Porcupine Falls

Bighorn National Forest / Lovell, Wyoming, USA

About Porcupine Falls


Hiking Distance: 1.6 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 75-90 minutes

Date first visited: 2020-07-31
Date last visited: 2020-07-31

Waterfall Latitude: 44.85544
Waterfall Longitude: -107.91528

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Porcupine Falls could very well be the most popular waterfall in the Bighorn Mountains of Northern Wyoming.

While most of the other waterfalls that I’ve seen in this rugged mountain range were for viewing only, this waterfall had a very large plunge pool, which made for an accessible swimming hole.

Porcupine_Falls_074_iPhone_07312020 - Porcupine Falls
Porcupine Falls

In addition, as you can see in the photo above, this 70-100ft plunging waterfall was surrounded by tall, vertical cliffs so it possessed that rare combination of scenic beauty and fun place to hang out.

The only catch was that I had to be willing to drive a little out-of-the-way into the Bighorn Mountains as well as endure a 440ft descent (and climb back out) on a steep 0.4-mile (0.8-mile round-trip) trail.

I also had to double the length of my hike because I didn’t want to risk damage to the rental car on the narrow, rutted spur road leading to the official Porcupine Falls Trailhead.

Nevertheless, of all the waterfalls that I encountered outside of Yellowstone National Park, this could very well be my favorite one.

Porcupine Falls Trail Description

Porcupine_Falls_007_iPhone_07312020 - Walking instead of driving on the last 0.4 miles to the Porcupine Falls Trailhead
Walking instead of driving on the last 0.4 miles to the Porcupine Falls Trailhead

My hike to Porcupine Falls actually began from a pullout or parking space adjacent to the signed turnoff for Porcupine Falls (see directions below).

I could have driven the nearly 0.4-mile road to the actual Porcupine Falls Trailhead, but the road was too rutted and rocky for my liking.

So after doing this flat walk, it then gently descended past a dilapidated cabin or shack and approached the parking area for the Porcupine Falls Trailhead.

From there, I then went on a foot trail as it went past a sign prohibiting stock and then descended towards the bottom of the canyon in earnest.

Porcupine_Falls_040_iPhone_07312020 - Descending a combination of steep slopes and steps to reach Porcupine Falls and its inviting plunge pool
Descending a combination of steep slopes and steps to reach Porcupine Falls and its inviting plunge pool

For roughly the first 0.2 miles, the trail skirted along the canyon as it made a somewhat gentle descent, but then it turned to the left and made an even steeper descent on a combination of slope and steps.

This steep descent would persist for almost the next 0.2-mile before I started to catch my first glimpse of Porcupine Falls.

The trail made its final descent as it skirted the base of a cliff while going around a protrusion that had prevented the entire waterfall from being seen until I got around this obstruction.

Once at the end of the roughly 0.4-mile trail, I was right at the inviting edge of the plunge pool, where I shared this place with at least a dozen or other people during my visit.

Porcupine_Falls_060_iPhone_07312020 - Looking at the final descent to Porcupine Falls. Notice the people at the edge of the plunge pool for a sense of scale of how big this waterfall was!
Looking at the final descent to Porcupine Falls. Notice the people at the edge of the plunge pool for a sense of scale of how big this waterfall was!

That’s saying something considering how out-of-the-way this spot in the Bighorn National Forest was.

Anyways, the view from the edge of the plunge pool was somewhat angled and partial so I scrambled onto the adjacent outcrop to improve the view.

When I got above the obstruction, I managed to get an unobstructed frontal view of Porcupine Falls and its large plunge pool towered over by rugged cliffs.

Indeed, this was the kind of place that was hard to leave, but after having my fill, I then had to get back all that elevation loss on the way back up to the trailhead.

Porcupine_Falls_088_iPhone_07312020 - This was the most frontal look across the plunge pool of Porcupine Falls that I got, but I could have done some more rough scrambling on loose rocks and ledges to get even further to the left of where this photo was taken
This was the most frontal look across the plunge pool of Porcupine Falls that I got, but I could have done some more rough scrambling on loose rocks and ledges to get even further to the left of where this photo was taken

Overall, this visit took me a little over an hour, where my extended 1.6-mile round-trip hike (as opposed to 0.8-mile round-trip) involved spending 25 minutes to get to the bottom and 35 minutes to get back to the start.

