A visit to Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front will give you stunning views of rugged peaks, crystal-clear rivers, and serene forests. Every time we head out there for an adventure, we are truly impressed with the pristine wilderness. The Willow Creek Falls Trail offers up some of these amazing views in a fairly short distance, making this a pretty rewarding hike. Read on for more details on hiking the Willow Creek Falls Trail.
Getting to the Willow Creek Falls Trailhead
From the town of Augusta head west on Benchmark Road. This road heads past Nilan Reservoir and Anderson Lake towards the Rocky Mountain Front. Keep right onto Beaver Willow Road, then left onto Augusta Ranger Station Road. From Augusta, it is just over 17 miles to the ranger station and trailhead.
Much of the road between Augusta and the trailhead is a well-maintained dirt surface. However, the last couple miles of the road are pretty bumpy. It can get rough after recent rain. We made it just fine in a Rav4, but wouldn’t recommend driving down here with a low clearance vehicle. If you head back there and get to a spot you’d rather not drive down, there are a couple spots to pull off a ways before the trailhead. This will add to your hike distance.
Willow Creek sits in a national forest and wilderness area and there are no fees to park at the trailhead and hike here.
The Willow Creek Falls Trail
Hike Type: Moderate out-and-back trail
Distance: 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) round trip – but you can continue past the third waterfall if desired
Elevation Gain: About 1000 feet (305 meters)
Duration: 2.5-3.5 hours
Regulations: Pets are permitted. Bears are frequently spotted here, so take the proper precautions.
The Willow Creek Falls Hike
The Willow Creek Falls Trail begins right by a ranger station. From the small dirt parking area, we crossed a creek and wandered by the ranger buildings. The start of the hike lead us along aspen and pine groves through a meadow that was blooming with wildflowers when we were there on a cool summer morning.
After hiking steadily uphill for a ways, we soon found ourselves in a short, but steep wooded section leading up the cliff side. When the trail left the trees, we were instantly rewarded with stunning views of the rugged peaks surrounding us. From here, the trail narrows and becomes rocky with a steep drop, so watch closely if you have pets or kids with you.
As we traversed the hillside, the first waterfall became visible in the distance. This was the tallest of the three falls we saw along the trail. Just past this waterfall, you’ll see the second. Although we didn’t see a way down to the base of these two, it sure was beautiful to see them from afar with great mountain vistas surrounding the cascades.
After winding up the canyon another short ways, we came to the third waterfall. This was the smallest of the three, but there is a little trail that allows hikers to walk up to the pool below the falls. Many of the waterways in the Rocky Mountain Front are crystal clear, but the water here was a little murky.
Extending the Hike
Many hikers turn around and head back after making it to the third waterfall. However, there is the option to continue your hike if you’d like to see a little more of the area. We only hiked a little further into the small open meadow above the falls. Looking back, you can get a beautiful view all the way to the plains down below.
The trail continued past where we went, with the option to continue all the way past Fairview Mountain and down the other side of the peak. Find more information about this extended hike here.
What to Bring
Sturdy Shoes: The trail is steep, rocky, and can be muddy and icy, so wear shoes with good tread. Note that there is a river crossing at the start of the trail.
Crampons: If you are there around shoulder season, there may be snow and you may want crampons for any steep, icy sections.
Mini First Aid Kit: Another item we always like to have just in case.
Camera: In case you want to capture the views or any wildlife you see.
Water: A hiking essential.
Food: If you bring trail snacks, be aware that there are bears in the area and clean up after yourself as to not attract them to the trail.
Bear Spray: Both grizzlies and black bears have been spotted here, so stay alert, bring along your bear spray, and know how to use it.
Layers: Even in the summer it can be chilly, especially with wind. We recommend bringing light layers and/or a wind breaker. Outside of summer, heavier jackets, gloves, etc. may be necessary.
Sun Protection: There is no little shade along most of the trail, so bring a hat/sunglasses/sunscreen.