Updated: Aug 11
Morrell Falls is one of the greatest, if not the best, waterfalls that you can go to. The hike is short with some elevation gain, and the view once you get there is unforgettable. The waterfall is massive in the spring.
In this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Morrell Falls and a secret pathway to get to the top of the waterfall. There will be lots of pictures!
How Is a Waterfall Made?
Before we jump into the Morrell Falls hike, let’s talk about the science behind how a waterfall is created. There will be a stream that runs over hard rock, where erosion will be very slow. As the stream moves into an area with soft rock, erosion will occur quickly. Rocks can also collapse, speeding up the erosion process significantly. This is similar to how Angels Window, Navajo Point, and the Grand Canyon were formed, which we cover in this blog. We go much more into depth about how the Grand Canyon was formed in our other blog. This waterfall is somewhat dug into the ground at a lower level than the surrounding area. As you can see in the picture below, there are multiple ledges where the water falls a few feet before hitting another ledge. Each of these ledges is hard rock, and creates a beautiful waterfall! There are some waterfalls at Goldbug Hot Springs, which we talk about in this blog, that are smaller because there is a smaller volume of water flowing. Now onto how to get to Morrell Falls!
How to Get to Morrell Falls
Morrell Falls is located 40 minutes and 8 miles away from the small town of Seeley Lake, Montana 59868 in Missoula County. The coordinates of the falls are 47.300606, -113.464237. Even with a small population of just 1,500 people, Seeley Lake has plenty of restaurants, gas stations, and recreational opportunities. Seeley Lake is very popular among Montanans, and they love to camp, hike, cross-country ski, and do just about anything in the lake; the elevation of Seeley Lake is 4,019 feet.
If you’re traveling north on Montana Highway 83, you will need to turn right onto Morrell Creek Road. There will be a little white house right next to the turn, which you can see in the picture below. If you’re traveling south, you will need to turn left after Sullivan Memorial Community Hall. You may also see a Lolo National Forest sign on this road.
Once on this road (it turns to dirt a couple hundred feet in), drive for just over a mile and turn left. The turn will be just after the Seeley Creek Nordic Ski Trails parking lot. When you come across a fork in the road, make a slight right turn to go down; if you go left, you will go uphill and into the backcountry even more. Farther down the road, make a right-hand turn and you will cross a bridge with a stream running underneath. This is the water coming from Morrell Falls! Make a left 600 feet later and you will reach Morrell Falls trailhead in half a mile. Another name for it is Morrell Falls National Recreation Trail. You should see this sign on your way to the trailhead.
Almost the entire drive goes through a recent wildfire burn area, so there can be downed trees or mudslides. You can see the devastation it caused in the photo below. The Rice Ridge Fire burned 155,900 acres in the summer of 2017. Some lodgepole pines and fireweed are starting to grow back, but it was a very severe fire that left a mark.
Before we get into the hike, it is very important to be prepared for the snow and mud. Our car got stuck two times for a total of three hours, and we were very close to going off the side of a small hill. You can see what we were dealing with in the pictures below. The snow was still lingering after a heat wave; it was 80 degrees the day we went (in late April). Have the right tires, some snow chains, and a shovel to avoid any problems. You will most likely not have any internet connection, so you are on your own out there. If there is no snow on the roads, any car will be able to make it to Morrell Falls trailhead. There are some large rocks that you need to drive around, but that’s what happens when you drive in the backcountry!
The Hike to Morrell Falls
There are bathrooms and a parking lot at the Morrell Falls trailhead, along with a map. There are also two large rocks, so the beginning of the trail is easy to spot. Morrell Falls is above where it says “George Lake Fire Area and Trail Closures” on the bottom. You will be hiking very close to Matt Mountain, Crescent Mountain, and Crescent Lake.
The hike is an easy 5.5 miles and 456 feet of elevation gain. The trail has some small hills and trees that you will have to climb over, but the trail is always visible. 1.1 miles in, you will have a good view over the canyon, which is in the picture below. Some tree species that survived the wildfire include Engelmann spruce, Douglas fir, Lodgepole pine, Western Larch, and Ponderosa pine.
After this overview, the trail will turn a little more to the right and gain 100 feet of elevation. At this point, the elevation will be 4,900 feet above sea level. 1.4 miles in, the trail will start to drop a bit and you will see the first lake just 15 minutes later (1.9 miles into Morrell Falls National Recreation Trail). Surprisingly, the lake was frozen over when it was 80 degrees for a few days.
Less than 5 minutes later, there is another small lake (Morrell Lake) and a little stream that you have to cross. No, you don’t have to get wet but you will have to jump over it.
A quarter mile down the trail, you will have a beautiful view over Morrell Creek.