Authorities

Porcupine Falls resides in the Bighorn National Forest near Lovell in Big Horn County, Wyoming. It is administered by USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Porcupine_Falls_004_iPhone_07312020 - Starting to walk the final 0.4-mile spur leading to the Porcupine Falls Trailhead, where this passenger car just decided to park on the grass and not continue
Porcupine_Falls_009_iPhone_07312020 - Rocks jutting up out of the spur road leading to the Porcupine Falls Trailhead, which kind of affirmed my decision to not chance it to spare a few minutes
Porcupine_Falls_011_iPhone_07312020 - Continuing on the spur road leading to the Porcupine Falls Trailhead
Porcupine_Falls_017_iPhone_07312020 - Looking back at some dilapidated cabin with fencing near the Porcupine Falls Trailhead Parking
Porcupine_Falls_018_iPhone_07312020 - Approaching the parking area for the Porcupine Falls Trailhead after having walked around 0.4 miles or so from the Devil's Canyon Road
Porcupine_Falls_022_iPhone_07312020 - Going onto the Porcupine Falls Trail where the sign up ahead prohibited stock use
Porcupine_Falls_027_iPhone_07312020 - Initially, the Porcupine Falls Trail descended somewhat gently as it skirted alongside the steep canyon
Porcupine_Falls_030_iPhone_07312020 - The somewhat tame grade on the Porcupine Falls Trail persisted for perhaps the first 0.2 miles from the actual trailhead
Porcupine_Falls_033_iPhone_07312020 - This was about the point where the Porcupine Falls Trail started to descend some switchbacks before really dropping more steeply
Porcupine_Falls_036_iPhone_07312020 - Another one of the switchbacks before the Porcupine Falls Trail descended more steeply
Porcupine_Falls_045_iPhone_07312020 - The Porcupine Falls Trail's steepest sections involved a combination of steps and slopes like this one
Porcupine_Falls_050_iPhone_07312020 - The further down the Porcupine Falls Trail I went, the more some neighboring cliffs started to become more noticeable as they towered over me
Porcupine_Falls_052_iPhone_07312020 - At some point close to the final part of the descent, I managed to get this interesting view downstream towards more cliffs and mountains hovering over the trajectory of Porcupine Creek
Porcupine_Falls_054_iPhone_07312020 - More steep slopes and rock steps in between as I got closer to the final descent on the Porcupine Falls Trail
Porcupine_Falls_058_iPhone_07312020 - This was my first partial glimpse at Porcupine Falls as I continued to descend towards its base
Porcupine_Falls_065_iPhone_07312020 - Now on the final descent to the base of Porcupine Falls. Notice the rocky outcrop that was obstructing the views of the waterfall from this approach
Porcupine_Falls_067_iPhone_07312020 - Almost down to the bottom of the Porcupine Falls Trail and the large plunge pool fronting the waterfall
Porcupine_Falls_070_iPhone_07312020 - Angled view of Porcupine Falls from the edge of its large plunge pool, where most of the people were enjoying the cold water
Porcupine_Falls_072_iPhone_07312020 - Context of people enjoying themselves at Porcupine Falls
Porcupine_Falls_078_iPhone_07312020 - From this part of the edge of the plunge pool, Porcupine Falls could barely be seen
Porcupine_Falls_080_iPhone_07312020 - Context of one guy scrambling towards an outcrop for a more improved view of Porcupine Falls
Porcupine_Falls_083_iPhone_07312020 - Direct look at the context of Porcupine Falls shooting out of a narrow V-shaped hanging canyon as seen from a semi-steep outcrop that I scrambled onto
Porcupine_Falls_084_iPhone_07312020 - Looking ahead at more of a steep use-trail that led to the far end of the plunge pool before Porcupine Falls though I opted not to go all the way down there
Porcupine_Falls_090_iPhone_07312020 - Looking downstream towards the floor of the canyon from the rocky outcrop before Porcupine Falls
Porcupine_Falls_092_iPhone_07312020 - Last look back at Porcupine Falls from the canyon floor before I started to head back up
Porcupine_Falls_093_iPhone_07312020 - Starting on the steep climb out of the canyon floor as I was finally leaving Porcupine Falls
Porcupine_Falls_094_iPhone_07312020 - During the ascent from Porcupine Falls' base, I got this interesting look at the contour of the canyon we were in
Porcupine_Falls_095_iPhone_07312020 - Indeed, it was pretty much all uphill on the way back to the Porcupine Falls Trailhead starting with these rock steps
Porcupine_Falls_098_iPhone_07312020 - Looking back at one family making their way down to Porcupine Falls at the same time as another family was starting the climb back out
Porcupine_Falls_102_iPhone_07312020 - Continuing going up the steps on the Porcupine Falls Trail, which can be taxing if not acclimated to the high altitude, but it was also tricky having to wear a mask when I had to go by people (especially those not wearing masks)
Porcupine_Falls_104_iPhone_07312020 - Finally making it up to the Porcupine Falls Trailhead
Porcupine_Falls_107_iPhone_07312020 - Because I didn't park at the Porcupine Falls Trailhead, I still had a little further to go before I could end this hike
Porcupine_Falls_109_iPhone_07312020 - Looking in the direction of what I think might be Medicine Mountain as I was walking back towards the Porcupine Falls Trailhead turnoff
Porcupine_Falls_110_iPhone_07312020 - Finally approaching the parked car by the Devil's Canyon Road

