About Shell Falls
Shell Falls was a gushing waterfall seemingly set in an arid area where the presence of the powerful Shell Creek fed this rather miraculous waterfall.
In addition to its unusual terrain and paradoxical climate, this 75ft waterfall also formed a bit differently than most waterfalls that we’ve seen in Nature.
Typically, most waterfalls consist of watercourses that would cut into soft rock layers much faster than more erosion-resistant hard rock layers.
And as we’ve discussed on our article discussing how waterfalls form, this difference in erosion rates ultimately gives rise to waterfalls.
Many of the taller waterfalls occur in hanging valleys where glaciers may have directly depressed or even sheared these hard rock layers supporting their watercourses.
However, in the case of Shell Falls, it was formed by a fault line where one side thrusted up while the other side dropped down.
We’ve seen an example of this at Maruia Falls in New Zealand’s South Island, which was formed after 1929 Murchison earthquake.
In addition to witnessing this powerful waterfall from an overlook, we also did a short 1/8-mile developed loop walk that took around 10-20 minutes in total.
During this walk, we got to see geology in action, which included the former site of Shell Falls, deep gorges, and even a bonus waterfall called Brindle Falls.
Speaking of the gorges, the cliffs were said to harbor fossilized shells (which was how the waterfall got its name), which suggested the crust here may have once been under an ocean.
Shell Falls Trail Description
Our visit to Shell Falls was a pretty straightforward affair.
After walking up past a bunch of interpretive signs and towards the Shell Falls Visitor Center, we then went down a series of steps on our right.
These steps took us on an out-and-back path that ended right at a direct view of Shell Falls.
After having our fill of the Shell Falls view, we then went back up the steps and walked the 1/8-mile loop in a counterclockwise direction.
Along the way, we first descended to a lookout of the old Shell Falls site, which also peered back towards the current Shell Falls lookout.
The next lookout along this counterclockwise loop walk looked right into the deep Shell Canyon, where the rushing Shell Creek dropped vigorously over intermediate cascades in the floor of the canyon.
Then, the loop walk went to a broad lookout area looking downstream at where Shell Creek continued to cut through the Bighorn Mountains.
We also managed to get a partial view of the smaller Brindle Falls nestled among the trees within the depths of Shell Canyon.
Beyond the Brindle Falls Lookout, the walkway looped back to the Shell Falls Visitor Center to end our short but very informative and restorative visit.
Shell Falls resides in the Bighorn National Forest between Greybull and Sheridan 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.
The Shell Falls Interpretive Site had a well-signed and spacious parking lot along the US14 in the Bighorn Mountains.
It should be found on most routing apps and software so I’d imagine it’s not hard to find even though it felt like a pretty lightly-visited stop.
So I’ll just describe how we drove here from Sheridan since that was how we did it.
I will also describe the driving directions from Cody since we also spent a good deal of time there.
Driving from Sheridan to Shell Falls
From Sheridan, we drove on the westbound I-90 for over 14 miles before taking the exit 9 for the US14 West (towards Ranchester).
At the off-ramp, we then turned left and followed the US14 West for nearly 53 miles.
The Shell Falls Interpretive Site and Parking Lot was on our right.
Overall, this nearly 70-mile drive took us around 90 minutes.
Driving from Cody to Shell Falls
From Cody, we would drive on the US14 East for about 53 miles towards Greybull.
From Greybull, we’d continue to drive on the US14 East for another 26 miles to the Shell Falls Interpretive Site, which would be on our left.
Overall, this 79-mile drive would also take us around 90 minutes.
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.
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