No time like the present.
For the past couple years I’ve been very curious about a frozen waterfall that can be seen above the Casey Meadows Trail in the Elkhorn Mountains southeast of Helena. The waterfall, which is located 13 miles from town (as the crow flies), sits near the top of a steep drainage, about 1,000 feet above the popular trail. Last winter (2017-2018) I tried to reach it three times, taking a different approach each time, but I couldn’t do it – The snow was simply too deep. I’ve already been out on the Casey Meadows Trail a couple times this season – once in late November with a friend, and then again this past Saturday with students from the Helena High Outdoors Club. Despite a relatively mild start to winter, I could tell that the waterfall was frozen solid, and ready for me to pay a visit.
Lack of snow was key to success.
On Sunday morning (12/16/18) I made the 17-mile drive from Helena to the trailhead and started hiking at 8:30 am. Snow on the trail was packed and the temperature was 20 ° F – perfect for winter hiking, and ideal for the two dogs that tagged along (Missy and Oat). The dogs and I hiked a 10-mile loop that included spending time on three different trails (see photo tour for details). About half-way through the loop, the trail passed above the waterfall – That’s where we went off-trail and scrambled down to the frozen waterfall 200 feet below. I tried this approach on one of my attempts last winter, but the combination of steep slopes, with dead-fall and boulders hidden beneath waist-deep snow, made it too dangerous. Climbing down the steep slope with the dogs was still very challenging, but with MUCH less snow to wade through we were successful this time. Although my companions obviously didn’t appreciate the significance of reaching this goal (they just wanted lunch), standing at the base of that beautiful column of ice definitely felt like a touchdown moment for me.
Icing on the cake.
As great as it was to see the waterfall up close, and be able to turn and look out at the Helena Valley, the most amazing thing about the place was the icy cave hidden behind the wall of giant icicles. I spent about half an hour there, admiring the strange ice formations, taking photos, and enjoying the uniqueness of the cave. Have a look at the 52-second video below, and then take the photo tour – You’ll see what I mean. (Click here to access Photo Tour)
- Photo Tour of the the adventure.
Includes photos of the unique area behind the waterfall.
- Map of trails around the frozen waterfall.
Zoom in or out.
- Photos from a second trip to the falls in November 2019.
I didn’t take the dogs this time.
- Snowshoe hike to the summit of Casey Peak.
We did this one in December 2016.
- Another blog post about snowshoeing in the Elkhorns.
From the winter of 2017-18.
- Casey Meadows Trail.
Three miles one-way with 1,345 feet of gain.
Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.