top of page
  • Writer's pictureAmy Grisak

Easy Hike along the North Shore Trail/High Plains Loop of the Missouri River

Mileage and Elevation: 3.1 miles with 237-feet elevation gain

Difficulty: Easy

Potential Hazards: Steep drop-offs; rattlesnakes; mud

Dog Friendly: Yes, preferably on a leash

Other Trail Users: Bicyclists

Toilet: There is a vault toilet at the parking area.

Useful Gear: Water and hiking poles.

The Rivers Edge Trail of Great Falls offers 60 miles of paved and dirt trails along the Missouri River and surrounding prairie for hikers and bikers of all skill levels. While a significant portion of the Rivers Edge Trail conveniently runs through the heart of town, the North Shore Trail section is perfect for a nearby adventure that makes you feel like part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In the spring and summer, wildflowers abound and meadowlarks sing along the path, as bald eagles soar above the waterway. In the fall and winter, thousands of geese and other waterfowl use the river, and the trail is a quiet place to enjoy warm, sunny days. Speaking of warm, sunny days, this is an excellent hike to do during the colder months when rattlesnakes are completely avoided. With that said, be snake vigilant as soon as the weather warms up in the spring well into fall. And, as far as weather goes, the only time you really don't want to be on the trail is when it is muddy. The gumbo makes walking or bicycling nearly impossible. Plus, it degrades the trail to use it when it is wet.

Traveling along the Missouri River, the North Shore Trail Ryan Dam Loop meanders between Ryan and Morony Dams veering off into the prairie for a quick hike. Ryan Dam sits at the site of the Great Falls of the Missouri, as named by William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805. Morony wasn’t built over one of the original falls, but was installed in 1930 by the Montana Power Company in order to provide electricity for the Anaconda Copper Mining Copper smelting operation.

Just a tenth of a mile along the trail, you can’t help but notice the stone structure without a roof or windows built with the hillside at its back. Talking with local historical experts it most likely held explosives during the construction of Ryan Dam in 1915. This is a great spot for photos, but be careful during warm weather since snakes, including prairie rattlesnakes, often find refuge from the heat inside the building.

Continuing past the building, sedimentary sandstone forms fascinating shapes during the time of the Glacial Lake Great Falls with evidence of erosion and weathering creating other-wordly shapes. Some people scramble among the rocks, but only do so during cold weather as these are prime denning locations for snakes. It’s easy to let your eyes wander along the formations, but make sure children watch their step along this section of the trail as it sometimes leads closely to the edge. Several spots require short steps up along the rock path, but nothing is terribly treacherous. Just hold the small ones’ hands.

The formations continue for over a mile, yet as the trail transitions from the rocky areas to the prairie, it becomes more open without drop-offs. Yucca often grows right along the trail, and the long spikes can poke bare legs. It’s also wise to stay on the trail as prickly pear cactus grow in this area. They are riddled with sharp spines that can poke through shoes, but they are beautiful with lemon-yellow, papery flowers that bloom in May and June.

Approaching the junction at roughly 1.7 miles, to complete the loop veer to the left and hike up the hill. At the sign close to the top, there is an option to take the right fork to continue to the Sulphur Springs Trailhead at Morony Dam. If you don't want to cover the additional 2.7 miles to the trailhead at Morony, it's only .9 miles to an interesting dry waterfall. You can also turn around at any point to back track along the trail that parallels the river versus traveling through the less scenic grass area.

But for the loop back to the parking lot, take the left fork and keep walking up the hill. From the top, it becomes less strenuous. Even though there are still some slight uphill sections, strolling through the tall grass is easy. Once you reach the old car, know that you have less than a quarter-mile from end of the loop not far from the stone building.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page