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For driving directions to the Porcupine Falls Trailhead, I’ll just describe the routes that we managed to take.

One route was from Sheridan and the other was from Cody.

Driving from Sheridan to Porcupine Falls Trailhead

Starting from Sheridan, we drove on the westbound I-90 for over 14 miles before taking the exit 9 for the US14 West (towards Ranchester).

Shell_Falls_110_iPhone_07312020 - Driving on the unpaved Sheep Mountain Road (Forest Service Road 14) in the direction of Porcupine Falls Trailhead
Driving on the unpaved Sheep Mountain Road (Forest Service Road 14) in the direction of Porcupine Falls Trailhead

At the off-ramp, we then turned left and followed the US14 West for about 50 miles to the Burgess Junction (where the US14 intersected with the US14A).

We then turned right at this junction and followed the US14A West for another 20 miles before turning right onto the unpaved Forest Service Road 14 (Sheep Mountain Road).

Finally, we took this road for a little over 7 miles (eventually taking us onto Devil’s Canyon Road en route) before reaching a signed turnoff for Porcupine Falls Trail #135.

Just beyond this turnoff was some parking space, which was where we stopped the car as I decided to walk the remaining 0.4 miles to the actual Porcupine Falls Trailhead.

Porcupine_Falls_002_iPhone_07312020 - Context of the signed turnoff leading the final 0.4-mile stretch to the Porcupine Falls Trailhead
Context of the signed turnoff leading the final 0.4-mile stretch to the Porcupine Falls Trailhead

Overall, this 75-mile drive would take between 90-120 minutes.

Driving from Cody to Porcupine Falls Trailhead

From Cody, I took the US14A east in the direction of Lovell for about 78 miles.

This long stretch included driving past Lovell and up the steep curves ascending into the Buck Horn Mountains.

Then, I turned left onto the unpaved Forest Service Road 14 (Sheep Mountain Road) and followed it for about 7 miles (going onto Devil’s Canyon Road along the way) before reaching the signed turnoff for Porcupine Falls Trail #135.

Porcupine_Falls_112_iPhone_07312020 - Looking towards the parking spaces where I left the car and started hiking to Porcupine Falls
Looking towards the parking spaces where I left the car and started hiking to Porcupine Falls

Overall, this 84-mile drive would take about 2 hours.

For context, Cody was 147 miles (under 3 hours drive) west of Sheridan, 163 miles (over 2.5 hours drive) north of Lander, 214 miles (about 3.5 hours drive) northwest of Casper, 167 miles (over 3.5 hours drive) northeast of Jackson Hole, 76 miles (over 90 minutes drive) southeast of Cooke City-Silver Gate, Montana, 107 miles (under 2 hours drive) south of Billings, Montana, 132 miles (over 3 hours drive) southwest of Gardiner, Montana, and 146 miles (about 3.5 hours drive) east of West Yellowstone, Montana.

Downstream to upstream sweep from an outcrop above the large plunge pool of Porcupine Falls before ending with a panning from top to bottom


Deliberate sweep from the plunge pool level of Porcupine Falls examining the waterflow and the cliffs above it


Sweep looking downstream towards some impressive canyons before descending to a partial view of Porcupine Falls


Long video showing Porcupine Falls from the edge of the plunge pool before climbing up for different views including the far side of the outcrop

Trip Planning Resources


Nearby Accommodations



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Tagged with: lovell, wyoming, bighorn national forest, big horn county, bighorn mountains, swimming hole



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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