Post Summary: Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge in Montana and How To Get There
If you’re looking for a Pacific Northwest adventure without the crowds, keep reading, my friend. The Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge has got to be your next destination.
Hovering right above the Kootenai River in Montana, you can get the rush of the rapids, the seclusion of the mountains, and incredible photo opportunities right at your fingertips here.
It’s surprisingly not that far from major Inland Northwest cities (think Spokane, WA and Kalispell, MT), and we’re showing you exactly how to get to the swinging bridge and what to expect in this blog post.
Keep reading to start planning your next adventure!
Discover Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge
History of the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge
The bridge was originally created to help the Forest Service access the area across the river to help fight forest fires.
In 1984, a flood ripped through the area and tore out the original bridge. It’s since been rebuilt with a stronger foundation and is not protected by the Libby Dam from future destruction.
Today, the bridge is used as a tourism destination – a quick and beautiful stop for travelers on Highway 2 that are exploring the Kootenai National Forest area.
How Do I Get To Kootenai Falls and the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge?
Kootenai Falls Suspension Bridge is located on the gorgeous Kootenai River in Montana. The bridge is seven miles east of Troy, Montana and 12 miles west of Libby, Montana. Look for Milepost 21 on Montana Highway 2.
The US-2 West (while not the fastest route west) is a scenic drive that winds you through the Kootenai National Forest and next to the river. It’s the perfect route for anyone wanting a slower/prettier drive west!
You can reach Kootenai Falls by driving on US-Highway 2, approaching the border of Idaho and Montana if driving west (from Kalispell, MT).
Driving east (from Sandpoint, ID or Spokane, WA), you will arrive at the Kootenai Falls Suspension Bridge 20 miles after crossing the Idaho border.
Note that the falls and the bridge are not viewable from the parking lot, so it can be easily missed if you aren’t looking carefully!
Closest towns to Kootenai Falls:
- Kalispell, MT (100 miles – 1 hour 48 minutes)
- Bonners Ferry, ID (40 miles – 45 minutes)
- Sandpoint, ID (72 miles – 1 hour 22 minutes)
- Spokane, WA (144 miles – 2 hours 41 minutes)
What To Expect On The Kootenai Falls Trail
Parking Lot Coordinates: 48.4527709 N, -115.7712285 W
The parking lot is easily accessible from Highway 2, downstream from the town of Libby, Montana. When driving to Kootenai Falls, be mindful of oncoming traffic, because the turnoff to the lot is just around a bend in the road.
From the Kootenai Falls parking lot, you will take a short, paved walk (about 0.15 miles, with little elevation change) until you reach a fork in the trail.
There is also a bathroom on site, a little down the trail. Just to be safe, make sure to bring your own toilet paper – we’re not sure how often these facilities are maintained!
The Kootenai Bridge Train Tunnel
After walking a short distance from the trailhead, you will cross a covered bridge over a train track. The track is used by the Burlington Northern Railroad Company, mainly for shipping items (not people!).
We’ve been told that the trains come every 45 minutes or so, but we didn’t see one on our visit. It would be pretty cool to see one roar by under your feet, so if you’re into trains this may be an exciting stop!
Be mindful to stay on the path provided, as this track is active!
The good news is that the track is pretty well protected so there’s virtually no possible way for you to cross the actual tracks. There is a large chain link fence on either side and to cross the tracks you’ll cross a gated, covered concrete bridge.
Reaching the Fork In The Path
After crossing the train tunnel, you’ll approach a very large blue sign that’s in the middle of a fork in the path.
The fork sign displays the Kootenai Falls viewing area to the right and the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge to the left.
Below is a photo of the large Kootenai Falls/Swinging Bridge sign. Take either direction to explore parts of this area. Both trails will come back to this point for your final return, so it doesn’t really matter which way you start!
Let’s start with the trail to the left…
The Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge (Left Trail)
If you take the left fork from the large blue sign, you are heading towards the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge.
You will walk next to the river, with little areas to view the river. You will also have the train tracks to your left, which could be pretty loud and exciting if you happen to be there when one passes by!
From the fork with the blue sign to the swinging bridge, it’s a short but rocky 0.25-mile trail.
The first look that you will get of the bridge is from below. You will spot it spanning across the rushing Kootenai River, and then you’ll make the final short uphill climb to walk across.
This is a great area to take pictures, as you can get the river and the full length of the bridge in one shot!
The bridge is 210 feet across, and sits 100 feet above the river. It’s constructed with incredibly strong cables and has been standing for years, so rest assured its integrity is sound.
While on the bridge, you will be able to see far up and down the Kootenai River. You are quite high above the water, so jumping off the bridge is 100% NOT allowed.
It’s also called a swinging bridge for a reason…it rocks back and forth! If you are afraid of heights or get motion sick, take extra precautions on this bridge. It can get moving pretty good in certain weather conditions…or mean company. haha
Once you reach the other side of the Kootenai Falls swinging bridge, you’ll have the option to walk down the stairs and view the river from the other side.
There isn’t much to do on the other side except for exploring primitive trails (at your own risk!!) so a quick look for the return trip should be just fine.
If you are fine with heights and a little bit of bridge motion, take some time to look on either side of the bridge down the Kootenai River. The views up and downstream are incredible at any time of day!
After you’re finished, return on the same trail you arrived. You’ll again reach the fork in the path, and you can choose to head back, or visit Kootenai Falls!
Kootenai Falls (The Right Trail)
Kootenai Falls is an incredible Montana waterfall that shouldn’t be missed! The trail from the fork is easy to follow (only around 0.1 miles), with roots and rocks covering parts of the trail. You’ll know when you’ve arrived because the trail will open into a giant slab of rock!
There is no infrastructure (no guard rails, no platforms, etc) because we think Montana wasn’t expecting this place to get the traffic it actually does receive. Therefore, be VERY careful when viewing the falls and don’t get too close to the edge.
One of the largest free-flowing waterfalls in the Northwest, the Kootenai Falls drops 30 feet across and rushes through the China Rapids in this section of the river.
It’s been the site of many major movie locations, including The River Wild and most recently Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Revenant. Once you arrive, you’ll see why this was a major filming location – the views are jaw-dropping.
Kootenai Falls has also historically been a sacred site for the Kootenai Tribe in the area as a meeting place for communicating with the spirits.
Take some time to do a little meditating of your own. Find a secluded spot, take some deep breaths, and listen to the sound of the roaring waves pass by. You may understand why the Kootenai Tribe found this place special.
Map of Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge
What’s Nearby Kootenai Falls?
The Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge is located near the border of Idaho and Montana. This makes it a perfect stop coming and going from places like Glacier National Park, North Idaho, and more.
Up in this part of the USA (North Idaho, Western Montana), you’ll find a lot of forests, rivers, and camping opportunities.
Here are some activities we’ve done in the area, as suggestions to add to your visit!
- Glacier National Park
- North Idaho (see our adventurous 7-day itinerary here!)
- Backcountry Yurt Camping
- Banff National Park (Canada)
- Jasper National Park (Canada)
- Idaho Hot Springs
MORE INLAND NORTHWEST TRIPS
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