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Trail Well Traveled – 11/11

Welcome to the Trail Well Traveled!

Each Friday, in partnership with Montana Wilderness Association we will feature a new western Montana trail and then give one lucky listener some cool goodies to help them embark on their journey!

Ousel Falls Trail

This short, paved trail through a gorge to a wide waterfall is a great choice for kids or visitors who aren’t acclimated to Big Sky’s altitude – and it’s magical year-round!

Roundtrip: 1.6 miles

Directions: From Highway 191, turn west onto Big Sky Road (shown as Lone Mountain Trail on Google maps).  Drive 2.4 miles towards Lone Mountain, home of Big Sky Ski Resort and one of the highest peaks in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest (11,188 feet).  Turn left onto Ousel Falls Road for another 2 miles to Ousel Falls trailhead, just before the entrance to the Spanish Peaks luxury housing development.

What to expect: Aside from Beehive Basin, this is probably the most popular trail in Big Sky and one of the most family-friendly.  It feels a bit like an urban trail, with its wheelchair and stroller-friendly asphalt surface, the outhouse at the parking area, large interpretive sign, dog bag dispenser, the two huge footbridges over the South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River, and the picnic tables at both the bridge and the waterfalls.

Nevertheless, these waterfalls are fun to visit at multiple times of the year.  In winter, most of the falls freeze over – leaving a window through which one can see the water running.  Even areas lower in the canyon will develop long icicles due to water seeping, then freezing, from the hills above.

Once the 100-foot waterfall is in sight, note that there are 3 different potential routes, one to the bottom of the falls, one to the top, and one to an overlook.

Items of interest:

  1. The Water Ouzel (also Ousel), or American Dipper, is a small grey bird that can swim underwater to forage for insects in the stream bed. When out of the water, it tends to stand on small rocks and repeatedly bend its knees, hence the nickname “Dipper.”

  2. The cliffs in Ousel Falls gorge are composed of sandstone, mudstone and siltstone.  Because these rock layers are highly erodible, it is important for humans and dogs to stay on the paths.

  3. The Fairy Orchid, a rare and sensitive species, can be found here clinging to the fragile soils.  It is important to stay on the hiking paths in order to avoid accidentally damaging the orchids.

Learn more about this trail, file your own trip report and photos, or check out some other great hikes at And don’t forget to tune in to the Trail 103.3 each Friday at 9:50 am for the next featured trail and your chance to win!

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