I'm continually amazed by the number of folks that travel to Great Falls to check out the Dams!

Don't get me wrong; they are a site to see!

The Backstory

In 1804, a specialized military unit known as The Corps of Discovery embarked on a journey under the orders of President Thomas Jefferson to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.

Their Expedition reached present-day Montana on April 27, 1805.

On June 13, Captain Meriwether Lewis described a remarkable scene:

"As I advanced a little further, my ears were greeted by the pleasant sound of cascading water, and upon closer observation, I saw water spray rising above the plains like a column of smoke... the roar that followed was unmistakably the thunderous sound of the mighty Missouri River plunging down the immense falls."

The Great Falls, aka Ryan Dam

You’ll find the falls from which we get our town name at Ryan Dam.

Despite the water flow being controlled by Ryan Dam, built in 1915, the magnitude of the Great Falls remains impressive.

The dam follows the natural terrain break that gave rise to the falls over 80 feet high when first sighted by Captain Lewis.

Today, the Great Falls stands at 148 feet due to the dam.

The most breathtaking view from the highest point at Ryan Island Park.

The best time to hear the resounding roar of the falls is during the spring when the Missouri River is the highest.

Crooked Falls

Located 7 miles upstream from the Great Falls, it flows over an irregular shelf spanning 300 yards and standing 19 feet tall.

Unaffected by a dam, Crooked Falls can be witnessed in its natural state, just as the Expedition saw it in 1805.

Rainbow Falls

Originally recorded by Captain Lewis as the "Beautiful Cascade" in his journal, features a "cascade of about fifty feet perpendicular."

This natural wonder has remained untouched since its discovery and can be admired at 6401 Giant Springs Road.

Colter Falls

Half a mile upstream from Rainbow Falls, you would find the smaller Colter Falls, standing 6 feet tall.

Now submerged behind Rainbow Dam, these falls were named after John Colter, a Lewis and Clark Expedition member.

Black Eagle Falls

Situated 2.5 miles above Rainbow Falls, mark the closest falls to the city limits of Great Falls.

With a height of 26 feet and a span of 600 yards, these falls were the first to be dammed in 1890.

From the top, one can witness the confluence of the Missouri River and the Sun River, while Black Eagle Memorial Island Park provides an intimate vantage point from the bottom.

Among The Dams

  • Morony Dam stands near the old town site of Morony, offering insight into the potential location of present-day Great Falls. Beneath the dam, fishing opportunities and access to Sulphur Springs, a natural spring, are available via the River's Edge Trail on foot or bicycle.
  • Cochrane Dam, the most recent addition constructed in 1958 between the Great Falls and Crooked Falls, is visible while walking or biking along the River's Edge Trail.

Elk Rapids Vintage Photos (and Underwater Drone Shots at the Dam)

More From KMON Country 560 AM