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" . . . we proceeded on . . . to the largest fountain or Spring I ever saw , and Doubt if it 
is not the largest in America Known. this water boils up from under th rocks near   
the edge of the river and falls imediately into the river 8 feet and keeps it colour  
for 1/2 a mile which is emencely Clear and of a bluish Cast . . ."
~ Capt. William Clark, June 18, 1805

This large spring is now known as Giant Spring. For a person who's a bit anal about proper grammar and spelling, it was all I could do to type Clark's quote without correcting all the errors!

I copied it from a brochure I picked up at the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, which includes a beautiful visitor center, Giant Springs Heritage State Park, a state fish hatchery, and a paved interpretive trail along the edge of the Missouri River.

View of the handsome visitor center from the interpretive trail along the river

All the members of the Corps of Discovery were under a whole lot of stress in their arduous exploratory journey west, so I don't mean to be critical of something as comparatively trivial as grammar and spelling. One of their bigger challenges was dragging all their boats and supplies overland around Great Falls' five major waterfalls. Giant Springs is located between what are now called Rainbow and Black Eagle falls.

This was the first time we've been on the interpretive trail next to the river or to Giant Springs Heritage State Park. I'm happy to share photos of both in this entry, plus some dirt trails I found on the hillside between the park and visitor center.


We enjoyed visiting the handsome Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center in May so I went back again today.


There is a small entry fee to browse the exhibits. Because it is a National Forest Service site, entry is free with any kind of National Park Service pass (annual, senior, etc.).

If you don't want to go inside you can walk around the side of the building to the courtyard and down a bunch of steps and a long ramp to the river level for free and enjoy the paved interpretive trail that runs both south (upstream) and north (downstream) of the visitor center.


Markers commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery's success

Spiffy amphitheater above the river (I took this picture on June 1).

View up the Missouri River from the courtyard

Seaman, Capt. Meriwether Lewis' large black Newfoundland dog, was the only
animal in the party to complete the entire expedition across the continent and back.

Steps going down to the interpretive trail

The steps lead to a long paved ramp that gradually descends to the path along the river. Folks who are unable to maneuver the steps can access the ramp from inside the visitor center.

The interpretive trail is paved and wheelchair-accessible for about 1/2 mile south and a bit more than a mile north to Giant Spring. There are lots of nature, geology, and history panels to read all along the way.

Here are some photos along the interpretive path as I walked south along the river (upstream).

A lot of birds that either live here year-long or are migrating south were using the islands created by the low water in the river this week to hunt for food:



After about half a mile the pavement ends.

A wide gravel trail continues up to a parking area for another half mile, with a spur trail going down to an overlook:


A dirt trail continues even farther south along the riverbank. There is another dirt/gravel trail on the hillside, paralleling the river.

The next photos along the interpretive trail begin below the visitor center and continue downstream (north) toward Giant Spring:

Small fishing pond/lagoon between the cliffs and the river

One interpretive sign describes the geology of these cliffs;  another tells about the 
ultra-distances cliff swallows can migrate -- from the Arctic to the tip of S. America. 

Little nests built into the rock wall by cliff swallows


"Cool" both as in "kewl" and as in rather chilly water. This is not a hot spring.

You can access Giant Spring Heritage State Park by vehicle from Giant Spring Road up on the hillside or by foot or bike on the riverside interpretive trail.


Jim and I both entered the spring area from the trail today.

This freshwater spring is one of the largest in the country, flowing 156 gallons of water each day. Its crystal-clear waters, emerald-green vegetation, and constant 54 F. temperature make it a photographer's delight.



Visitors can walk all around the spring. Here are some different angles:



It was interesting to read the interpretive panels about the geology and history of the spring and the water that flows from it in one of the world's shortest rivers.

The Roe River flows only about 200 feet from the springs down to the Missouri River:




The Roe River gets its name from the fish raised in the state hatchery at this location. Roe are fish eggs. The hatchery raises Kokanee salmon and several varieties of trout:

A peninsula of land juts out into the river; it's a popular spot for fishermen and a great place for a picnic:

Looking back to the walkway and low retaining wall between the spring and the Missouri River:

I was mesmerized by the springs and the beautiful grassy setting nearby with huge cottonwood trees:


I'm glad I found this park. I loved it!


As I climbed higher through the picnic area to look around I saw a trailhead for a dirt single-track trail that is open to hikers and cyclists. It winds through the grassy meadow above the river cliffs, paralleling the lower paved interpretive trail:


I enjoyed the views of the river and fishing pond below:



This undulating trail remains high and goes about a mile back to the visitor center. There is also a steep, rough spur with a 20% grade down to the river:

Bikes aren't allowed on that short trail.


The springs are so beautiful that I encouraged Jim to go see them in the evening when it was cooler. I also wanted to take Cody on the trail below the interpretive center so he could get into the river.

After supper Jim rode his bike from the campground to the River's Edge bike path along the river. I took Cody in the truck and got there a little bit earlier; we were already down by the river when Jim arrived. Cody ran out to greet Jim:


There were more people walking, cycling, and fishing this evening than there were this morning. Cody got to swim in both the river and the little lagoon between the interpretive center and park (no one was fishing there). He also got to greet some other large dogs who were walking their owners.

Jim rode out and back on the interpretive trail to Giant Springs on his bike while Cody and I walked there. Jim enjoyed walking his bike around the spring and looking at the fish in the hatchery.

The lower light in the evening emphasized the color of the yellow and gold leaves and made the springs look a little different:



Jim agreed that the spring is a pretty cool place.

We encourage anyone visiting Great Falls to walk or ride the River's Edge Trail and interpretive trail and visit both the Lewis & Clark visitor center and Giant Springs Park.

Next entryheading to Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, SD for some R&R in the Black Hills area

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil