Since I love visiting geographic wonders and have a love for hiking, Ross Creek Cedars was right up my alley. In fact, one of my life goals is visiting all of the National Parks, as well as all the giant trees in America. So, naturally, visiting the mighty cedars in Northwest Montana was a must for me. The cedars are not as tall or as large as the sequoias or redwoods, but regardless, these suckers are BIG. Beautiful and grand, these are the second-largest trees I’ve ever seen – aside from the gorgeous sequoias at Sequoia National Park: Largest Trees in the World..
Part of the Kootenai National Forest, which was named after the Kootenai Tribe of Native Americans, Ross Creek Cedars is officially located at NF-398, Heron, MT 59844. However, per the USDA website it’s “located 29 miles south of Troy off Hwy 56 on Ross Creek Rd 398“. Not only are the trees monstrous, but many are over 1,000 years old, which is petty mind-blowing. It was established in 1907 under President Teddy Roosevelt, a man well-known for his historic expansion of the National Park system. Per the U.S. Forest Service website, “The Kootenai National Forest is located in the extreme Northwest corner of Montana and Northeast Idaho, and encompasses over 2.2 million acres, an area nearly three times the size of Rhode Island”. So, it’s quite large!
The parking lot sits at the end of a long and winding 4-mile road, which gradually increases in elevation as you go. As we pulled in, I immediately noticed that there was only one other car, which is always a major plus. We did visit in mid-June 2020, at the height of the pandemic hysteria and when people were staying home, so, take that for what it’s worth.
The main “hike” around the trees is very pleasant, flat, and doable, and is more of a leisurely stroll than a hike, coming in just shy of one mile (0.9 miles). My 7-months-pregnant friend was able to do it quite easily. She needed breaks along the way, and luckily for her, as well as other weary hikers or those who simply want to take in the nature, there are benches periodically placed along the trail. The path is very wide, flat, and well maintained, albeit kind of wet and mushy (but still easy to walk on, nonetheless).
Not only does the trail take you into the forest and through the trees, but also along a creek that is wide and rapid in some areas, and small and placid in others. One the other side of the parking lot, across from where the main trail begins, are some picnic benches, as well as, a small bridge that leads to another, less used trail.
Oh… you can also climb onto the trees, which is always fun but also can be kind of dangerous, as I learned 🥴 (please see below).
Lastly, the bathrooms at Ross Creek Cedars were disgusting. They are the typical park-style port-a-potty bathrooms – i.e., an actual building, but with non-flushable toilets. There are two, and I happened to walk into the one that had a pooh-covered toilet and floor, plus an army of flies buzzing around outside and inside. There were two other hikers in the parking lot who told me that the other bathroom was also disgusting, but it was at least fly-free and not covered in excrement. My suggestion – go before you get here or pop a squat in the woods…
Overall, aside from the bathroom situation, Ross Creek Cedars is a fantastic day trip/hike. The hike is super easy, which allows you to fully take in and appreciate the enormity of the trees, plus the beauty and peacefulness of the forest. The benches are a great reprieve and allow you to just bask in the nature. There are also small signs located throughout with information on the trees, plants, animals, and general area. If you are ever in the “extreme” northwest corner of the gorgeous state of Montana, please check this place out!