Just 11 miles from the quaint and close-knit mountain town of Thompson Falls, the epic Graves Creek Falls in Sanders County provides a stunning hike for beginners and intermediate hikers alike. And we’ll be honest, it’s the perfect vehicle for a homemade pie reward at Thompson Falls’s Minnie Cafe.
This steep, gushing waterfall is one of our favorite ways to beat the summer heat with a shaded picnic and some trail mix, offering stunning views of the Lolo National Forest. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t warn you: it’s a long way down so don’t let your littles or pups get too close to the edge!
Originally utilized by the indigenous Kalispel tribe and pioneering Montanans, Graves Creek Falls is still relatively undiscovered and we’d like to keep it that way. As a mountainous arm of the Lolo National Forest, it’s surrounded by nearby epic peaks perfect for the more adventurous hiker: Graves Peak, Mt Headley, Cube Iron Mountain, and Vermilion Peak.
On its own, however, these falls offer refreshing mists and a small piece of the great Treasure State. Even better: parking at the trailhead is plentiful, although unfortunately, the trek to the falls isn’t necessarily ADA-accessible. Hopefully, that will change in the near future!
And by the way, don’t let your Google search fool you! There’s another Graves Creek Falls closer to Bigfork that we also love for its lush greenery and epic Jewel Basin sights, but today we’re here to discuss one of Sanders County’s most gorgeous landmarks.
Read on for more information on our favorite swimming, camping, lake jumping, fishing, and more.
Graves Creek Falls, Sanders County – A Complete Guide
From reservoirs to smaller creek bends to a night in your tent under the Milky Way at Thompson Falls State Park, the area surrounding Graves Creek Falls offers numerous recreational activities to choose from. Are you ready? Let’s get into it!
Graves Creek Falls, Sanders County Stats
- Size and Scope: 3,622 ft
- Season: Year Round
- Hours: 24/7
- Number of Campsites: None
- Wheelchair Accessible: No
As we mentioned at the top, we’ve got a lot of love for the gorgeous area surrounding the falls, offering millions of acres of hiking, biking, trout fishing, camping, swimming, and more.
Whether you’re cruising along the Clark Fork River in a kayak, enjoying an afternoon picnic along the Noxon Reservoir after a fishing expedition, or roasting marshmallows under the stars, there’s just something magical about Sanders County.
Read on for some of our favorite camping and fishing spots, as well as cabin rentals, lodges, and hotels around Graves Creek Falls, Montana!
Hiking & Biking
Since it’s surrounded by the Lolo National Forest, Graves Creek Falls offers numerous opportunities for hiking and biking – and you know we have favorites. If you’re looking for a real challenge, head around 30 miles west into Idaho and check out Simmons Peak.
It’s ideal for advanced hikers, so we can only recommend this Idaho treat for those with miles of hiking experience behind them.
Back in Montana, we like the Route of the Olympian in the Lolo National Forest because it’s wheelchair accessible, but our favorite hike – beyond the mountain peaks we discussed earlier – is Priscilla Peak which has an awesome cabin lookout built in 1929.
Following the old Northern Pacific Railway, we’ll always recommend the NorPac trail to fellow bikers. We love that it traverses through and connects different states with its nature and trails. Also check out the Big Spruce Creek Trail and the Wilkes Creek Trail near Thompson Falls, especially during fall’s changing colors.
Especially with Wilkes Creek, you might hit some brushy sections along your way, but it’s worth it for the reward at the end. We won’t spoil it for you!
Swimming & Fishing
If you’re a fan of fishing, we love the abundant bass and trout at the nearby Noxon Reservoir, as the reservoir is known to have an abundance of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike, and trout.
With over 6,100 acres of lake water at this west-central Montana beauty, you’re sure to find numerous access points to put a line in, although fishing from a boat provides the most successful runs here. (Ask us how we know!).
Into ice fishing in the colder winter months? Well, brave soul, you just may have success with northern pike and walleye out on the ice, perfect for a warming fish fry supper with some homemade dill tartar sauce.
