The sound of water crashing down Morrell Falls near the town of Seeley Lake is a sight to behold — and a favorite gem of locals
If you’re visiting Montana, your destination most likely includes one or both of the U.S. national parks within the state — Yellowstone National Park and/or Glacier National Park. And rightly so. The beauty and splendor found within these parks are worth the long hours it takes to get there. But if you have more time, it’s worth a visit to some of the local towns. Consider a hike to Morrell Falls near Seeley Lake, Montana. It’s off the beaten path and it’s a favorite hike for locals.
Getting to Morrell Falls
U.S. Forest Service managers named the trail “Morrell Falls National Trail No. 30.” Some people say getting to the trailhead may be the hardest part of your journey — but only because you’re driving on gravel roads and it takes four turns to reach the trailhead. To avoid getting lost, you can easily find step by step directions to the trailhead on the U.S. Forest Service’s website. I’d recommend printing or hand-writing the directions as a backup since cellular phone service can be spotty in the mountains. Also, know that from the town of Seeley Lake, once you turn off of Highway 83 onto Forest Road 477, you’ll be driving on rough roads for about nine miles.
The Trail and Hike
The trail is accessible beginning in late spring and is 2.7 miles from point to point (5.4 miles round trip). According to the Hiking Project website, the highest elevation of the trail is 4,924 feet, and the trail has an average grade of about 2 percent, making it an easy to moderate hike. Along the trail, you’ll see colorful wildflowers like fairy slipper orchids, glacier lilies and violets well into the fall months. And you may even see an array of blooming bear grass.
You’ll also see a variety of evergreen trees, two mountain lakes, the beautiful Seeley-Swan Mountain Range and a span of burned forest trees on the trail — a result of the Rice Ridge Fire that burned northeast of Seeley Lake in the Lolo National Forest in 2017.
As with any hike in Montana, you’ll want to pack bear spray, water and snacks to keep you safe, hydrated and nourished. The base of the waterfall is a nice picnic destination, so consider packing in a lunch.
If you’re an advanced hiker, the upper falls on Morrell Creek is not frequented nearly as often as lower Morrell Falls. There’s an unmarked trail 100 yards before you reach the lower falls that takes you to the upper falls. It’s a steep climb and isn’t maintained, so use extra caution.
The roaring sound of water falling 90 feet will not disappoint. Morrell Falls is part of the Morrell Creek drainage fed by Grizzly Basin, and it’s adjacent to the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It’s as beautiful as you’d expect, and photographers frequent the falls. Travelers gave the trail 4.5 stars on Tripadvisor, and the waterfall is at the top of the Top 10 list of things to do in Seeley Lake.
A photograph of Morrell Falls by Bri Sullivan won first place in the Montana Wilderness Association’s Picture Wild contest in 2019. Judge Luke Duran said, “This image perfectly captures that feeling of being fully present and engaged in a wild space much larger than yourself.”
Suzanne Downing is an outdoor writer and photographer in Montana with an environmental science journalism background. Her work can be found in Outdoors Unlimited, Bugle Magazine, Missoulian, Byline Magazine, Communique, MTPR online, UM Native News, National Wildlife Federation campaigns and more.