Nestled within the beautiful Flathead National Forest, Dean Falls is one elusive waterfall surrounded by majestic mountains, pine forests, wildlife, and numerous campgrounds.
If you follow the Spotted Bear River long enough from either the east or west, you’ll hit these gorgeous falls, as well as the nearby Slim Creek tendril.
While not much is known about Dean Falls itself, it circumvents a great Treasure State mountain range, from Limestone Peak and Pivot Mountain to the further Silvertip Mountain and Three Sisters.
Look on a map of the area and you’ll see the magnanimous Flathead Lake and Jewel Basin off to the left, but don’t get too far ahead of yourself, as driving to Bigfork isn’t an option direct from the falls: backcountry camping and hiking is your best bet with a stop at Swan Lake on Highway 83.
Likewise, you’ll have luck coming through Silvertip and its accompanying campground and cabin, or further out at Beaver Hill and its accompanying campground.
Suffice it to say: Dean Falls is wild, free, and as remote as they come, so preparedness is key when coming here. Between the Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wilderness areas, the thrill-seeker can squeeze all kinds of memories out of this area of Big Sky Country.
Dean Falls, Flathead County – A Complete Guide
Originally inhabited by the indigenous Salish tribe, the area surrounding Dean Falls is replete with an abundance of local lore and boundless beauty, but usually, only the most tenacious hikers get to learn its secrets. Lucky for you, we’ve got a guide to get you started – from nearby trails and swimming spots to cabin rentals, campgrounds, and nearby hotels. Let’s dive in!
Dean Falls, Flathead County Stats
- Size and Scope: 4,663 ft Elevation
- Season: Year Round
- Hours: 24/7
- Number of Campsites: None
- Wheelchair Accessible: No
Ah, the great Montana wilderness. We couldn’t be prouder to share some of our favorite hiking, biking, camping, and swimming tips around one of the most gorgeous remote areas of this beautiful state. Let’s go!
Hiking & Biking
Like hiking? Good, you’ll be doing a lot of it to get to Dean Falls and its neighboring wilderness friends! Starting with the Silvertip Trailhead with an entrance into trail #83, there’s plenty to explore in these magnificent Big Sky Country forests.
While we love riding horses out here, on the other side of Limestone Creek, you’ll find the fantastic Meadow Creek Trailhead with gorgeous, rocky terrain perfect for you and your furry friends.
Biking more your thing? Even with all of the jutted rocks, you can find places around Dean Falls to get your thrills, our favorite being the Silvertip Connector. This 735 feet single-track trail is open to mountain bikers and other adventure seekers, but we especially love how close it is to the Silvertip Cabin (More on that later!).
We also recommend the further west Trail Creek Trailhead for a beautiful bike tour – just know that it’s only open from May to November. Happy riding!
Swimming & Fishing
So, can you swim at Dean Falls? We wouldn’t recommend it purely for safety reasons, but do feel free to take a selfie while you’re there and share it with us! The good news is that you’ll find plenty of private spots to dip your feet in along the Spotted Bear River, although our favorites can be found closer to the various nearby campsites.
Beyond the river and numerous creek pathways around Dean Falls, our most-used nearby lake is surely Swan Lake, popular with fishermen for its rainbow trout, salmon, and northern pike.
Even better, it’s pitted up right near the Jewel Basin and Flathead Lake, giving you an abundance of fishing opportunities and wildlife viewing – and more than a few places to swim.
Beyond the beach and public swimming access at Swan Lake, head over to Flathead Lake and you’ll reach even more beach areas for floating, kayaking, tubing, and snorkeling – you name it.
Heading back towards the Dean Falls area for a moment, the Spotted Bear River extends northwest into the Hungry Horse Reservoir, a scenic body of water that works great for jet skiing and all water sports, as well as numerous areas for swimming and fishing.
Camping & Lodging
There’s nothing like a night of camping under the stars, completely in touch with your natural surroundings.
The good news is that you’re completely in the wilderness around Dean Falls, so you shouldn’t have any problem immersing yourself in nearby creeks, campfires, and your favorite camping meal for a chilly night.
