Cedars and Falls – The Best of Montana

On our recent trip to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness we stopped off at two of Montana’s most amazing wilderness attractions. The first was the Ross Creek Cedar Grove very close to the Bull River Guard Station where we spent the night. This 100 acre National Forest protected area is home to an old growth cedar grove. Some of the western red cedars in the grove are over hundreds of feet high and can be as wide as 12 feet in diameter.

We hadn’t seen old growth trees like these since our time on Vancouver Island and we spent an entire morning exploring the grove. Some trees were hollowed out (yet still standing) and the Younger Fives had a blast climbing into the dark cavities. Other trees had fallen completely making massive play structures and slides. Most surprising during our visit to the cedar grove was the dry creek bed where previous visitors had erected hundreds of stone cairns. We took the time to add our own cairns to the arrangement, some of us building on top of fallen cedar trees. Overall the Ross Creek Cedar Grove is an amazing piece of wilderness that is a must see for anyone venturing to Western Montana.

Our next stop was the equally stunning Kootenai Falls where we were presented not only with views of the largest undammed falls in Montana, but also with a live movie shoot. Completely unexpected to us we ran across the cast and crew of Radioflash which was filming at the falls. This included seeing Dominic Monaghan (better known as Merry from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy) in costume with bloody makeup on his face. Having the cast and crew of a movie production along with their camera drones whizzing through the air was a little bit of a distraction in a place with such natural beauty. However, we did the best that we could to ignore the film production and concentrate on the awesome power and beauty of the falls.

We especially loved the swinging bridge that allowed us to walk directly over the falls. The bridge is not for those with a fear of heights, but it gives you an amazing view up and down the falls. On the other side of the river we spoke with a member of the Kootenai Tribe from Elmo, Montana who was there to make sure that the film crew didn’t disturb the area. The falls are a sacred site to the Kootenai Tribe and a place of much spiritual importance. While we could have done without the trucks, drones, and equipment of the film crew we were glad that we were able to visit Kootenai Falls as an end to our trip.

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Overnight at the Historic Bull River Guard Station

Precipitation finally found its way to Montana helping to damper the forest fires and clear out most of the smoke. Eager to get out and explore more of the state before we move on in a few weeks we packed up the car and spent a few days in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. Five String has been interested in staying at the Bull River Guard Station for a while now and lucky for us it was available for the weekend.

The Bull River Guard Station was built in 1908 and served as a ranger station for the forest service until the 1970’s. The structure was designed and built by Granville ‘Granny” Gordon (a personal friend of President Theodore Roosevelt) and has a ton of history. The guard station underwent restoration in 1989, but it still retains the original layout. You can still see the 1910 era newspapers that were used to paper the walls when Granville, his wife, and three daughters lived at the guard station.

The inside of the guard station now features electricity, heat, a stove, and a refrigerator. The only amenity lacking is running water and an indoor bathroom (there is an outhouse just off the back porch). The Bull River Guard Station was way bigger than our family needed with four bedrooms, a sitting room, and a kitchen. Being an older structure situated in the wilderness it definitely attracts its share of rodents and insects. Five Spice spent the first hour sweeping away dead bugs and rodent droppings. We choose to do most of our cooking and eating outdoors and store our food in the car, which helped make sure that we didn’t attract the attention of “furry creatures”.

The view of the Cabinet Mountains from the guard station is stunning. The Bull River can be accessed in just a short walk and across the road is a huge grove of cedar trees. The weather cooperated and we spent most of our time hiking, walking along the river, and playing under the cedar trees. The number of hikes accessible from the area is amazing and we can see why the Bull River Guard Station is usually booked by guests throughout the year. We spent the ride home imagining all the other recreational possibilities that the guard station offers if we visit again in the summer or winter.