Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge, located in the stunning Kootenai National Forest of northern Montana, is a hidden gem, offering views of the Rocky Mountains and pine trees- suspended above a turquoise river rushing almost 40 feet below.
So whether you’re looking for an awesome pitstop while you’re road-tripping to Glacier National Park or just want to see one of Montana’s most unique photo opportunities, here’s everything you need to know to plan your next adventure to the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge.
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Pssst… visiting Montana? Buckle up- it’s one of the most gorgeous states in the country! We’ve got some articles that might help you plan your visit, including: Avalanche Lake: Glacier National Park’s Most Bang-for-your-buck Hike 10 Tips for Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park
What is the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge?
There’s a number of suspension bridges in the Pacific Northwest- from the 240-foot bridge along the Drift Creek Falls trail in Oregon to the famed Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in Vancouver British Columbia- all of which offer stunning views of the gorge they span and their surroundings.
While the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge is no exception, it was actually built by the Civilian Conservation Corps for a wholly functional purpose- for National Forest firemen to access forest fires on the northern side of the Kootenai River. But in 1948, the bridge was completely destroyed by a flood.
In the 1950s, the bridge was rebuilt on concrete towers and over the years, became protected by the nearby Libby Dam and fortified with new planks as recently as 2019. Today, the bridge mainly serves as a tourist destination in Kootenai National Forest, which is often overlooked for Montana’s more famous attractions, like Glacier National Park, the Beartooth Highway, or Yellowstone. Now, during the busy summer months, the bridge can see upwards of 600 visitors a day!
Where is the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge located?
The Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge is located here, between the small towns of Troy and Libby, Montana, along Highway 2.
If you’re driving to Glacier National Park or the surrounding area from Washington state or northern Idaho (or vice versa), I’d highly recommend checking to see whether driving along Highway 2 is doable. For my husband, Justin, and my drive back to Seattle from Glacier, it only added about 10 minutes of total drivetime (as opposed to I-90) and is one of the most scenic roads we’ve ever been on! The highway snakes along the Kootenai River, with rolling hills covered with pine trees and the Rocky Mountains off in the distance, providing spectacular views the entire way.
I’d recommend having the coordinates for the parking lot plugged into your GPS and keeping your eyes peeled for signs for the bridge along the highway. Both the bridge and the falls are tucked behind a dense forest and not visible from the road- so it’s super easy to miss the parking lot unless you know what you’re looking for.
Oh, and another incredible thing about the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge? Visiting is totally FREE!
When to visit the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge
The Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge is technically open year round, but is busiest in the summertime. While you’re likely to run into other visitors during the daytime come summer, you’ll have a pretty good chance of getting the bridge to yourself if you visit early in the morning or closer to dusk.
Justin and I visited on a Saturday in July around 9 PM- not only was the golden light of the setting sun spectacular on the gorge walls, but we didn’t see a single other person at either the bridge or the falls the entire time we were there!
If you’d prefer to avoid crowds, the shoulder seasons of springtime and fall can be a lovely and uncrowded time to visit the bridge. Montana famously gets quite a lot of snow in the wintertime, but if you don’t mind braving sketchy roads, enormous snowdrifts, and freezing temperatures, you’ll almost certainly get the bridge to yourself, the falls turn into a dramatic cascading iceflow, and you’ve got a solid chance of seeing bald eagles along the riverbanks.
How to Get to The Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge
To reach the bridge, you’ll need to go on a one-mile out-and-back trail through a beautiful pine tree forest. The trail departs from the parking lot, which has a surprising amount of amenities- including restrooms, barbecue pits, picnic tables, even a snack stand selling ice cream in the summertime. For now, though, let’s forego the ice cream and hit the trail!
You’ll walk on a paved path for about 0.15 miles and eventually reach a neat enclosed tunnel that crosses over some train tracks below, used today by the Northern Burlington Train Company to ship goods cross-country. It would be quite the feat to somehow reach the train tracks (which have to be a good 40 feet below the totally enclosed walking path), but please don’t do anything daredevil-y and try to jump on them- they’re still quite actively used today. In fact, on average, trains usually ramble by every 45 minutes.
From here, you’ll walk down four flights of steep stairs, made out of grated metal. These steps look like they would straight up RUIN YOUR LIFE if you fell on them and would likely hurt pups’ feet, so unless you can easily carry your dog up and down the stairs, I’d consider leaving your furry best friend at home for this one.
After the cheese grater stairs, you’ll reach a big blue sign, with a left arrow pointing to the swinging bridge and the right arrow pointing to Kootenai Falls. Obviously, take the trail to the left, where you’ll walk along a dirt path strewn with enormous rocks, between towering pine and cedar trees. After 0.3 miles of meandering through the woods and catching peekaboo glimpses of the river to your right, you’ll make one final uphill climb and reach the Kootenai Falls swinging bridge.
The bridge is impressive, spanning 220-feet across the Kootenai River and suspended over 35 feet in the air. If you’re not afraid of heights, I’d highly recommend walking across it- the view of the turquoise river and its rugged cliffs are absolutely incredible from its vantage point and it’s quite the experience to be on a massive bridge swaying back and forth. The bridge is rated for up to 5 people at a time, so be mindful of others while you’re on it.
While most people simply cross the bridge and turn around, you’ll also find some hiking trails on its other side, like the challenging No. 218 trail, which scampers up steep cliffs overlooking the Kootenai River to the north (this hike is great for spotting bighorn sheep!).
When you’re done swinging- er, walking- across the bridge, make sure to spend some time exploring the area to the right and left of the bridge- you can get some of the best pictures of it from this perspective!
Once you’re done with the bridge, you can retrace your steps back to the car or head down the path to the right for Kootenai Falls. Unless you’re under a major time crunch, I’d highly recommend stopping by the falls as well- they’re absolutely stunning!
How to Get to Kootenai Falls
Back at the aforementioned blue junction sign, you’ll follow the trail about 0.2 miles to the right to reach the falls. To be honest, the “trail” is not very well-marked and, with lots of huge rocks littering the ground and wide patches of dirt, it can be a bit confusing to tell where the path is. So just follow along the riverbank for a bit (and, if you’re nervous, use the map on AllTrails) and you’ll find the falls- you can’t miss ‘em!
Kootenai Falls is the largest undammed waterfall in the entire state of Montana, spanning the width of the river and dramatically tumbling 30 feet down. Between the rushing turquoise water, craggy canyon cliffs and surrounding pine tree-topped hills, the waterfall is quite the sight. It’s so gorgeous, in fact, it’s been used for four Hollywood movie shoots, including The River Wild and The Revenant, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character escapes from a fight by going over the falls (interesting fact: Leo’s stunt double actually broke his leg while shooting this scene and had to be airlifted out- yikes!).
There’s no viewing platform, fencing, or guardrails along the river, so watch your footing, mind any children or pets you may have with you, and don’t try to walk or swim in across the river. There’s actually a sign at the beginning of the trail indicating that over a dozen people have died by the falls- so let’s not add to that number!
The immense waterfall’s power and beauty have long been appreciated- the Kootenai tribe, who call this land their ancestral home, historically viewed the falls as sacred, a place to communicate with the spirits. Take some time while you’re here to reflect on its beauty, breathe in the sights, sounds, and smells of the falls, and you’ll quickly see why the Kootenai tribe found this an amazing place to connect with nature.
Kootenai Falls is such a hidden gem- I hope you have a blast exploring it! Do you have any questions about the bridge or the falls? Let me know in the comments below!