H Paradise Valley
S. Fk. Deep Creek
Pine Creek H,C
Passage Creek Falls
Big Timber Area
Creek Falls H,C,V
Boulder Meadows H,C
Twin Lakes H,C
Lava Lake H
Little Belt Mountains
MT Railroading V
Gap Wind Farm V
Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness
Rocks Rec Area V,C
Lake State Park V,C
Bridge Falls and the Boulder River
Montana has two Boulder Rivers. One is in the west
central part of the state and runs into the Jefferson River near the
town of Cardwell. The other Boulder River is a tributary of the
Yellowstone and originates high in the Absaroka Mountains south of Big
Timber MT. This is the better known Boulder River and offers great
visiting experiences for the
Montana hiker, camper, angler or visitor.
The headwaters of the Boulder
the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. This vast wilderness borders
Yellowstone National Park and is one of the wildest areas in the lower
48 states. The Boulder springs from snow melt in the high mountains and
travels nearly 30 miles on public lands (mostly US Forest Service)
before it leaves the mountains and op-ens into a broad open
agricultural valley. The Boulder River has long been renowned within
Montana for its excellent recreation opportunities and many residents
will tell you that the Boulder is one of their favorite places to visit.
Natural Bridge as seen in low water. The dry creek bed is
obvious above the falls. The river has completely gone underground
upstream of here and works its way through the porous sandstone to
where it shoots out to become a surface river again. In high water the
entire creek is pouring over the edge as well as through the
underground channels. Prior to its collapse in 1988 the creek was
spanned by a natural bridge that gave the park its name.
State Hwy 298 parallels the
you hit the National Forest boundary and it becomes the graveled
Boulder River Road.. Heading South from Big Timber Montana, 298 is an
excellent paved road that runs through a broad valley studded with
family ranches. This is productive agriculture land and the working
ranches that fill the valley serve as a reminder of Montana's cultural
history. The lands surrounding the river are private property and,
although Montana has very progressive access laws, it is difficult to
access the river through this stretch.
About 16 miles south of Big
Montana you reach McLeod, Montana where the first post office in the
Boulder valley opened in 1886. This tiny town is at the junction of the
West Boulder and main Boulder Rivers. The West
Boulder River is a sizable
tributary that is well known for its fine fly fishing and great
hiking trails. A significant gravel road intersects with Hwy 298 near
McLeod. this road, the Swingly Road, travels cross country to the
outskirts of Livingston, Montana and makes a great drive as well as a
take-off for other hiking trails and explorations.
Just outside of McLeod there
Montana State Fishing Access Site located on the river. The Boulder
Forks Fishing Access Site offers great access to an excellent
fishing section of the Boulder River. The Boulder River is a vey
popular fishery for
native Yellowstone cutthroat trout and mountain whitefish as well as
for wild brown and rainbow trout. The river is open to fishing all year
long but most anglers find the best success in summer and fall.
Continuing through McLeod,
continues south toward the rapidly approaching mountains. After about
three miles the East Boulder River enters and there is an access road
that you can take that leads to several trailheads in the East Boulder
Drainage. The East Boulder is a significant mining area that was first
developed in 1893 when Ansel S. Hubble, one of the first prospectors in
the area, filed claims in the East Boulder drainage. Today, the East
Boulder Mine is a significant underground mine that producing large
amounts of platinum and palladium.
Another 5 miles south of
Boulder junction the paved road ends and you enter the Gallatin
National Forest where you immediately reach the
Natural Bridge Falls Picnic Area. This Forest Service day use area is a
fantastic place to visit and well worth the trip to see. The Natural
Bridge Falls is created when the Boulder River pours over the lip of a
105 foot tall limestone rock layer. This rock is soft and easily eroded
and historically there was a beautiful natural bridge that spanned the
river here. Unfortunately, the Natural Bridge collapsed in 1988 and all
that remains are memories and photos. However, the falls remain and
they are spectacular. The nature of the rock layer is such that it
erodes easily and several major underground channels have been cut
through the rock. In low water the entire river goes underground above
the falls and erupts from several places to create a river bursting out
of a cliff wall. At high water these streams are joined by the bulk of
the river pouring over the lip.
high water the Natural Bridge Falls is a very impressive sight. The
water flowing over the lip is enhanced by the flows erupting from the
underground waters. If you look closely you will see Ian Garcia in his
kayak going over the top of the falls. Although he was ejected from his
was able to swim out of the maelstrom at the base of the falls.
This is an impressive falls.
water the Boulder is a significant river and the water shoots over the
falls with an amazing force. The Boulder River has always been the
playground for boaters (mostly kayakers) and it is easy to imagine that
many have looked at the falls and wondered if it would be possible to
survive an attempt at jumping the falls. One man decided that he had to
find out and in 2008 Bozeman native Ian Garcia kayaked over the falls.
Ian is a noted waterfall jumper and had studied this for years.
survived the jump but did have to swim after being ejected from his
boat. Read more about the kayaker
boats over Natural Bridge Falls.
The Natural Bridge Falls
is right next to the road where the highway ends and the gravel road
begins. There are handicap accessible outhouses, paved trails,
interpretive signs and many river overlooks. This is also the
trailhead for the Green Mountain Trail which is reached by crossing the
river on the sturdy bridge. Casual visitors will want to cross the
river and follow the trail heading downstream. You will quickly come to
the vantage points opposite the Falls where the photos on this page
were taken. The hike is about a quarter of a mile on gentle trail that
crosses a mixture of clearings and forested areas.
From Natural Bridge you can
return or continue on the one-way road into the mountains. The Boulder
River Road makes a very deep incursion into the Absaroka Beartooth
Wilderness and you can drive for an additional 25 miles or so on the
gravel road. This road can be very rutted and slow driving so don't
ever plan to hurry if you drive this road. There are a number of
private inholdings along the road but most of the land is National
Forest. There are a number of developed campgrounds maintained by the
Forest Service. In addition, there are multitudes of informal camping
spots on forest land along the road and river.
The river is the primary attraction of
the upper Boulder Valley and fly fishermen from afar visit to fish for
trout that inhabit these waters. The upper Boulder River is also very
popular with whitewater kayakers who come in the spring to enjoy the
wild waters of the Boulder. The 20 plus miles of river above Natural
Bridge offer some very difficult water and serious boaters flock to the
Boulder for spring run off. If you want to float these stretches of the
river you must be prepared and this site is not the place to get the
info you need. Please, do your homework and do not consider boating on
the Boulder until you are certain you understand the boating
The Upper Boulder is classic
terrain and, as should be expected, there are many fantastic hiking
trails that take off from trailheads along the road. The upper sections
of the river are actually just over the mountains from the Paradise
Valley of the upper Yellowstone River. Just head west from the upper
Boulder and you will encounter Crow
Mountain which is easily hiked to from the Mill Creek
drainage on the other side of the mountains.
the end of
the Boulder River Road there are jeep trails that lead even higher and
further. There was a history of mining on the highest mountains in the
area and there are private mining lands at the top of Independence
Peak, which is to the east of the River. I don't recommend that you try
to travel these 4wd roads. Rather, stay with the main road which ends
at about 8,000 ft elevation in a meadow surrounded by 10,000 ft peaks.
From here there are trails into the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. This
is beautiful mountain country.
The Boulder River drainage
great place to escape into the mountains of Montana. It offers great
hiking, camping, fishing and, for the very experienced, great
whitewater boating. This is a wonderful place to go for a quick escape
or for an extended expedition. Natural Bridge Falls is a very
spectacular natural feature that anyone interested in Montana should
see. Be sure to take the opportunity to visit this great area.
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