Pioneer Falls, Madison County

Rebecca Hanlon
Last Updated: March 4th, 2023

Pioneer Falls drops down 40 feet into a narrow gorge, running off Falls Creek. The beautiful waterfall tumbles its way downward toward the southern fork of Spanish Creek, tucked into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area in Madison County, Montana.

The waterfall is only accessible by hiking along for about 3 miles in and 3 miles back. The terrain is moderately challenging, so it’s not for small children and those with poorer conditioning, but it is a great mid-level to challenging hike for anyone eager for an adventure into the woods, with a stunning waterfall awaiting at the other end.

A Guide to Pioneer Falls, Madison County

The beautiful waterfall is located in the wilderness along a shorter hike of 6 miles round-trip. Be sure to pack appropriate supplies and wear decent footwear as you head into the forest to find the stunning cascade along Falls Creek.

pioneer falls stats

Pioneer Falls Stats

  • Location: Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Madison County, Montana
  • Latitude: 45.4149285°
  • Longitude: -111.4052387°
  • Stream: Falls Creek
  • Height: 40 feet
  • Elevation: 6692 feet
  • Season: Late spring to early autumn
  • Campgrounds and RV parks nearby: 20+ campgrounds located within the park or nearby, with hundreds of sites available

Recreational Activities Near Pioneer Falls

The Lee Metcalf Wilderness is a wonderful place to find plenty of outdoor activities and recreation for you and the whole crew.

From rafting to hiking or biking to museum-going, the whole area is plentiful with adventure and excitement, with an emphasis on outdoor sport and recreation.


First off, folks ask can you swim in Pioneer Falls? Sadly, no, you cannot swim in Pioneer Falls. Swimming in a natural waterfall is dangerous, thanks to the rushing undercurrents beneath the surface. These undercurrents can snag you and pull you under and trap you beneath the water.

Instead of trying to swim at Pioneer Falls, visit some of the lakes, streams, pools, swimming holes, and ponds in the area in Yellowstone National Park, local hot spring parks, and the various forests and wilderness areas nearby.


Boating is a popular activity throughout Madison County and surrounding areas in Montana.

The literal hundreds of lakes, streams, rivers, and ponds provide an immense number of opportunities for boating of all kinds. Choose from paddle boarding, paddle boating, jet skis, canoeing, or kayaking, among many others.

If you don’t have your own boat to bring, there are many outfitters in the area with rentals of all types.

Make note of boating restrictions on any bodies of water you wish to visit. Not all are open to motorized boats and some are protected areas with no boating permitted in any form.

White Water Rafting

For those looking for an added thrill out on the water, white water rafting is a popular activity in the area. Bring your own raft if you have one or join a guided trip for an hour, several hours, overnight, or several days.

Some of the top-rated outfitters and guides in the area include:

Birdwatching and Wildlife Viewing

wild life view

Montana is home to some of the most unique and beautiful animals in all of the United States.

As you visit Madison County, searching for Pioneer Falls, you’re likely to run across some of the exciting wildlife and birds the state is so well known for.

  • American dippers
  • Badgers
  • Bats
  • Beavers
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Bison
  • Black bears
  • Bobcats
  • Canada Lynx
  • Chickadees
  • Chipmunks
  • Common loons
  • Coots
  • Cormorants
  • Cougars
  • Coyotes
  • Ducks
  • Eagles
  • Elk
  • Falcons
  • Frogs
  • Geese
  • Grey wolves
  • Grizzly bears
  • Ground squirrels
  • Ibis
  • Jackrabbits
  • Lizards
  • Long-tailed weasels
  • Martens
  • Montane voles
  • Moose
  • Mountain goats
  • Mule deer
  • Nuthatches
  • Ospreys
  • Owls
  • Pelicans
  • Pikas
  • Pocket gophers
  • Pronghorn
  • Ravens
  • Red Foxes
  • Red squirrels
  • River otters
  • Salamanders
  • Sandhill cranes
  • Short-tailed weasels
  • Snakes
  • Snowshoe hares
  • Swans
  • Toads
  • Uinta ground squirrels
  • White tailed deer
  • Wolverines
  • Woodpeckers
  • Yellow-bellied marmots


Whether you’re thinking fly fishing or traditional rod and reel, fishing in Montana is one of the top sports of choice. You may hire a guide while in Madison County or head out on your own.

If you’re not particularly confident in your quality fish hole finding skills, hiring a guide through any of these companies might be your best bet:


Mountain bike and off-road bike trails are a major part of the excitement in and around Pioneer Falls.

But if you’re not familiar with the area, you may wish to visit some of the website projects folks have brought together to describe trails with elevation gains, obstacles, and more.

Trail Running

trail running

The many trails in the area are also great choices for many trail runners looking for a new adventure as they visit the areas.

Great Runs, All Trails, and other sites have done a fantastic job of bringing together information so you can more easily choose the best trails for your experience, skill, and desired challenge levels out there.

Horseback Riding

Don your cowboy hats and pull on some boots – horseback riding is an adventure waiting for you just around the corner in Lolo National Forest, Glacier National Park, Flathead, and practically anywhere else in the region.

Choose between short trail rides, several-hour rides, overnight camping trips, or longer pack rides. Some of the best companies below are happy to help you find exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to the trails and rugged wilderness of Madison County, Montana.

Museums and Educational Programs

Whatever your penchant for educational programming and historical learning, you’re sure to find several great museums and galleries you’ll want to visit while in the area.

From learning about the First Nations of the region to the early settler days and the Wild West era, you’ll find these museums have more to offer than you’ve even got time for. So choose wisely!


In some locations within Lolo and Yellowstone regions, backcountry camping permits are required for your hike out and tent pitch overnight. Camping in the area is also only recommended between May and October unless you’ve got proper alpine weather gear.

There are RV parks, standard campgrounds, and primitive campgrounds throughout the forests and parks in the region, with some sites being reservable.

If you wish to camp out while here, it’s highly recommended that you reserve your spot well ahead of time during peak season or arrive early if no reservations are afforded.

Hotels and Cabin Rentals


If you prefer a night in a hotel, motel, lodge, or cabin, there are many options for this kind of lodging as well. Some of the most appreciated lodging in the area includes

Trail Routes

trail routes

There is one main hiking trail to reach Falls Creek, along the South Fork Spanish Creek Trail.

On this trail, you will intersect with a point-to-point hiking trail named for the falls, but the trail does not have any other access points, save for another longer, more distant trails from further flung trailheads.

South Fork Spanish Creek Trail

The South Fork Spanish Creek Trail may be accessed from the Spanish Creek Campground. The trailhead is on the west side of the site, but there are three trails heading out from here, so verify you’re on the correct trail. If you do not come quickly to a wood bridge, turn back and try again.

Starting down the hill, you’ll cross the bridge and then immediately turn left. You’re likely to spot some moose here in October, so be careful to come upon the opening quietly.

After another 2.5 miles of hiking or so, a fork will appear in the trail. Take the right fork onto Falls Creek Trail #410. You’ll quickly gain elevation as you hike upward, with switchbacks taking you along the way.

There will be a gradual incline then and the valley below will open up. You’ll start to hear the thundering falls now – this is Pioneer Falls.

  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Unknown
  • Difficulty level: Moderately challenging
  • Trail type: Out and back

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About The Author

Rebecca Hanlon

Rebecca has been a travel blogger and editor for over 5 years, working with some of the biggest brands in industry. She’s taught English as a foreign language in 5 different countries, and her most fulfilling role was as a tour guide around some of Europe’s finest vineyards. She the one behind the social channels here at Discovering Montana, whilst also finding the time to perform an assistant editor role.

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