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Big Sky, Montana is like none other. With the most perfect mountain backdrops, world-renowned skiing, and the home of some big-time celebrities, it's weird to think of as somewhere one goes to just hike. But this unusual Montana town has some quaint charms of its own with yet distinctly Montana features that passer-throughs can enjoy.
Ousel Falls is one such hike. Only an hour from Bozeman, and not that far mileage-wise, this waterfall hike is an ideal spot to take friends or family to show off the outdoors.
Well-Marked and Popular, This is One Montana Waterfall Worth Finding
Before even reaching Big Sky, Ousel Falls is only a short way past the main turnoff heading up the mountain. There are picnic tables at both the beginning of the hike and at the waterfall, so stop first at the gas station to fill up on water and snacks. If a daytime hike is in the books, lunch here will treat visitors with a perfectly shaded picnicking spot and spectacular views.
To find the trail, simply head towards the town center. A sign on the left side denotes the beginning of the path. Visitors will notice a free gravel parking area with a sign and outhouse. Depending on the time of year the parking could be limited. The actual trail itself is only approximately a mile and a half long and is very well-tread with multiple bridges crossing the waterway showing off the roaring river below. Though smooth, there are some steep spots mainly at the beginning of the trail, that could be dangerous and slippery during the wetter months with mud or ice. Because of this, Ousel Falls is recommended as best taken once it gets warmer out. The river is naturally impressive at any time of year though and is a frequent spot to snowshoe or cross country ski in the wintertime.
Explore the Big Sky Town Center After Spending the Day at the Falls
As part of the Gallatin River, the water eventually runs down into the Missouri and, although no one is rafting over this waterfall, the Gallatin is known for its whitewater and even has a section known as the “Mad Mile” with class IV rapids. For those wanting to brave their fate, multiple local rafting companies offer this and less challenging trips along the infamous waterway.
The name “Ousel” comes from the name of the tiny American Dipping birds that like to frequent this river and nest in the waterfall cracks. Also known as an “Ouzel,” these small birds like to jump in and out of the water to catch small insects. Don’t let the name fool you though, the waterfall is no small feature. At 35 feet tall, the time of year determines how roaring the water is, but it is still impressive in any season with winter creating a sheet of sparkling icicles and spring a massive overflow. These falls are exceptionally perfect for visitors and photographers as they have multiple viewing points from both the front, top and side. There is also a slippery stone walkway right at the base of the falls that allows visitors to sit at the very bottom. Dogs will love it here to grab a quick drink, but be careful with the kids, the water below travels downhill fast.
After spending the day enjoying the hike and exploring the falls, head onwards only a couple more miles to reach the Big Sky Town Center. Restaurants, galleries, and events such as farmers markets and concerts here will keep the entire family entertained. Check ahead for the event schedule too, during the summer months the town center park hosts a free concert series right under the big sky!