First discovered in 1805 by the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Big Falls is the tallest and the lowermost waterfall in a formation of five that have come to be known as the Great Falls.
When first discovered, Big Falls, along with Black Eagle Falls, Colter Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Crooked Falls, made up a series of falling water features that posed a series of threats to travel along the Missouri River and hindered further exploration along the river’s coast.
As a result, Ryan Dam was constructed in 1915 to help limit water displacement through the falls while capitalizing on the landmark’s hydroelectric potential.
Today, Big Falls spans about 600 feet wide and features a drop-off of approximately 87 feet. Located northeast of Great Falls, MT, the waterfall is easily accessible via several nearby hiking trails.
Big Falls, Cascade County, Montana Stats
- Elevation: 2963 feet
- Latitude: 47.56887
- Longitude: -111.12382
- How to Get There: Big Falls, Montana, can be reached via the River’s Edge Trail. The South Shore Trailhead is found along the northern edge of Great Falls, while the Sulphur Springs Trailhead starts along Morony Dam Road to the north of the landmark.
While it is easy enough to drive to Big Falls along either Ryan Dam Road or Rainbow Dam Road, the best way to experience the majesty of the falls is by hiking along the Missouri River, much like Lewis & Clark would have done back in 1805.
The Rivers Edge Trail system offers fantastic hiking opportunities both directly to the falls and around the surrounding countryside, including several branches that span into the nearby Giant Springs State Park.
Situated along the Missouri River, there are plenty of fishing opportunities around Big Falls. The best fishing areas along Great Falls’ portion of the Missouri River are found in the reservoirs of both Ryan Dam and Morony Dam, as well as in Giant Springs National Park.
Wranglers to the region can expect to catch a selection of Catfish, Walleye, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, and Carp when casting a line in any of these great access sites.
The River’s Edge Trail from The South Shore Trailhead
While the falls can be reached by vehicle along either Rainbow Dam Road or Ryan Dam Road, the best way to explore the landmark is along the River’s Edge Hiking Trail. The path features two trailheads, with the most accessible being the South Shore Trailhead.
Starting from Giant Springs Road along the northern edge of Great Falls, MT, near the smaller Rainbow Falls, the trail follows the southern shore of the Missouri River in a northeastern direction for about 3.7 miles.
Coming to a bridge, hikers follow the path over the Missouri River to where the River’s Edge Trail continues along Rainbow Dam Road for an additional 2.7 miles.
From here, hikers can return to Great Falls, completing the 12.8-mile out and back trail in approximately four and a half hours.
The River’s Edge Trail from The Sulphur Springs Trailhead
Alternatively, visitors traveling by foot can access the River’s Edge Trail from the Sulphur Springs Trailhead near the Morony Dam.
Accessing the trail to the north of the falls, hikers will this time follow the Missouri River in a southern direction. Along the route, the path will experience two forks, but visitors need not worry as each trail reconnects further down the road.
After approximately 3.3 miles of walking, visitors will arrive at Ryan Dam Road. While the other side of the River’s Edge Trail can be challenging to spot at first, hikers need only walk about 0.1 miles down the road to their right to find it.
From here, the path leads visitors another 1.2 miles along the Missouri River before arriving at Big Falls.
Visitors can either complete the hike as an 11.2-mile point-to-point trail and continue along the path to the South Shore Trailhead in Great Falls, or they can head back to their starting point and complete the hike as a 9.6 mile out and back trail. Either way, the entirety of the walk will last anywhere from three to four hours.