Insider’s Guide to Impasse Falls and Surrounding Trails

Montana’s Impasse Waterfall is a breathtaking natural wonder waiting to be discovered. Nestled in the Beartooth Mountains of Carbon County, this hidden gem offers a serene escape into the heart of Mother Nature’s art gallery.

We’ll guide you through the beauty of Impasse Falls and the surrounding trails, from the peaceful lakes that cradle the falls to the panoramic views you’ll find on your hike from Rainbow Lake. You’ll also discover the historical significance of this area, once home to the Crow Indians and now a vital part of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

Ever wondered what it’s like to stand at the edge of a waterfall, feeling the mist on your face and the power of nature beneath your feet? Our journey through Impasse Falls is just the beginning of an adventure that will awaken your senses and leave you with memories to last a lifetime.

7 Key Takeaways on Impasse Falls

  1. Impasse Falls in the Beartooth Mountains of Carbon County offers a breathtaking, less crowded nature experience, perfect for those wanting a tranquil connection to Montana’s wilderness.
  2. From easy strolls to challenging ascents, Impasse Falls boasts a variety of scenic trails. Important tips include carrying bear spray, staying on marked paths, and being prepared for weather changes.
  3. Trails such as the 6.7-mile trek to Rainbow Lake, offer delightful experiences and even chances to spot wildlife.
  4. Activities at Impasse Falls range from river rafting and photography to birdwatching and exploring the surrounding areas.
  5. Advanced preparations, such as carrying bear spray and understanding trail conditions, are essential for longer, more challenging hikes.
  6. Fishing and swimming are available in nearby lakes and camping sites include primitive, modern, and back-to-nature options.
  7. Falls provides an enveloping experience within the Beartooth Mountains, offering something for every nature enthusiast. It’s a must-visit for those seeking an authentic, less-touristy Montana adventure.

About Impasse Falls

Location CoordinatesElevationNearby FeaturesLocation
45.1178° N, 109.7425° W9,009 feet (2,746 meters)Duggan Lake, Rimrock Lake, and Rainbow LakeBeartooth Mountains of Carbon County, Montana

Impasse Falls is an unsung masterpiece nestled in the Beartooth Mountains of Carbon County. With a palette of dynamic lakes, serene waterways, lush forests, and towering mountain peaks, it’s like entering Mother Nature’s art gallery.

  • Beauty in Seclusion – Compared to the bustling canvases of parks like Yellowstone and Glacier, Impasse Falls offers a quieter, and untouched elegance.
  • Surrounding Lakes – Duggan Lake, Rimrock Lake, Fizzle Lake, Fossil Lake, and Rainbow Lake embrace these falls, painting a picturesque scene.
  • Hiking From Rainbow Lake – The recommended five-mile hiking route from Rainbow Lake is your ticket to breathtaking panoramic views as you journey towards the falls.
  • Picnic-Perfect Trail – The ease of the trail to the top of the falls, perfect for family picnics, unfurls more breathtaking views as you climb.
  • Journey Through the Beartooth Mountains – The Beaten Path route takes you on a 26-mile journey, weaving through the heart of Beartooth Mountains and treating you to the symphony of nearby Rosebud Creek.
  • Historical Background – Rich with history, these lands were once home to the Crow Indians. Today, they form a vital part of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, safeguarding the region’s cultural and natural heritage.
  • Crow Culture Connections – The name Absaroka is derived from the Crow language, where it means “crow.” This indigenous connection adds layers of depth to your exploration.
  • A Unique Exploration Opportunity – The spirit of exploration resonates through Impasse Falls. Here, you’re not just a visitor but a temporary citizen in a world designed by untamed wilderness, dynamic lakes, and waterways that whisper tales of old.

Impasse Falls is not just another stop on your hiking trail. It’s an artistic composition, a historical keepsake, and a mesmerizing lesson in geography, all wrapped in one sight that’s sure to steal your breath away.

Hiking Trails at Impasse Falls

Hikers trek alongside a scenic mountain trail, passing a tranquil alpine lake with snow remnants on the slopes in the background.

Located in the heart of Montana, Impasse Falls is a hiker’s paradise with a plethora of trails offering something for every skill level. From easy strolls by the water to challenging ascents, the picturesque landscapes are sure to captivate nature enthusiasts of all ages.

1. East Rosebud Trailhead to Elk Lake

A tranquil river near East Rosebud Trailhead winds through a lush valley, surrounded by majestic peaks under a partly cloudy sky.

The hike to Rainbow Lake is amazing! It’s about 6.7 miles (around 10.8 kilometers) long and feels like a big, friendly dog – even better than you thought it would be. Lots of people love this trail because it’s not too hard, and there are great places to camp near the lake.

Going hiking by yourself is nice, but camping near Rainbow Lake is even better because you get to hang out with other people who love nature. The views along the trail are so stunning that they’re even better than perfect – they’re off the charts!

