challenge and a chance to encounter a bear or two, you should probably check out 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 the trail head, so make sure to bring everything you may need with you. The road in can get a little dicey, making 4-wheel drive and good clearance on your vehicle a huge plus.

After you turn onto the Forest Service Road from Beaver Willow Road, you'll know you've found the trail head when you reach a gate across the road. Technically, you can go through the gate but the range rider has a cabin and livestock inside the gate so we like to stay outside and walk the extra half mile.

After you park and unload, crawl through the fence and commence your journey. The first mile and half takes you through aspens, across Willow Creek (which isn't very deep and has a small rock crossing) and ascends to the base of Fairview Mountain, which reaches 8,264 feet. You'll hit a flat plateau at the top and that's where the fun begins.

After crossing an open area, you'll encounter another stand of aspens, cross through another open spot, then the trail winds through a thickly forested area. Once you're through that, you'll hit open trail consisting mainly of rocks. The upper slope goes straight up while the lower slope descends rather steeply. The trail is wide enough for a horse but not much wider than that.

There's a pretty decent elevation gain as you work your way up the gorge, but the scenery down below is enough to distract you from the pain. Aspens span the center of the gorge, spotted with three visible water falls while expansive rock features shoot into the sky.

As you get farther up the gorge, you can look back and see Haystack Butte and all the other peaks that dot the landscape. Continue up the trail until you reach Fairview Plateau where the series of falls ends; you'll know it when you hit it. Enjoy the scenery and have a snack before turning back around. 

While the scenery is breathtaking and the hike is epic, you'll be immersed in serious bear country. Grizzlies and black bear are routinely seen in the area, so please be alert and prepared -- pack your bear spray and be aware of how to safely hike when bears are present.

Pack List

  • Pack with:
    • Bear Spray
    • Water
    • Food
    • Camera
    • TP (no outhouses available)
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Activities:

Backpacking, Camping, Chillin, Fishing, Fitness, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:

Intermediate

Season:

Spring, Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:

Out-and-Back

Distance:

4.5 Miles

Elev. Gain:

1000 Feet

Rating:

Features:

Dog Friendly
Forest
Waterfall
Wildlife

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How to Get There

6 months ago

Winter Windy Wander

Beautiful hike with varied landscapes. Aspens, scree field, waterfalls, and more. Multiple waterfalls in the first half of the hike were fantastic in their frozen state. The flat saddle at the end of the hike can be your final destination (~3.3 miles) or you can climb the hill on the right of the path for a beautiful Summit. It adds about another mile, but it makes for a great break spot with views in all directions. Several points along the trail have extreme drop offs, so children should be closely supervised during those portions of the hike.

6 months ago

Added by Jen Weir

Montana native, writer, CSCS, military wife, mom and Wonder Woman protégé. I love books, beer, bacon, mountains, muscles, sunshine and getting outside with my family every chance I get.

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