Discover Sentinel Falls: A Guide for Hikers

Sentinel Falls is hidden in Custer Gallatin National Forest near Red Lodge, making it a great spot to visit for peace and quiet. The falls is an ideal choice whether you’re a novice hiker or looking for a family-friendly adventure.

I’ll lead you on your hike to Sentinel Falls, along the scenic West Fork Trail, and share how you can extend your adventure to Lake Mary. Get ready for wildlife sightings and discover the best times to visit.

Why not trade the usual tourist spots for a day at Sentinel Falls? Imagine the peace of a natural waterfall, just for you. Let’s explore this secluded spot and discover the beauty it has to offer.

5 Key Takeaways on Sentinel Falls

  1. The trek to Sentinel Falls is a 7.2-mile round trip hike through peaceful Custer Gallatin National Forest, a quiet escape from busier parks.
  2. The West Fork Trail leading to Sentinel Falls is well-kept and offers glimpses of Calamity Falls and local wildlife.
  3. Try the Lake Mary Trail, with a steep climb of 1,200 feet in just 1 mile, offering stunning views and fishing at the lake for a tougher route to Sentinel Falls.
  4. The hike to Sentinel Falls is beginner-friendly, giving a taste of Montana’s beauty without being too hard.
  5. The pool at the bottom of Sentinel Falls might seem inviting, but it’s not safe for swimming.

Where Is Sentinel Falls?

Location CoordinatesApprox. ElevationNearby AttractionsLocation
45.156667° N, -109.528333° W8,366 feet (2,550 m)Calamity Falls, West Fork of Rock Creek, and Quinnebaugh Meadows areaCuster Gallatin National Forest, near the town of Red Lodge

Sentinel Falls in Custer Gallatin National Forest near Red Lodge is a small, peaceful waterfall along the West Fork of Rock Creek.

The hike to Sentinel Falls begins at the end of West Fork Road near Red Lodge. It’s a pleasant 7.2-mile round trip, ideal for nature lovers seeking an easy hike.

You’ll observe parts of the trail that were impacted by wildfires as you hike to the falls. This adds to the unique scenery, complementing the magnificent views of the Beartooth Mountains to the north. It demonstrates nature’s resilience, often presenting even more stunning views after a disaster.

The West Fork Trail is the main trail that leads to Sentinel Falls. You’ll also see Calamity Falls along the way before reaching the falls and keep going to St. Mary Falls if you’re up for more adventure.

The path to Sentinel Falls features a pleasant trail, showcasing some of the scenic routes in the area. The walk is peaceful, surrounded by the natural beauty of Montana.

Where to Go Hiking Near Sentinel Falls

Exploring the trails near Sentinel Falls is something nature lovers should try. The different types of hiking trails in the area have something for everyone.

Let’s check out some of the best hiking paths near Sentinel Falls, taking you into the wilds of Montana and showing you its amazing scenery.

West Fork Trail – Family-Friendly Hiking

West Fork Trail grassland in Montana, featuring distant rugged mountains and green meadows.

Trail LocationLengthDifficultyType of TrailElevation Gain
At the end of West Fork Road3.6 milesModerate trailOut-and-backApproximately 1,000 ft

The West Fork Trailhead is located roughly 12.7-12.8 miles from Red Lodge. lt meanders along the West Fork of Rock Creek, winding through a charred forest area from past wildfires.

Hikers are treated to the stunning sights of Calamity Falls 1.3 miles into their trek. Sentinel Falls awaits further along at 1.8 miles.

The option to continue past the falls presents itself for those seeking more exploration. This path leads to the peaceful Quinnebaugh Meadows, approximately 4 miles in.

The West Fork Trail is a popular spot for outdoor lovers, offering a moderate challenge while being well-maintained. You might see moose and raspberries along the trail in the summer.

However, hikers should be prepared for the initial stretch through the burned area, offering little shade for the first 1.5 to 2 miles. Muddy or wet sections may also be encountered, and the trail features a moderate incline with steeper climbs beyond the meadows.

While generally family-friendly, caution is advised for small children or elderly individuals, especially on hot days. 

