A few miles beyond Quinn's Hot Springs up the Clark Fork River is a fantastic trail up a to a fun little waterfall. The trail keeps climbing beyond the top of the falls another couple thousand feet to the ridge-line above, but for the purpose of this blogpost we are focusing on the section from the campground to the viewpoint.
The trail begins climbing just north of the bathrooms in Cascade Campground along Highway 135. Despite the trail being relatively out of the way, it is very well maintained and surprisingly steady in grade. This is largely because it follows the Old Pardee Mountain Road (also known as the Iron Mountain Road). The road was used to move ore from the Iron Mountain mine on Flat Creek to the Clark Fork where it could be shipped to the smelter in Anaconda. In the 1890's it took a wagon 2.5 days to travel those five miles. It took me and my dog an hour to cover three miles of that same road. I spend a lot of time imagining the difficulty of fighting wagon weight on narrow mountain roads and was glad I could enjoy the views.
The views from the trail are wonderful. The Clark Fork River flows and bends directly below and it only disappeared from hearing the last half mile to the falls. After initially climbing away from the campground, the trail crests into another drainage before moving up the mountain. Eventually it curls back to the top of Cascade Creek. To view the Falls you should take the left fork (follow the two arrows in the tree) toward the obvious overlook. A conveniently placed bench provides excellent seating for a good sit-and-look session.
The sound of crashing water and the fenceline will direct you to the top of the waterfall. In autumn there isn't much water going over the edge, but it is still gorgeous. I imagine during peak runoff the water gets to be really roaring over the top.
Cascade Falls is a great out-and-back short run or hike. But I would also recommend adding on the 1/4 mile trail out to the bottom of the falls. You can pick this up from the campground just beyond campsite 8. It starts out pretty flat and mild, but immediately after entering the cedar grove, the trail ramps up very steeply and continues this way to the base of the falls. There are a few spots where you'll want to use hands.
Even after a dry summer the base of the falls is covered in moss and is a cool respite in a dry climate.
For history nerds: The Iron Mountain Road/Old Pardee Mountain Road was used by the Iron Mountain Mining Company. The mine at the ghost town of Pardee (beyond the ridge line) opened in 1887. Around the turn of the 20th century a Montana passed a state law requiring mines to have two entrances, and the Company chose to roll with what they had until the state shut them down. There are some fun pictures from the narrow railroad on the other side of the mountain from Cascade Creek here.
Distance: 3.5 miles round trip from the campground (including the out-and-back to the base)
Elevation Gain: 876' of climbing
Water: Available from the creek at the top (recommend purification)
Surface: Single Track
Ideal Times: When the campground is open. It closes during the late fall and winter months. Spring runoff is ideal.
Getting There: Missoula head West on I-90 to St. Regis. From St. Regis go north on Highway 135 to Cascade Campground. Either stay the night or park in the day use spots.
GPS Data: https://www.strava.com/activities/6059755294