Since I love visiting geographic wonders and have a great 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. I’ve been to the sequoias in central California (Mighty Sequoias: Largest Trees in the World.), and would desperately love to visit the redwoods in northern California. So naturally, visiting the cedars in Montana was a must for me. The cedars are not as tall or as large as the sequoias or redwoods, but regardless, these suckers were BIG. I had never seen trees this large in my entire life, as I had yet to visit the sequoias at the time of my Montana visit and was in utter shock and amazement by them.
Located at NF-398, Heron, MT 59844 (per the USDA website: “located 29 miles south of Troy off Hwy 56 on Ross Creek Rd 398“), Ross Creek Cedars is part of the Kootenai National Forest, named after the Kootenai Tribe of Native Americans. Not only were the trees monstrous, but many are over 1,000 years old, which is petty mind-blowing. It was established in 1907 under President 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”. It’s rather large.
The parking lot sits at the end of a long and winding 4-mile road, that gradually increases in height as you go. As we pulled in, I immediately noticed that there was only one other car, which is always a major plus. We visited in mid-June of 2020, so the pandemic hysteria was in full swing during that time and people were staying home. I’m not sure how empty it’d be these days.
The main “hike” around the trees is very pleasant, flat, and doable. I put hike in quotes because it’s 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 easily, although she did have to stop for breaks along the way. This was 100% due to her being pregnant and not because of the nature of the trail. Lucky for her, and other weary hikers or those who simply want to take in the nature, there are benches periodically sprinkled throughout the trail. The path is very wide, flat, and well maintained, albeit kind of wet and mushy. I don’t know if this is the normal atmosphere for that area, but it was certainly quite damp (think of the geographical location of the book/movie Twilight, for all those Twihards out there).
Not only does the trail take you into the forest and through the trees, but also along a creek that is very 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 🥴.
Lastly, the bathrooms at Ross Creek Cedars were disgusting. They are port-a-potty style bathrooms, i.e. an actual bathroom (not a small, plastic port-a-potty), but with non-flushable toilets. There are two, and I happened to walk into the one that was way more gross than the other. My first clue was the army of flies buzzing around outside and then inside, but seeing the pooh-covered toilet and floor was traumatizing. There were a couple of other hikers in the parking lot, and they told me the other bathroom was disgusting as well, but fly-less and not covered in human excrement. So, it had to do. My suggestion – go before you get here or pop a squat in the woods. It’d probably be more sanitary, anyway.
Overall, Ross Creek Cedars is a great day 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 allows you to just bask in the nature of the place. There are also small signs located throughout with information about the trees, plants, animals, and general area. If you are ever in the northwest corner of the gorgeous state of Montana, check this place out!