No trip to Montana is complete without seeing the Kootenai Falls and Swinging Bridge near Libby, Montana. Just an hour and a half from The Tobacco River Ranch, the drive is one of the most beautiful scenic drives in Montana – and possibly in the U.S.
The Kootenai Falls and Swinging Bridge are located on Highway two just outside of Libby, Montana. The Kootenai Falls have long been one of the best kept secrets in Montana, and are among the Crown Jewels of the Treasure State. But no mention of the Falls is complete without first honoring the land, and the history of the Kootenai First Peoples. According to the Native American Rights Fund;
“The Kootenai Falls were the center of life for the Kootenai or “Ktunaxa” Indians, and the tribe has fought relentlessly for years to ensure the falls are preserved and not subject to being damned or altered as have been the fate of so many other rivers across the United States. The Kootenai were a very religious tribe – and the spiritual aspects of hunting and fishing were undertaken only with the most thorough spiritual preparation. Religion for the Kootenai was interwoven with the most mundane and ordinary aspects of life. Visions and the seeking of visions played a fundamental role in the Kootenai religion. And those visions were quite often sought at the Kootenai Falls – the spiritual focus of the entire Kootenai religion. It was at this site that members of the aboriginal Kootenai bands sought communion with their gods. And it is at this same site, Kootenai Falls, that now, centuries later, the Kootenai continue to seek communion with their gods. Kootenai Falls for the Kootenai people is comparable to other master shrines in other religions such as Mecca in Islam or the Vatican in Christianity.”
It seems obvious to us that anyone who visits the falls, and witnesses the power of the thundering water, and sees it’s emerald and turquoise waters under a blue sky – or inspects the amazing rock geology on either sides of the falls, will agree…this place is sacred.
Downstream from Libby, the Kootenai River enters a canyon and flows over Kootenai Falls, one of the largest free-flowing waterfalls in the northwest. The calm river suddenly gathers momentum surging first through China Rapids and then over Kootenai Falls, dropping 90 feet in less than a mile. The main falls is 30 feet high and can be viewed from a “swinging bridge” that crosses the river. During the Depression, the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) crews constructed the surrounding roads and bridges, including the first swinging bridge across the Kootenai River.
A forest trail leads from the highway parking lot down to the Falls (to the Right) and to the Swinging Bridge and makes a nice hike that is not too strenuous. Be aware that the trail crosses a grated bridge over the railroad tracks which many dogs don’t like crossing. Please also use extreme caution around the falls – there are no fences or barriers and the rocks are extremely slippery! There is no swimming allowed in the area – for good reason.
To get there from the ranch, follow highway 37 South – a gorgeous drive along the beautiful cliffs of Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River. Consider a stop at Stone Hill Climbing Area, or the Libby Dam. Pro tip: Drive back to the ranch along the other side of the river to get a different view!