Ross Creek Cascades

Ross Creek is famous for its ancient cedars and surely doesn’t disappoint. This route follows the cedars, then lifts off the river bottom and climbs through an old burn to a set of sparkling cascades carved into the South Fork Ross Creek.
  • Cabinet Mountains
3.1 out of 5
Moderate (uphill hiking; trail condition)
8.1 miles
3:25 hours moving time (Hiking)
Elevation Gain
1,463 feet
High Point
4,274 feet (Cascades)
Low Point
2,888 feet (Trailhead)
  • Grove
  • Rock Formation
  • Waterfall
  • Outing Type
  • Daytrip
  • Trail Type
  • Out-and-back
  • Trailbed
    Packed dirt
    142, 321
  • Ross Creek
  • Camping
    • None
    • Trail 142 was in good condition, but trail 321 had a fair bit of deadfall and the tread is sometimes narrow. A log bridge eliminates fordings
  • Kootenai National Forest
  • Status
  • Unprotected
  • Maps
  • Sawtooth Mountain
  • Fees & Permits
  • None required
  • ()
    Open To
  • Hikers
  • Dogs
  • ()
  • At the south end of Bull Lake, turn west onto NF-398 off of MT-56, about 20 miles south of Troy. It is signed Ross Creek. Follow the road for 4 miles to the trailhead. About a mile in make sure to turn sharply left to stay on NF-398 instead of going to the Bad Medicine campground. The road is blacktopped single-lane with turnouts. There is parking for probably two dozen cars, but may well be full as this is a very popular site. Proceed for half a mile across the Ross Creek Cedar Grove to the signed trailhead.
  • Season
    April – November
      September 27, 2020

      To get to the trailhead, follow the Ross Creek nature trail to the middle of the loop and you will find signage pointing to North and South Fork Ross Creek. The mighty cedars that make the Ross Creek Cedars famous by no means stop at the end of that scenic area; rather, trail 142 continues along the bottom-lands beneath a well-shaded ancient cedar canopy. The trees perhaps aren’t as mighty and old, but are impressive nonetheless, particularly the moss-covered fallen giants and the stumps that appear to survive for centuries after the death of a tree.

      After about a mile, the trail touches on a dry creek bed of Ross Creek, with the creek now running further south. Continuing on, the trail soon after approaches the creek water, but remains on the north side of the creek to just past the 2-mile mark. The trail near the crossing was rerouted (watch for pink ribbon) and instead of fording the creek, the path now leads to a giant cedar lying across the creek and ensuring a dry crossing in perhaps all weather situation. The trail then cuts through the woods and catches up with the old trail #142. New signage is installed, but since the crossing was moved further west, you’ll have to backtrack towards the South Fork Ross Creek. The junction with trail #321 is signed, but #321 is quite overgrown, so keep an eye out. If you reach the South Fork you’ve gone too far; backtrack and look for new signage affixed to trees.

      Once on #321, the trail quickly lifts off the river bottom, climbing quite steeply for the better part of a mile. Filtered views open up of a lower ridge of Billiard Table that burned a few years ago. In fact, the area that the trail traverses burned in 2015 (Sawtooth Fire), but many trees appear to have survived.

      Trail conditions along the South Fork aren’t as goods as on 142, with more deadfall to contend with and sometimes dubious tread. It’s quite manageable, however, and roughly 4 miles after leaving Ross Creek Cedars you arrive at the cascades, a tall waterfall (somewhat hidden from view) followed by several smaller cascades higher up and a nearly perfectly level granite slab in the creek bed. The trail moves on, in theory, but doesn’t deserve that label as it is a mere game trail. Time to turn around!

      Alternate Routes

      • Trail 142 continues for 3 more miles along the North Fork Ross Creek

      Things to Consider

        Not so great

          Naughty checking out a hollow cedar
          Centuries-old cedars in the creek bottomland
          The inside of a burnt cedar
          Naughty looking for squirrels
          More cedars near the creek
          Trail 142 is easy to follow
          A dry creek bed
          Naughty posing next to a fallen cedar giant
          No more fordings
          This fancy conveyance ensures dry feet
          New trail signage
          Views of the surrounding hills are mostly filtered
          The cascades
          Ross Creek falls
          The uppermost cascade
          On top of the main waterfall
          Large granite slabs dot the cascades