5 Must-See Waterfalls and Yellowstone's Lake Isla

Isla Lake is located in Yellowstone National Park between the Old Faithful geyser and the “West Thumb” of Yellowstone Lake. The lake straddles the continental divide at Craig Pass (elevation 8262 ft) and was first discovered in 1891 by Hiram M. Chittenden. Chittenden, who was exploring the best routes for a road to connect Old Faithful and West Thumb geyser basins, named the lake after Miss Isabel Jelke from Cincinnati, though it is not clear why.

Isa Lake is believed to be the only natural lake in the world which drains to two different oceans. The east side of the lake drains by way of the Lewis River to the Pacific Ocean and the west side of the lake drains by way of the Firehole River to the Atlantic Ocean. This is the opposite of what one would expect since the Atlantic Ocean is east of the lake and the Pacific Ocean is to the west.

The lake, often abundantly filled with water lilies, is easy to visit as it is along the road that now connects the Old Faithful and West Thumb geysers basins on what is known as the “lower loop” of the figure-eight roadway which traverses through Yellowstone.


I love those special moments as I hike along a secluded trail and suddenly come upon a beautiful waterfall. I thought you’d like to hear about 5 of the most beautiful waterfalls in Montana, as listed by Larry and Nathan Johnson in Distinctly Montana Magazine. 

Graves Creek • Northwest Montana
You will fall in love with this place. The Jewel Basin is just to the west, Hungry Horse Reservoir to the east; Handkerchief Lake, innumerable waterfalls, and some nice campsites will more than entice you to come back. Graves Creek Falls is just upstream from the bridge that crosses the road with the small trail heading upstream from a small pullout picnic area.

Western Montana • Morrell Falls

The Morrell Falls National Historic Trail is a 2.3-mile hike into the Lolo National Forest. This is a fairly easy day hike that really doesn’t have any steep grades to it. The trail leads through tightly spaced stands of Lodgepole pine, past the 23-acre Morrell Lake and on to a series of waterfalls. Towards the end of the trail you wind around a marsh, and then you hear the falls. Just past an old-growth-timber stand, the view opens onto a small clearing and 90’ Morrell Falls.

Northcentral Montana • Arnica  Falls

When you come across this golden-yellow falls, you will be surprised at how quickly it appears. This waterfall has several levels—the top is the largest and most dramatic plunge, while the lower part is reckless cascades. Take note of the stunning amount of greenery around the area. This is typical of the Swan Valley — lush forests, huckleberries, bears, hidden waterfalls and roadless areas. 

Central Montana • Upper Big Timber Falls

A dull roar and an informative sign greet you as you start walking toward the falls. This is an easy, eighth-mile hike on a well marked trail. Every couple of years this section of Big Timber Creek is host to one of the wildest events in Montana, the Big Timber Race. Boaters, most being kayakers, race down the series of waterfalls and slides culminating in Big Timber Falls. The section is known for its crazy rides and high-quality bedrock whitewater.

Southcentral Montana • Woodbine Falls

Woodbine Falls Trail starts in the northeast corner of Woodbine Campground. From the trailhead you begin to climb uphill gradually, but in just a couple of hundred yards the trail gets more difficult by switchbacking up the mountainside. Although it’s only 0.75 mile up the trail to Woodbine Falls, you climb 564’ in elevation. The falls is a magnificent display of cascades, vertical falls, and boulder drops. The views are spectacular from the final overlook.

Anthea George
Anthea George