Great Falls Creek Trail 18 steadily climbs from the Main Boulder River up to the West Boulder Plateau before descending to the West Boulder River. Snowpack prevents early season hikers from reaching the Great Falls Creek Lakes, which lay 8 miles up the trail, and the West Boulder Plateau, 9 miles up the trail at an elevation of 10,000 feet. Most seasons, snow clings to the West Boulder Plateau until late July. However, magnificent views of the Boulder River Valley and a beautiful waterfall make an early season trek up the first few miles of Great Falls Creek Trail well worth the effort.
The trailhead is located in Gallatin National Forest about 30 miles south of Big Timber on Boulder River Road just before it crosses Two Mile Bridge. The hike starts at an elevation of about 5,200 feet. For a short distance, the trail follows the Main Boulder River. After a quarter mile, the trail splits. One path continues along the Boulder River while the Great Falls Creek Trail turns to the right and begins climbing. As it ascends, the trail enters the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Area. Hikers rapidly gain elevation as switchbacks cut up the mountainside through thick forest and past rockslides offering excellent views of the Boulder River Valley below. About a mile and a half up the trail, follow a spur trail down to the falls along Great Falls Creek. The spur trail is extremely steep and the climb back up to the main trail will cause your thighs and lungs to burn, but the view of the falls is worth it. After the falls, the trail continues to climb, cutting away from the Boulder River Valley and following the Great Falls Creek Valley up towards the West Boulder Plateau. The trail crosses the creek about 2.5 miles up the trail around 6,700 feet. This is where I encountered the snowline at the end of April this year. After hiking a short distance on the snow-covered trail as new snow began to fall, I decided to head back down to the trailhead.
An early season trip along Great Falls Creek Trail might just inspire you to return and complete the 16 mile journey from the trailhead across the West Boulder Plateau and down to the West Boulder River. But why wait until all the snow melts to hit the trails? Consider the advantages of early season hiking: no crowds on the trail, no mosquitoes, wildflowers and plants springing to life, cool, pleasant weather. Even if snow prevents you from reaching some destinations, get out and take a spring hike!