And guess what? You’re almost guaranteed to see mountain goats while you’re hiking. How cool is that?

It’s important to check the trail conditions before you go because sometimes parts of the trail can get messed up from heavy rain or flooding. But when the weather’s good, it’s like being on a really fun roller coaster. Worth it, right?

2. Granite Peak Trailhead

A rugged hillside near Granite Peak Trailhead offers a view of a vast valley in Montana. Mountains stretch into the distance under a partly cloudy sky.

The Granite Peak trail is long – about 22.6 miles (around 36.4 kilometers) in total. But be careful, it’s a tough hike and not for people who get scared easily. You’ll be climbing up a big mountain over a rocky landscape, so it’s not something you should try to rush through.

I’d recommend this trail to people who are experienced hikers or if you’re going with someone who knows what they’re doing. If you’re not used to climbing over tough rocks, you should practice and get stronger before you try this trail.

For the Best Experience:

  • Make It a Multi-Day Trek – Taking your time can allow you to truly savor the landscapes and the ascent.
  • Get a Guide – For less experienced travelers, a seasoned guide can be the difference between elation and exhaustion.
  • Safety First – Ensure you have the right gear, from sturdy boots to ropes.

Though it’s challenging, the hike up Granite Peak is the warm-up act for the panoramic performance Mother Nature has in store. 

3. Lost Lake Trailhead

Lost Lake in Montana under a twilight sky

Walking 9.8 miles (around 15.8 kilometers) might sound like a super long journey, but let me tell you, the hike to Lost Lake is worth it!

When you’ve gone about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) in, you start feeling like you’re floating as you climb up to the lake. The trail isn’t too steep, which is great for both hikers and their furry friends. It lets everyone enjoy the amazing views without getting too tired.

The path follows along Impasse Falls, and because it goes up gradually, it doesn’t get too messed up even after heavy rains. But it’s still smart to keep an eye out for any parts of the trail that might be washed out, especially if it’s been raining a lot lately.

I’ve been hiking in all kinds of weather, and let me tell you, if you’re up for it, you should try snowshoeing back along the trail during the winter. It’s like a whole new world out there with the snow.

Camping at Lost Lake is also something special. And since it’s an out-and-back trail, you won’t get lost on your way back, even if you’re tired.

4. Rimrock Lake

Rimrock Lake in Montana reflects a partly cloudy sky, surrounded by forested slopes and rugged peaks.

The trail to Rimrock Lake is about 12.3 miles long (around 19.8 kilometers). It’s a nice, not-too-hard hike with lots of different things to see along the way.

Starting from Impasse Falls, you’ll walk past Elk Lake, and just before you get to Rimrock, the trail gets close to Rainbow Lake. The last part of the trail leading up to Rimrock Lake can be pretty steep, but trust me, the views are worth it. It’s like nature is trying to show off, so make sure you don’t miss it.

Here’s my tip: Keep going even if you’re tired – I promise when you finally reach the lake, taking a swim and looking at the amazing views will make it all worth it. You might see some waterfalls, and if you’re lucky, maybe even some mountain goats. Just keep your cameras ready and be careful where you step.

Stay safe when hiking, and don’t forget to tell others about your trip. You never know, you might inspire someone else to go on their hiking adventure. That’s what our trails are all about, after all.

Activities You Can Do in Impasse Falls

The majestic Impasse Falls cascades down rugged rock faces, surrounded by lush verdant slopes.

We’re skirting the precipice of adventure in Impasse Falls. With the roar of the waterfalls as your soundtrack, there’s a menu of activities to savor. So, what’s your pleasure today? Here are the possibilities.

Hiking and Biking

Two hikers share a joyful moment in the woods near Impasse Falls.

The trip to Impasse Falls is an adventure all on its own. The Rainbow Lake path is the way most people go. It’s about a seven-mile hike from the East Rosebud Trailhead, and let me tell you, the views are amazing every step of the way. Another option is to go through Elk Lake, which is equally stunning, especially if you’re camping.

  • Trail Traffic – Rainbow Lake, being a sought-after path, can get quite busy with hikers and even horses. If you prefer a quieter trek, the crowd thins out once you’re past the lake and into the wilderness.
  • Bear Awareness – This is a must. You’re walking in bear country. So, carry bear spray and be mindful of your surroundings. This applies to the Rainbow Lake area as well as beyond.
  • Timing is Everything – For a more peaceful walk, summer visitors should start early. The crowds usually thin out later in the day.

When you’re on two wheels, Beartooth Pass comes highly recommended. It’s a challenging yet incredibly rewarding biking route. Don’t miss exploring biking trails in nearby Red Lodge, especially Face of the Mountain, Palisades, and Willow Creek. The biking community here is welcoming and the trails, well, let’s just say they’re stellar.

