Sunday, September 2, 2018

Lewis and Clark National Forest: Memorial Falls (Blog Hike #711)

Trail: Memorial Falls Trail
Hike Location: Lewis and Clark National Forest
Geographic Location: north of White Sulphur Springs, MT (46.91306, -110.69789)
Length: 0.9 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2018
Overview: A short but rocky and occasionally steep out-and-back to two small waterfalls.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: The signed parking area for Memorial Falls is located on the east side of US 89 2 miles south of the town of Neihart.

The hike: Straddling the north-south continental divide in northern Montana, Lewis and Clark National Forest protects more than 1.8 million acres mostly of forested mountains.  The national forest is named for the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, which explored this area between 1804 and 1806 as part of their exploration of the land acquired with the Louisiana Purchase.  The national forest was established in 1897, only one year after the United States signed the Treaty of 1896 with the Blackfeet Nation, which established the adjacent Blackfeet Reservation.
            The national forest has lands in eight different mountain ranges, one of which is the Little Belt Mountains.  Located southeast of Great Falls, the Little Belt Mountains consist of gently sloped peaks covered by pine forest.  One of the area’s most scenic and popular frontcountry sites is Memorial Falls, the destination of the hike described here.  Although this hike is short and not that difficult, the elevation is high and the terrain rocky, so it is not as easy as the distance alone might suggest.
Memorial Falls Trailhead
            An information sign and vault toilet sit at the rear of the parking lot, where this hike begins.  Immediately the asphalt trail crosses Belt Creek on a sturdy bridge with iron railings, after which the trail surface turns to dirt and rock.  For the rest of the hike the trail stays near the bank of Memorial Creek, which is a small tributary of Belt Creek.  Memorial Creek’s ravine is very rocky: talus-covered slopes rise to vertical rock cliffs on either side.
            Sheets of black plastic buried under the trail stabilize the trail surface as you climb up the ravine.  Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs dominate the forest, and the understory is very open.  Just past 0.3 miles, you reach the base of the main waterfall.  The main waterfall is a ledge-type waterfall that drops about 25 feet.  The small creek does not provide a lot of water to fall, but the rocky area makes for a very rugged setting.
Main waterfall
            Some people turn around here, but another waterfall lies a few hundred feet upstream.  To get there, keep following the main trail as it curves left to cross Memorial Creek and begins climbing a trio of switchbacks.  The switchbacks are the rockiest part of this trail, but careful stepping will get you up to the ravine’s rim.
Rocky switchback

View from ravine rim

Upper Falls
            The trail continues upstream along the ravine’s rim to reach a view of Upper Falls at 0.45 miles.  Upper Falls is more of a cascade-type waterfall than its lower cousin, but it is still an interesting site.  The official trail ends at the Upper Falls viewpoint.  Although an unofficial trail crosses the creek above Upper Falls and goes back down to the main waterfall along the creek’s other (east) bank, I do not recommend going that way: that trail is too steep and exposed for good safety.  Thus, I chose to retrace my steps down the switchbacks and past the main waterfall to return to the parking lot and complete the hike.

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