mission falls

Mission Reservoir is a great place to picnic, camp or swim before or after taking the 2-mile trek to Mission Falls.

It’s a favorite view for many Montanans, when they top Ravalli Hill on U.S. Highway 93 west of here and the Mission Mountains explode into view, with a magnificent waterfall tumbling down them.

With a recreation permit from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes – who 32 years ago became the first American Indian tribe to ever permanently designate some of their own lands as a wilderness area – you can get a lot closer.

There’s something here for all ages and abilities.

While it would be hard to argue that the reservoir itself is “wild,” given that it was created by a man-made dam likely built in the 1930s, there’s no denying the stunning lake-like scenery it created.

The reservoir is a beautiful spot to picnic, camp or fish (make sure you have the proper stamps on your permit for the latter two activities). There are three areas available for mostly primitive camping.

The first you’ll arrive at is on the northwest side of the reservoir, and the second is at the east end of the reservoir. Both have restroom facilities. People also camp at the Mission Falls trailhead at the end of the road, although there are no restrooms there.

Here’s what you should know about the trail itself. That spectacular waterfall you see from Highway 93? That’s Elizabeth Falls, and it’s farther above the waterfall most people hike to.

The 2-mile trail leads to Mission Falls, spectacular in its own right.

Mission Falls can be deceivingly dangerous, according to Tom McDonald, division manager of CSKT’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation. The trail, which includes three steep sections, takes you to a pool atop the falls that couldn’t look more serene.

“A light film of algae grows on the rocks, and people who wade out into the pool can slip and go over the falls,” McDonald says. “It’s the only trail in the wilderness we’ve had fatalities on in my time here.”

Stay out of the water and you won’t slip on the algae.

The trail continues another 3 to 4 miles to Lucifer Lake. It is extremely steep, not maintained, and doesn't offer good vantage points for viewing Elizabeth Falls, which it passes.