This short, paved trail through a gorge to a wide waterfall is a great choice for kids or visitors who aren’t acclimated to Big Sky’s altitude, and it’s magical year-round.
Aside from Beehive Basin, this is probably the most popular trail in Big Sky and one of the most family-friendly. It feels a bit like an urban trail, with its wheelchair and stroller-friendly asphalt surface, the outhouse at the parking area, large interpretive sign, dog bag dispenser, the two huge footbridges over the South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River, and the picnic tables at both the bridge and the waterfalls.
These waterfalls are fun to visit at multiple times of the year. In spring, the water rages over the rocks, covering the entire falls in a thick layer of water. Later in the year, it is more of a mild stream with gentle falls. In winter, most of the falls freeze over, sometimes leaving a window through which one can see the water running. Even areas lower in the canyon will develop long icicles due to water seeping, then freezing, from the hills above.
Once the 100-foot waterfall is in sight, note that there are 3 different potential routes, one to the bottom of the falls, one to the top, and one to an overlook.
Items of interest:
- The Water Ouzel (also Ousel), or American Dipper, is a small grey bird that can swim underwater to forage for insects in the stream bed. When out of the water, it tends to stand on small rocks and repeatedly bend its knees, hence the nickname “Dipper.”
- The cliffs in Ousel Falls gorge are composed of sandstone, mudstone and siltstone. Because these rock layers are highly erodible, it is important for humans and dogs to stay on the paths.
- The Fairy Orchid, a rare and sensitive species, can be found here clinging to the fragile soils. It is important to stay on the hiking paths in order to avoid accidentally damaging the orchids.
Ousel Falls gets more than 200 visitors daily during the peak summer months and 25-30,000 annually. Enjoy the excitement of others as they gawk at this iconic trail.
In-town Option: There is also a 2-mile long, 5-foot wide gravel commuter trail from Town Center that parallels Ousel Falls Road to the Ousel Falls trailhead that, confusingly, is also called Ousel Falls Trail but which provides a way to access the waterfalls from the town of Big Sky.
Longer Option: The Ousel Falls trailhead is the closest access to Forest Service land from the heart of Big Sky and the only horse-friendly access point for First and Second Yellow Mule. The First Yellow Mule trail junction is located approximately 0.5 miles beyond the Ousel Falls waterfall trailhead. The Second Yellow Mule Trail junction is another 1.5 miles down First Yellow Mule.
From Highway 191, turn west onto Big Sky Road (shown as Lone Mountain Trail on google maps). Drive 2.4 miles towards Lone Mountain, home to Big Sky Ski resort and one of the highest peaks in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest at 11,188 feet. Turn left onto Ousel Falls Road for another 2 miles to Ousel Falls trailhead, just before the entrance to the Spanish Peaks luxury housing development.
Total Elevation Gain
Canyon / Coulee, River / Stream, Waterfall
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Suitable for all vehicles