Lake Mary Trail – A Challenging Trek

Lake Mary's calm water reflects tall pines and rocky slopes.

Trail LocationLengthDifficultyType of TrailElevation Gain
In Quinnebaugh Meadows, 5 miles from West Fork Trail2 milesDifficult trailOut-and-backApproximately 1,200 ft

The Lake Mary Trail is an ascent trail in the Beartooth Mountains near Red Lodge. It’s part of the West Fork Trail and takes hikers to Lake Mary, which offers stunning views.

The Lake Mary Trail is challenging because of its steepness, gaining 1,200 feet in just one mile. It’s about one mile from the junction with the West Fork Trail, making the round-trip distance 2 miles.

You’ll see amazing views of the West Fork Rock Creek Valley and Whitetail Peak along this difficult trail. The views get even better as you get closer to Lake Mary, a beautiful lake situated between tall plateaus at 9,960 feet.

Lake Mary is a good spot for fishing. It’s split into upper and lower sections by big rocks and offers opportunities for camping. There’s not a lot of firewood, though, so think ahead.

How to Get to Sentinel Falls

Here are step-by-step directions to visit the stunning Sentinel Falls in Montana:

  1. Begin your journey at the West Fork Trailhead parking lot on the north side, a short drive from Red Lodge, Montana.
  2. Follow the well-maintained West Fork Trail from the parking lot. This trail serves as your guide to Sentinel Falls.
  3. You’ll encounter an opportunity to detour 100 yards to see Calamity Falls 1.3 miles into your hike. Take this short side trip for a worthwhile view before returning to the main trail.
  4. Resume your hike along the West Fork Trail for another half mile after stopping by Calamity Falls.
  5. Keep an eye out for a faint side trail just before reaching Sentinel Falls as you hike. This trail offers a close-up view of the falls from its base.
  6. Take some time to admire the impressive Sentinel Falls and soak in the surrounding scenery.
  7. Retrace your steps along the West Fork Trail to return to the trailhead after enjoying the falls.

The entire journey from the West Fork Trailhead to Sentinel Falls is approximately 1.8 miles one way, following Rock Creek most of the way.

These directions should help guide you on your adventure to experience the beauty of Sentinel Falls in Montana.

Sentinel Falls Final Thoughts

The rushing waters of Sentinel Falls cascade over large rocks in an evergreen forest in Montana.

Sentinel Falls captivates with its stunning beauty and natural wonder. It’s a great spot for peace and quiet, featuring scenic trails for hikers of all levels.

Take the West Fork Trail for a family outing or challenge yourself with the Lake Mary Trail, known for its steep ascension. Both trails offer relatively short routes with breathtaking views.

Experience the history as you hike through areas recovering from wildfires, and indulge in outdoor activities like fishing at Lake Mary.

The sight of Sentinel Falls tumbling down against Montana’s rugged landscape is truly unforgettable. It’s a paradise where you can immerse yourself in nature’s purest form, creating memories that will stay with you forever.

Sentinel Falls FAQs

1. How Do I Get to Sentinel Falls?

To get to Sentinel Falls, start by driving to the West Fork Trailhead parking lot near Red Lodge, Montana. From there, follow the well-marked West Fork Trail for about 1.8 miles.

Along the way, you’ll be treated to views of Calamity Falls and other scenic spots. This trail leads you straight to the mesmerizing Sentinel Falls.

2. Is the Hike to Sentinel Falls Suitable for Beginners?

Hiking to Sentinel Falls in Montana is perfect for beginners. It’s a 1.8-mile hike with a bit of mud, giving you a taste of a Montana trail without being too hard. The slope is manageable and the trail is easy to follow, so you can enjoy the scenery.

3. Can I Swim or Wade in the Pool at the Base of Sentinel Falls?

Swimming or wading at the bottom of Sentinel Falls isn’t safe. Even though the pool may seem inviting, it’s risky due to strong currents and slippery rocks.

To stay safe and still enjoy the falls, admire them from afar. You can still appreciate the beautiful view and peaceful surroundings without getting in the water.

Looking to dive deeper into Montana’s charm? Check out these articles to uncover what makes the state truly unique:

Photo of author

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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