And beyond fishing, you’ll find that Noxon is mighty popular during the summertime months for boating and swimming, although if we had to choose, we’d rather swim at the smaller Thompson Falls State Park after a night in our tent (It’s just as magical as it sounds!).
Still, if easy access is what you came to this corner of Montana for, Noxon Reservoir is king for kayaking, canoeing, and practicing your backstroke.
We’d recommend heading to the town of Trout Creek for the best access – just know that you may get a few fish bites on your toes if you find your way into the water! They’re just saying hi!
Of course, the big question is: can you swim at Graves Creek Falls? Honestly, we wouldn’t recommend it due to the height differentials, but luckily, there are plenty of spots to dip in around the falls.
Camping & Lodging
You can probably guess from our enthusiasm that we’re huge fans of camping at Thompson Falls State Park. It’s quiet, shaded from the beating summer sun, and has a great lake to run into after a night steeping – sorry, we mean sleeping – in our tents.
If a state park just doesn’t do it for you, we recommend that you check out one of the many neighboring campgrounds, although some are a bit of a drive. Our favorites?
Drive a bit west and you’ll hit Jackpine Flats Campground, a gorgeous and quiet site that’s pretty ideal and private: you can hear the bubbling creek from your tent. We also love the closer Copper King Campground, completely surrounded by a cedar forest at a river bottom. (It goes without saying: bring your bug spray or citronella candles here!)
Heading to the area with an RV? Check out the adorable Birdland Bay RV Resort which offers 16 full hookup sites, hot showers, and some incredibly scenic views.
For something a bit more luxurious, we love the Rimrock Lodge in Thompson Falls for its newly renovated rooms, adorable dining area, and – the best part – accommodating lounge that offers local craft beers, perfect after a long hike.
If you’re willing to drive a bit northwest, we also highly recommend the Bear Creek Resort: we love their unique cabins, fantastic outdoor lounging area, and the fact that they allow pets for an affordable fee.
Length: 9.4 miles: Alright, we’re starting you with a bit of a challenge – but just keep in mind that this challenge is completely worth it. Featuring its own 1929 cabin lookout that we mentioned above, this is not one of the easier hikes we’ll mention.
In fact, it entirely warrants a great cheeseburger and beer from Big Eddy’s in Thompson Falls. But with its gradual elevation change, well-maintained trail, and immense wildflowers, we’ll always recommend it as one of the best hikes surrounding Graves Creek Falls.
Keep in mind that some points will have minimal shade, so bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water to keep you going.
Length: 1.1 miles Since you’re already in Thompson Falls after that hike, we highly recommend this dam trail that offers great river and falls views, especially because it’s a great location for a small hike and picnic lunch if you’re on the road.
We also recommend the Thompson Falls Community Trails, made up of the Powerhouse Loop (2.3 miles) and the State Park Trail (1.4 miles). More than anything, this is a great spot for getting a running high!
Just a bit outside of the community trails, you can also check out the Mule Pasture Loop, a less heavily-trafficked wooded trail that feels just a bit more remote. So – you’ve got options!
Length: 8.3 miles The Lolo National Forest provides epic excursions into nature, and the Four Lakes Loop is no exception.
Taking around four and a half hours to complete, Four Lakes brings you through four lakes – Cabin Lake, Porcupine Lake, Frog Lake, and Knowles Lake – that all offer their own unique beauty and stopping points.
We love this spot because it’s quite a bit more remote than the community trails and offers gorgeous wildflowers and scenery away from the crowds.
One last thing: if you’re looking to swim, we recommend Cabin Lake over the others. Alright, see you out there!
Length: 6.7 miles Last but certainly not least, we’re big fans of the neighboring Deer Lake, a fantastic out and back trail that’s best traversed from early summer into early fall.
It’s an uphill climb most of the way along the Deer Lake trail, but you’ll pass through gorgeous scenery with an always-appreciated opportunity to dip in Deer Lake before heading back to the trailhead.
Be on the lookout for little mushrooms, Big Sky Country wildlife, and – more than any other trail here – make sure that you wear pants, as some parts towards the end of Deer Lake’s trail can be a bit brushy.
No matter which route you take in Big Sky Country around Graves Creek Falls, the Lolo National Forest is always worth the climb.