Swimming and Fishing

Two people enjoy a peaceful day fishing from a wooden dock, surrounded by tall reeds, with the warm sunset glow reflecting off the tranquil water near Impasse Falls.

Rainbow Lake and its neighboring lakes, like Duggan, Twin Outlets, Dewey, and Vogel Lake, offer fantastic fishing opportunities. Whether you’re into fly fishing or casting from the shore, these lakes are teeming with fish.

Imagine enjoying a fly fishing adventure with your friends, followed by a night under the stars at any of these lakes. It’s the perfect way to unwind and connect with nature.

While swimming at Impasse Falls isn’t recommended due to safety reasons, there are plenty of opportunities to take a dip at Duggan Lake and other nearby spots, especially if you’re on a multi-day backpacking trip.

Don’t forget to take advantage of the cool waters along the way. Swimming spots offer a remote and surreal experience amidst alpine forests and jagged rocks. So, pack your swimsuit and dive in for a refreshing break during your outdoor adventure.

Camping and Lodging

Camping cookware and colorful utensils set up on a table beside a tent in the woods near Impasse Falls.

Camping & Lodging Impasse Falls is the perfect spot to immerse yourself in nature, and you’ve got a couple of options when it comes to spending the night under the stars.

Camping Possibilities:

  • Primitive Camping – If you’re up for a true back-to-nature experience, consider primitive camping in the area surrounding the falls. Be prepared to bring your water and leave no traces behind. A permit might be required, so check in advance.
  • Beartooth Mountains – As summer transitions into autumn, you can also set up camp along the beautiful Beartooth Mountains. This area offers a stunning backdrop with camping spots near Fossil Lake and Fizzle Lake, both known for their breathtaking beauty.
  • Beartooth Plateau – If you’re keen on hiking amidst impressive scenery, don’t miss the Beartooth Plateau. But be aware of the wacky weather patterns at this altitude; to play it safe, stick closer to Duggan Lake or Elk Lake.

If you’re not into roughing it, there are several campgrounds and cabins along Highway 212 perfect for a more comfortable overnight stay. Some options include Greenough Lake Campground and M-K Campground.

For more modern accommodations, your best bet is to head east into Red Lodge. Two Bears Inn Bed & Breakfast and the Inn on the Beartooth are great, though pets won’t be allowed at the latter.

In Cooke City, the Elk Horn Lodge and Super 8 by Wyndham offer more traditional hotel stays with easy access to local restaurants and conveniences.

If you’re a hardcore camper or just someone who prefers a soft bed, Impasse Falls and the surrounding Beartooth Mountains have something for everyone. Just make sure you book in advance, particularly during peak seasons, and respect the local environment as much as you enjoy it.

Impasse Falls Final Thoughts

Impasse Falls flows over rugged terrain surrounded by evergreen vegetation and layered rock formations in Montana.

Impasse Falls in the Beartooth Mountains is truly a gem for nature enthusiasts. It’s a place where you can escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and immerse yourself in the beauty of the wilderness.

Before you go, remember to check the weather conditions as trails can be affected. But once you’re there, beyond the falls lie Rimrock Lake and Lost Lake, offering tranquil vistas and endless opportunities for exploration.

Whether you prefer roughing it at primitive sites near Fizzle Lake or enjoying the comforts of Greenough Lake Campground, there’s something for every camping enthusiast.

But it’s not just about camping; it’s about engaging in activities like fishing and biking that allow you to truly connect with nature. It’s about experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of the wilderness in a way that rejuvenates your spirit.

As the day ends and the sun sets, embrace exploration and reconnect with nature. Let your journey to Impasse Falls be an unforgettable adventure, where you discover hidden treasures and create lasting memories.

Impasse Falls FAQs

1. Is Impasse Falls Accessible By Car?

Impasse Falls in Carbon County, Montana is not easily accessible by car. The trail to Impasse Falls involves a hike along the Beaten Path, a 26-mile trail that climbs up and over the Gallatin National Forest watershed divide, passing by various natural features including Impasse Falls, the highest cascade along the path

2. Is Impasse Falls Open to the Public?

Impasse Falls in Montana is open to the public and can be accessed via hiking trails.

3. Where Is Impasse Falls Located?

Impasse Falls in Montana is located in Carbon County. The falls are part of the Beaten Path, a 26-mile hiking trail that traverses through the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

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Written by:

Ashley Smith
Hello there! I'm Ashley Smith, born on a chilly winter's day, Montana has been my playground since childhood. The first snowfall of the year always brings back memories of building snowmen and winter hikes. Co-founding was my way of sharing the magic of Montana's seasons with the world. While Chris dives deep into the landscapes, I'm obsessed with Montana's rich culture, from the local festivals to the tales passed down generations.

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