The first time I heard about Cataract Falls was when my good friend Elisha of Really Montana Photography raved about her first visit in early spring. She excitedly talked about the beautiful drive out and the waterfall that was still partially frozen, but she refused to show me any photos for fear that she would ruin my first view of the falls by giving me a sneak peak. She inspired me so much that I planned a visit for the very next day.
I took a friend with me and we had a blast exploring Cataract Falls. When I got back from our adventure, I sent a few photos to Elisha right away. I was so excited that she had prompted me to get out and see this outdoor gem that I couldn’t help but share. She fired right back with a challenge that changed all my outdoor goals for the year: “I dare you to see who can visit the most waterfalls this year!”, she said. Thus began the #waterfallphotochallengethrowdown, a crazy fun, surprisingly competitive and rewarding photo challenge that was all shared on Facebook and Instagram.
Cataract Falls was a worthy start to our year of hunting out waterfalls and Elisha didn’t exaggerate – it is so beautiful! Although you do have to own a vehicle capable of handling the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountain Front and the several creek crossings and snow patches that you’re bound to run into, finding the falls is relatively easy. It is over an hour-long trip from Great Falls but the views the whole way there are worthwhile. Getting to drive through the friendly town of Augusta and seeing the large ranches with grazing deer is part of the fall’s appeal, not to mention the wildflowers that bloom in the springtime or the large round hay bales that get rolled and pressed in the fall.
The hike to Cataract Falls is short (only .25 miles from trailhead to waterfall) but it meanders around the creek and into some beautiful woods. The distant sound of the cascading water builds anticipation as the trail gets closer to the falls and once you step into the canyon clearing, you’re treated a magnificent view of the hundred-foot-tall waterfall. The peaceful and romantic rushing of Cataract Creek as it echoes against its granite backdrop is a sight to behold and a sound to be heard. Layers of red-toned rocks with black streaks and spots of gold and white sit behind the stream as it tumbles down.
I would highly recommend visiting in the late spring or early summer to catch the ice beneath the falls that remains a beautiful blue and makes for amazing photos. Those hoping to catch the falls in summer should be warned that the creek is much lower and even dries up some seasons, making the falls far less impressive.
For those wanting a bit more of a challenging hike after a stop at the waterfall, the Elk Pass Trail also departs from the same parking lot and connects to the Steamboat Mountain lookout hike. I have not personally explored this one yet, but I have plans to return!
To find our first photos of Cataract Falls and the 120 waterfall photos that were shared thereafter, simply search the hashtag “waterfallphotochallengethrowdown” on Facebook or Instagram or follow @lanaexplores and @elishamack on Instagram