Ousel Falls

Ousel Falls is pictured Sunday in Big Sky.

The draw of Ousel Falls in Big Sky is, of course, the picturesque waterfall. It’s a short out and back hike (1.6 miles round trip) through a thick conifer forest with plenty of areas enjoy the abundance of scenery.

I’ve visited the falls several times over the years and did so again Sunday morning. In fact, I was the first one to arrive at the parking lot, which is about four miles southwest of the Big Sky Town Center, and had the falls to myself before coming across another sightseer on my way back.

While the waterfall never disappoints, the purpose of this trip was to check out First Yellow Mule Trail, an off-the-beaten-path that follows the river upstream. I had seen signs in the past for the trail, which is less than half a mile before the falls, but never had the extra time to give it a look.


A path leads hikers and mountain bikers through Second Yellow Mule Trail.

So after making a quick visit to the falls, I backtracked to the trailhead, and then began a climb through some switchbacks along the westside of the river. While you can see the falls from this trail as well, it’s a much better view on the other side. I had a tough time trying to find space between trees and branches to take decent photos, and eventually decided to keep moving.

As the trail continues upwards — I would consider it moderate as far as difficulty — I began to encounter wet conditions. The trail was muddy in spots, and had several areas still covered with snow, but still easy to traverse.

About a half mile into the trail is a large swimming hole and then you’ll cross under a high vehicle bridge. Prior to walking under the bridge warning signs have been posted on trees regarding a small portion of the trail that has been damaged by erosion.

From there, the trail crosses three small foot bridges and then a paved road before climbing nearly a mile to an intersection. Along the way is a large boulder field on the right.

Once at the trail fork — it intersects with Bucks Ridge Trail and Second Yellow Mule Trail — either return the way you came or continue up the trail. I chose to follow Second Yellow Mule Trail and began to climb what looked like an old logging road.

Trail Intersection

First Yellow Mule Trail intersects with Buck Ridge Trail and Second Yellow Mule Trail.

I went up the trail for about a mile and was able to view some beautiful mountain peaks in the Custer Gallatin National Forest before turning around and heading back the way I came.

I recommend to anyone who hikes the trail over the next few weeks to bring dry clothing and shoes to change into afterwards. There is still considerable snow melt, and there were three stream crossings on Second Yellow Mule Trail that proved difficult if you’re not willing to get your feet wet.

In addition to hiking, First Yellow Mule Trail allows horseback riding and mountain biking. For those not sure of proper trail etiquette, both hikers and bikers yield to horseback riders, while bikers yield to hikers.

Finally, I came across plenty of animal skat along the trail. Bears are active in the area, so be sure to carry bear spray at all times.

How To Get There

From Belgrade drive south on 191 for 32 miles. Turn right on Lone Mountain Trail toward Big Sky Town Center, and then left turn left on Ousel Falls Road. The parking lot is about 4 miles down the road on the left.

— Dan Chesnet is the Sports Editor of the Belgrade News and can be reached at dchesnet@belgrade-news.com.