The Hidden Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge | Montana

Have you ever seen a picture of somewhere online and thought, “I just have to go there!”? The Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge was that for me – and I wanted to see it so badly that we drove the long way from Whitefish, Montana to Wenatchee, Washington on our trip this summer.

While you're driving through beautiful northwestern Montana, you absolutely MUST stop to see the secret Kootenai Falls swinging bridge and nearby Kootenai Falls.

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Swinging bridges are relatively common in the Pacific Northwest (think Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver or the Grove of the Patriarchs bridge in Washington). Still, one of the main perks of the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge is that many people don’t know it’s there.

The Kootenai Falls bridge was initially built in 1937 to help the US Forest Service access forest fires on the other side of the Kootenai River, but a major flood destroyed it in 1948. The bridge was rebuilt in the 1950s, and with the creation of the Libby Dam, it is protected from flooding.


Located on the Kootenai River in Montana, the Kootenai Falls Suspension Bridge is a must-stop if you’re traveling through the Kootenai National Forest along Highway 2. The pull-off for Kootenai Falls is located 7 miles east of Troy and 12 miles west of Libby, near Milepost 21 on US-2. You cannot see the falls or the bridge from the parking lot (or highway, for that matter) so make sure to watch carefully for the pullout!

smiling girl at Kootenai Falls parking lot


paved trail to Kootenai Falls

From the parking lot, there is a short, paved trail through the towering trees. We arrived at the parking lot at roughly 9am, and only a couple of other people were around. The trail takes you across a covered concrete bridge over the railroad tracks. We waited for a bit, hoping to see a train pass under us but didn’t get the chance. These tracks (which are used by BNSF {Burlington Northern Santa Fe} Railway) do get a lot of traffic, though, so keep safety and the potential for noise in mind.

railroad crossing bridge Kootenai Falls Libby Montana

After crossing the tracks and trekking down four flights of fire-tower-like steel stairs, there is a huge blue sign (you can’t miss it!) at a fork in the trail. At this point, you’re about a quarter-mile from the start of the trail. Head to the left for the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge or the right for the viewing area for Kootenai Falls. We started with the route to the left.


uneven trail to Kootenai Falls swinging bridge

This is where the trail got a bit more intense. I still wouldn’t categorize it as a hard trail by any means, but maybe more on the moderate side of easy. It’s about another quarter-mile to the suspension bridge, which isn’t super far, but it was a lot of up and down and climbing over rocks and exposed tree roots on a very well-worn trail.

kids on the new Kootenai Falls swinging bridge

But once we were there, the views of the Kootenai River were terrific and totally worth the hike!

kids on the new Kootenai Falls suspension bridge

Have you ever seen such a pretty color of water?? The bridge pictured was built brand new in 2019 – upstream and a bit lower than the original/rebuilt bridge of the 1930s/1950s. The original bridge, even after rehabilitation, could only hold five people at a time, and its days were numbered.

Kootenai Falls Swinging bridge above the Kootenai River

The new bridge was completed in 2019 and is far superior to the original iterations. For the new bridge, the main load-bearing cables were moved above the deck, providing a useful handrail. It also allows the deck to move more, creating more intense swinging! Once you cross the bridge, there’s a quarter-mile loop trail with views of Kootenai Falls, but we didn’t do that portion. Instead, we headed back to the fork in the trail and continued towards Kootenai Falls.


hike with kids Kootenai River

This part of the trail is a smidge shorter than the left side toward the bridge and is just under a quarter-mile. We stopped for a couple of pictures near the breathtaking Kootenai River before continuing toward the falls.

making faces on the Kootenai Falls trail

Such cooperation!! Ellie sometimes complains that I take too many pictures (like there’s such a thing as too many!), so to entice her to cooperate, I let her make faces for some of them.

view of Kootenai Falls from trail

We finally made it to the beautiful Kootenai Falls – the largest waterfall in Montana by volume and one of the widest waterfalls in the country!

Kootenai Falls with kids near Libby Montana

The Kootenai Falls viewpoint sits on this giant slab of rock. There are no guardrails and really no safety measures to speak of, so be VERY careful, especially with small children. It was sunny and dry when we visited, but I imagine this rock can get very slippery in inclement weather.

Kootenai Falls waterfall in Montana


    • Keep your eyes open around milepost 21 on Highway 2 between Troy and Libby, Montana, so that you don’t miss the small Kootenai Falls parking lot. It can fill up during the day so arriving early or late is your best bet to avoid other people.
    • It’s roughly 1/4 mile to the fork on the trail, and then 1/4 mile left to the Kootenai suspension bridge or 1/4 mile right to Kootenai Falls. If you hike to both Kootenai Falls and the Kootenai Swinging Bridge, it’s just over 1.5 miles roundtrip with 170 feet of elevation gain.
    • Bring plenty of water! The hike felt much longer than we expected – there are some seriously steep switchbacks on uneven ground.

Are you a waterfall fan?? What’s the best one that you’ve ever visited??

Looking for more outdoor fun in the Pacific Northwest? Check out these posts:

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