The campground in closest proximity to the plummeting Dean Falls is the secluded and intimate Silvertip Campground, right along the same Spotted Bear River. With an entrance into trail #83, you’ll find plenty to do around this campground.
Here’s a tip: check out the nearby Silvertip Cabin, which can accommodate up to eight people at a rustic site with available drinking water and a corral if you’re coming by horse (Yes, that’s how remote the cabin is!). But do keep in mind that it’s typically only available from July to August – sometimes September, if you’re lucky.
Not your speed? For another option, head further west along Spotted Bear River and you’ll hit Beaver Creek Campground and its accompanying Beaver Hill mountain. This first-come, first-serve campground is absolutely free, but you’ll want to get there early enough to stake out one of their four sites.
While it doesn’t offer potable drinking water, the river is less than 100 feet from the campgrounds, so if you’re in need of a drink, definitely treat and boil it prior to consumption.
Although Silvertip offers a private cabin, that site as a whole is a bit more bare-bones than this campground, so it all depends on your preferences. An even lower use option is the first-come, first-serve Trail Creek Campground a bit northwest along – you guessed it – Trail Creek.
You’d have to travel quite a ways to get to the nearest hotel, motel, or lodge, but some of our favorites include the Laughing Horse Lodge at Swan Lake, the always amazing JJJ Wilderness Ranch in Augusta, and the adorable Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Montana.
If we had to pick a favorite, it’d definitely be the wilderness ranch, but we’ll let you decide!
Spotted Bear Mountain
Length: 13.9 miles: While we love the numerous trailheads around the Great Bear Wilderness and Dean Falls, one of our favorites is the nearly 14-mile-long trek around Spotted Bear Mountain.
As you can imagine given the neighboring terrain, this lengthy hike can get pretty arduous at spots, so we like to take advantage of the nearby Spotted Bear Campground.
Although it costs some bucks to stay here overnight, it’s worth it – to us, at least – after working our muscles to the max. This trail starts off pretty easy but graduates into a number of switchbacks and foot-steadying ascensions and descensions as it continues further past the false summit.
Be on the lookout for smiling wildflowers in the summer, as well as the potential for snow in May and June. And bring Fido along but don’t forget extra water, especially as the weather turns hotter.
If you bring your furry friend along, bring that extra water and electrolytes because you do not want to get stuck in the remote wilderness
Length: 8.9 miles What’s not to love about this energizing out-and-back trail?! The elevation gains may, um, make for a great story later over a roaring campfire; this butt-kicker of a trail isn’t as innocent as it looks. But hey, that’s exactly why we love it – it’s always an adventure!
You’ll get some epic views along the way, especially once you get to the top, but please be advised that some folks have encountered bears along the way (That’s what bear spray is for!).
We’d recommend heading out earlier in the day, regardless of the time of year.
Moose Lake Trail
Length: 5.7 miles A bit to the north of Dean Falls, you’ll find numerous spots to get your heart pumping, but one of our favorites is the Moose Lake Trail at Moose Peak.
This trail stole our hearts from the get-go due to its relative accessibility, but it’s still far enough away that you most likely won’t see many – if any – other hikers along the way.
As one of the less-traversed trails in the area, it feels untouched by humanity, just a beautiful spot in the wilderness to hike with our dogs. If you’re looking for solitude and a quiet picnic lunch, this is your spot, our friends. Trust us.
Napa Trail to Swan Lake
Length: 24.1 miles Let’s say you’re moving out of the Great Bear Wilderness and heading west towards Flathead Lake, but you’re not quite ready to get back into humanity.
Enter: the Napa Trail to Swan Lake excursion. Please feel free to mix and match the trail lines to your personal preference for this picturesque narrow lake, but we like to hightail it over to the lake via a backpacking trip.
You’re already in the wilderness, anyway! Besides, you can always use this as an opportunity to convince your hiking companions to spend a couple of nights at the Laughing Horse Lodge. Who can say no to their Sunday brunch after a few nights in the backcountry?
Wherever you choose to spend a few days near Dean Falls, we know you’ll have a great time exploring Montana’s exquisite mountains, rivers, and chattery wildlife.