Into the Wild

By Beacon Staff

I have a friend who grew up hiking, biking, bouldering, skiing and kayaking all over Montana.

Sometimes it seems as if there is no trail or river he hasn’t explored. Other times – like when we end up traveling down a bumpy dirt road for 10 miles or bushwacking for 2 miles while he says things like, “I swear there used to be a trail right here” or “It wasn’t like this when I was a kid,” – I wonder if his memory could be failing him a bit.

The one thing I can be sure of when my buddy takes me on one of these abstruse adventures, I always feel a sense of triumph, and most of the time the end result is well worth the bushwack.

Last Friday, my friend told me about a waterfall he thought might be in or around a certain area near Swan Lake. Much to this cynic’s dismay, he was right. But that doesn’t mean we bypassed the bumpy dirt road or the wrong hike through a bunch of prickly devil’s club.

The good news is, we found the right trail to the waterfall, and except for a few downed trees, it’s not a bad little hike. We even biked it.

So if you’re up for a nice, solid day trip to a beautiful waterfall, and perhaps a little adventure, Arnica Falls (as my friend and I deemed it) is the perfect getaway.

How to get there: Starting in Bigfork, head southeast on MT Highway 35 toward Sunset Drive. Turn left at MT Highway 209 and go 4.8 miles. Turn left at MT Highway 209/MT Highway 83, and continue for about 13 miles. Turn left onto National Forest Road 680 – this road is right across the highway from the Swan Lake Wildlife Habitat Protection Area, which is a great place to view birds and other wildlife. Drive down Road 680 for 2.5 miles, and turn left at National Forest Road 5206. After about 4.6 miles, you should see a closed Forest Service road (boulders and a ditch are obstructing the road from vehicle use) in front of you. The falls is about a ¼-mile hike down this trail. You can bike or walk it. Arnica Falls will be on your left on an unnamed creek. The lower falls tiers have anywhere from 12- to 20-foot drops and the upper tier is about a 75-foot fall.

Be sure to leave early and give yourself plenty of daylight. Unless it’s super hot, wear long pants and some sturdy shoes. Also, try to take a friend with you, as well as some bear spray. This doesn’t seem to be a heavily traveled trail, so try to make a lot of noise so as not to surprise any bears if they happen to be around.

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