Exploring the Ross Creek Cedars, Bull Lake, and Kootenai Falls, Libby, Montana
The Ross Creek Cedars are a gem of western red cedars found not far from the small town of Libby in northwest Montana. The best way to see them is if you are driving between Spokane, WA, or Sandpoint, ID, on your way to Montana. Some of the trees are said to be more than 400 years old!
My family visited the Ross Creek Cedars quite a bit when I was a kid, but I had not been back out there in years. We finally took our kids out a week ago. Seeing as it is November, it was cold, but the sun was shining and we had a great day.
This is quite the haul with kids for the day from Kalispell or Whitefish, and if you have kids that dislike the car as much as mine, the drive can be daunting. I was worried that there may not be enough to do there — but I was pleasantly surprised. My kids LOVED the trees, exploring the trails, and they are only 1 and 3 years old! So definitely take your kids here!
There is a trail that says it is just under a mile loop to take you through these amazing trees. I never did find a loop; the trail is easy to follow for awhile, but after a bit the trail tapers off and just becomes several trails around the giant trees. We turned to try to follow what we thought was the loop, but the trail pretty much ended on us and we had to cross some questionable logs to get back. There is a large bridge and picnic tables on one side near the parking lot and there are restrooms.
The day we visited the LIGHT was INCREDIBLE. I felt like we were in a magical forest. Needless to say I took endless photos of the light that day, streaming through the trees, into what otherwise may have been a dark forest.
The trail also follows along a creek with bridges that just adds to the romantic feeling that this forest provides.
One amazing thing is that several of the trees are so large and are hollow inside, so you are able to climb into the tree and look up into it.
This area is unbelievably gorgeous, with the peaks of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness just beyond Bull Lake. There is a nice overlook right on the road with views of the surrounding mountains.
To get here: Drive Highway 2 past Libby, until you see the turn left (south) onto Highway 56. There was no sign pointing that this was the turn to Bull Lake or the Ross Creek Cedars, but this is the turn you need to take. Note that this turn is before the town of Troy, so if you reach Troy, you know you missed the turn. You will drive south on Highway 56 for several miles until finally you will see Bull Lake on your right. The highway takes you around the lake, and then you will turn right at the southern end of the lake onto Highway 398. This turn takes you to the Ross Creek Cedars and the Bad Medicine Campground. Once you are on Highway 398, you will see the sign showing you where to turn left to reach the Ross Creek Cedars.
Tip: If you keep driving down to the Bad Medicine Campground, you will find a nice boat dock with pretty views of the mountains and a nice place to swim.
Conveniently, the stop at Kootenai Falls to see the waterfall and swinging bridge is just before you turn onto Highway 56. The day we visited, my kids had fallen asleep in the car, so I didn’t stop and take them down. Instead I went down by myself to check it out. It is beautiful scenery on the Kootenai River, just be aware that it is actually quite a walk to get down. You have to follow the trail down until you use a bridge to cross the train tracks, and then you get back on the trail again.
The trail splits off after that, you go left to visit the swinging bridge, or turn right to visit the falls. At the split off point for the two, there is still a ways walking to each one. But if you have the time, I highly recommend stopping here!
Don’t miss this gorgeous spot in Montana! Make a day of it and spend your time exploring the Ross Creek Cedars, and stop to eat in nearby Libby on your way through.
Warm Wishes from Big Sky Country,
Alex M. Neill
Montana Vacation Blog