Continue walking and you will see a small wooden bridge shown in the picture below that is 25 feet across. Take a minute and close your eyes, listening to the stream running beneath you. You’ll be able to hear Morrell Falls in the distance, too.
The next part can get a little confusing. The trail does a 180-degree turn two times, kind of like an S. At the second turn, you will reach a fork in the road. Take the right path to get to the bottom of the waterfall. You will have a little bit more elevation gain before you finally reach Morrell Falls.
Congratulations! You have reached the beautiful Morrell Falls. In the spring, you should not go into the stream as it is usually high-flowing and dangerous. In the summer and fall, it will be safe.
On the left side of the waterfall, you will see a large rock that you can stand on (just feet away from the waterfall)! It will be very loud. You can hide behind one of the trees if you are cold from the waterfall spraying water.
Now we will move on to the hike up the waterfall that I would 100% recommend. It should only take a few minutes.
Hiking to the Top of Morrell Falls
Walk back down the trail for a couple of minutes and you will see a very faded trail going up the hill. It is very steep, so you must bring hiking shoes that have good traction. You will get to a little plateau, and have a view halfway up the waterfall.
It will only take 3 more minutes to get to the top of the waterfall. The river will be flat, which means you’re in the right place.
Look to the right and you’ll see a path going over a very small hill. You should be right next to the top of the waterfall, and you can see all the way down. The picture I took below was on a small ledge, and I was holding onto a tree for balance. I would not recommend doing this (because it’s scary).
Morrell Falls National Recreation Trail Rules
Mountain biking is allowed, but bikers will need to watch out for hikers and fallen trees (they can appear out of nowhere. Furthermore, horseback riding is allowed. Equestrians may have difficulty getting around some of the fallen trees, though.
Camping is allowed at Morrell Lake. Just make sure to pack out what you pack in, and not go to the bathroom anywhere near water sources.
Morrell Falls is only open during the spring, summer, and fall when there is little to no snow. You will not be able to drive this road when there are multiple feet of snow.
Packing List for Visiting Morrell Falls, Montana
Hiking boots. This is the most obvious item you will need for this hike. There will be plenty of rocks, tree roots, and uneven terrain that you will be walking across. There are also many fallen trees that you have to climb over or go around. If you are hiking in the winter (or any time of the year when there is still snow), make sure you wear warm and waterproof shoes. There were two feet of snow in some spots in April, and my socks were soaked.
Water sandals and a bathing suit. There are two or three small lakes or ponds next to Morrell Falls that you could swim in if the water isn’t dirty, one of which is called Morrell Lake. You could also get close to the waterfall or go in Morrell Creek. Goldbug Hot Springs is a better place to enjoy the water since the water will be hot.
Towel. If you do end up getting wet, it is great to have a towel because it will take at least an hour to get back to the trailhead. Staying dry can prevent blisters or rashes from occurring.
Sunscreen. Before you get to the first lake about two miles in, there is very little shade; most of this hike has trees that were burned only six years ago. Most people reading this will be frequent hikers, which means you are more in danger of getting skin cancer.
Food. This hike will take roughly 3-4 hours, and another 1.5 hours driving Seeley Lake. These 5 hours will seem long, so bring plenty of food that will fuel you for the day.
Water. It will be hotter than you think when hiking, so make sure to bring plenty of water to avoid dehydration. In the summer, temperatures can be in the 90s. The mist from the waterfall will be the greatest feeling ever on a hot day.
Microspikes or snowshoes. As I said above, there can be a foot or two of snow in the spring. I was still able to walk in this snow easily because the trail never gets steep, but it would have been nice to keep my feet dry.
Camera. You have to make sure to take some pictures and videos! Waterfalls are majestic, and you won’t want to forget. If you climb up the hill on the side of the falls, you will have a great view of the mountains and the valley. Your kids should be smiling at the waterfall, so a camera is necessary!
Flashlight. No matter what time of day you go, you should bring a flashlight. If you get stuck in the snow and mud for hours, you can still be hiking in the dark; the mountains will make it get dark much faster. Tree cover can also make it darker.
Bear spray. There can be lots of grizzly bears or black bears in the Swan Valley, so you will need to protect yourself. Remember that when you see a grizzly bear, remember to stand your ground and slowly wave your arms. If it charges you, spray your bear spray.
Morrell Falls is a great waterfall to visit, especially in the spring. There are very few people there, if any. The drive may be tough if there is snow and mud, so make sure to prepare for that. Morrell Falls is a 90-foot, double waterfall. The hike is easy, making it a fun trip for everyone. The drive to the trailhead is a beautiful one, including going through Seeley Lake. I hope you enjoy this hike and all of my photos! It was one of the most memorable waterfalls that I’ve visited.
Open Season: Late Spring - Fall
Coordinates: 47.273277, -113.450806