- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

BIG SKY, Mont. (AP) - If Beehive Basin is Big Sky’s classic alpine ascent, then Ousel Falls is surely its canyon counterpart.

A short drive from the Big Sky Town Center, Ousel Falls offers a retreat into the thick conifer forest characteristic of the Madison Range. The trail leads through a steep alpine gorge to a stunning waterfall on the South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River.

“The Ousel Falls trail is a quick hike that is good for all ability levels,” said Deb Kozisek, of Big Sky, while walking the route on a recent Thursday. “The thing that is great about (Ousel Falls) is that you can view the waterfall from the top, the bottom and the side.”

Ousel Falls is located just south of the Big Sky Town Center on Ousel Falls Road. The trail to the falls begins at Ousel Falls Park, 1.8 miles from the Town Center. The 0.8-mile hike from the trailhead to the falls follows a well-maintained path through rock outcroppings along the river.

Kozisek, who hikes the trail frequently, said her favorite time to visit Ousel Falls is during the summer when the wildflowers are in bloom. She has also hiked the trail during the winter when Ousel Falls is frequented by cross-country skiers. Kozisek said Ousel Falls is a sight to behold when it is frozen.

Hiker Caitlin Collins, of Bozeman, said her favorite time to visit Ousel Falls is during the fall.

“I love the rocks and the scenery up here,” Collins said. “The fall is a great time to visit, after the tourists clear out.”

Ousel Falls is named for the American dippers that nest in the cracks and crevices that line the waterfall’s stone face. American dippers are small black birds that inhabit fast-flowing mountain streams. Dippers submerge below the surface of the river to feed on aquatic insects.

The birds are frequently spotted darting about the river and at the base of Ousel Falls.

“You will see the ousels on the rocks,” said Cameron MacKenzie of Big Sky. “They do a little disco dance before diving in the water. I think they are lining up their quarry.”

While Ousel Falls is certainly the end goal of many first-time hikers, the trail features a number of other notable features. MacKenzie said she always stops to admire the South Fork Cascades, a series of smaller waterfalls that plunge through the gorge just downstream of Ousel Falls.

“The cascade almost looks like a big city fountain,” MacKenzie said. “I think it is even prettier than Ousel Falls.”

Along the walk, hikers should be prepared to encounter wildlife. Though close to the Big Sky Town Center, the Ousel Falls trail is frequented by animals, including bear. Hikers are advised at the trailhead to carry bear spray and make noise while hiking to mitigate the risk of an encounter.

The Big Sky Owners Association and the Big Sky Community Corporation dedicated Ousel Falls Park in August 2003. The opening of the park followed a cooperative effort by local citizens, businesses and federal agencies.

MacKenzie said Big Sky residents have made the park an integral part of the community.

“It is so close to town,” MacKenzie said. “Sometimes we’ll just come out to see what it looks like that day.”

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The original story can be found on the Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s website: http://bit.ly/1tdGAHR

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Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com

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