Photo Credit: Audrey Hall Photography

The following article is sponsored by Visit Big Sky

Big Sky, Montana is a land of endless adventure. The mountains surrounding this little town are endless. Yet, Big Sky's most incredible hike is located just a short walk from the Big Sky Town Center. Grab your camera, fill your water bottle, and bring your bear spray because the most impressive waterfall in all of Montana is less than a mile away.

Ousel Falls is by far one of the best hikes in Big Sky. Visitors and locals alike venture down the well-maintained, wide, gravel covered Ousel Falls Trail every year to see this stunning mountain waterfall. This trail is kid approved, dog approved, and grandparent approved too. It's literally fun for all ages.

Photo Credit: Audrey Hall Photography

This well-trodden, multi-use trail is an out and back adventure that covers 1.6 miles and 260 vertical feet round trip. The trail follows an alpine ravine that's been carved away by water slowly flowing towards the Gallatin River and ultimately to the mighty Mississippi. This constantly flowing tributary is called the South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River and the trail ends at the powerfully impressive Ousel Falls.

Ousel Falls is a natural 35-foot waterfall that roars to life with an impressive amount of whitewater tumbling over its rock walls during the spring runoff and throughout the summer months. In the winter, the water freezes solid and creates a towering wall of ice. With year round access, every trip to Ousel Falls is different. That's why both locals and guests walk there on a regular basis.

Photo Credit:

The Ousel Fall Trail official starts in Big Sky Town Center. It follows Ousel Falls Road for two miles until it hits a large parking area with an outhouse, benches, and signs at 6,575’. Grab an interpretive brochure at the trailhead and go on a self-guided tour. Learn about geology, vegetation, and wildlife while en route to your destination - Ousel Falls.

Spend an hour or a day on the Ousel Falls Trail. Take a snack lunch, soak your feet in cold mountain water, enjoy the fresh Montana air, bring your dog, and splash around Ousel Falls. There are benches and picnic tables available on the route where you can sit down and enjoy the peaceful, quiet, and serene setting.

Photo Credit:

Numerous bridges cross the flowing South Fork. Stop at the main bridge to admire the plaques that represent people who made generous donations to maintain quality trails and build new trails for all to enjoy. These people are frequent Ousel Falls Trail users who love and support Big Sky's growing trail system.

As you wander down the Ousel Falls Trail keep your eyes out for wildlife. Moose, elk, and even bears are frequently spotted in the area. This well-marked trail connects to other trails that lead deep into the Gallatin National Forest and beyond. The animal that you'll most likely spot is a water ouzel - the small bobbing bird that the trail is named after.

Photo Credit:

The water ouzel (Cinclus Mexicanus) aka the American Dipper is a bird that lives in the cracks and crevices and the nooks and crannies of the rock formations in the South Fork Ravine and surrounding Ousel Falls. These funny birds frequent this mountain stream and deliver hours of entertainment to locals and guests alike. Watch for these birds to bob their whole body up and down before they dip and dive beneath the surface of the water to grab aquatic insects to snack on.

Whether you walk, hike, bike, ride horses, snowshoe, unicycle, or cross country ski, Ousel Falls is going to make you smile. This hidden gem is located mere minutes from town. You’ll love exploring this trail because it makes the wild world of Big Sky easily accessible to everyone. There's something magical about that.

Ousel Falls Trail Quick Facts

  • Location: Big Sky, Montana
  • Trailhead Elevation: 6575'
  • Mileage: 1.6 miles round trip from trailhead
  • Size of Waterfall: 35-feet
  • USGS Map: Ousel Falls
  • Amenities: Outhouse, benches, picnic tables, bridges, fishing access
  • Miscellaneous:
    • Bear Spray Recommended
    • Self-Guided Interpretive Brochures Available