Shell Falls

Bighorn National Forest / Sheridan, Wyoming, USA

About Shell Falls


Hiking Distance: about 1/8-mile loop
Suggested Time: 30-45 minutes

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

Waterfall Latitude: 44.58647
Waterfall Longitude: -107.61403

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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.

Shell_Falls_027_iPhone_07312020 - Shell Falls
Shell Falls

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.

Shell_Falls_072_iPhone_07312020 - Context of an overlook and the former location of Shell Falls before Shell Creek went down a different fault-aided crack in the bedrock at its current course
Context of an overlook and the former location of Shell Falls before Shell Creek went down a different fault-aided crack in the bedrock at its current course

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

Shell_Falls_058_iPhone_07312020 - Looking towards the Shell Falls Visitor Center fronted by interpretive signs and backed by a quickly-growing thunderstorm
Looking towards the Shell Falls Visitor Center fronted by interpretive signs and backed by a quickly-growing thunderstorm

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.

Shell_Falls_019_iPhone_07312020 - Descending the steps to the main lookout for Shell Falls
Descending the steps to the main lookout for Shell Falls

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.

Shell_Falls_096_iPhone_07312020 - Looking towards Brindle Falls as we were wrapping up our loop walk at the Shell Falls Interpretive Site
Looking towards Brindle Falls as we were wrapping up our loop walk at the Shell Falls Interpretive Site

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.

Authorities

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.

Shell_Falls_002_iPhone_07312020 - Starting our visit at the Shell Falls Interpretive Site just as some Amish visitors were leaving
Shell_Falls_009_iPhone_07312020 - Approaching the Shell Falls Visitor Center and some interpretive signs allowing us to read more about this place
Shell_Falls_040_iPhone_07312020 - Looking right into the crack carved out by Shell Creek at the Shell Falls
Shell_Falls_032_iPhone_07312020 - More contextual look from the lookout right in front of Shell Falls
Shell_Falls_042_iPhone_07312020 - Looking downstream at Shell Creek still cutting deeper into the gorge downstream from Shell Falls
Shell_Falls_045_iPhone_07312020 - Looking towards a twist in Shell Creek where Shell Falls was concealed until you got right to the lookout in front of it
Shell_Falls_051_iPhone_07312020 - Long exposed look at Shell Falls while using the railing as a makeshift tripod
Shell_Falls_057_iPhone_07312020 - Looking back at the walkway from the lookout fronting Shell Falls
Shell_Falls_062_iPhone_07312020 - Julie and Tahia starting the 1/8-mile loop walk at the Shell Falls Interpretive Site
Shell_Falls_067_iPhone_07312020 - Looking back at the context of where Shell Falls and its direct lookout are as we walked to the next lookout
Shell_Falls_071_iPhone_07312020 - Another look back at towards the first lookout, which fronted Shell Falls, as seen from the lookout by the old location of Shell Falls
Shell_Falls_074_iPhone_07312020 - Looking down at the context of the gorge and Shell Creek with the Shell Falls lookout in the background as seen from the lookout for the old location of Shell Falls
Shell_Falls_075_iPhone_07312020 - Looking back towards the Shell Falls lookout in context with the Shell Falls Visitor Center from the lookout for the old location of Shell Falls
Shell_Falls_079_iPhone_07312020 - Looking down towards some fallen boulders and trees by some cascade on Shell Creek deep inside the gorge
Shell_Falls_089_iPhone_07312020 - More frontal look down at the intermediate cascade on Shell Creek well downstream of Shell Falls as seen from further along the loop walk
Shell_Falls_092_iPhone_07312020 - The dark thunderclouds were continuing to grow while we were visiting Shell Falls
Shell_Falls_093_iPhone_07312020 - Julie and Tahia further ahead as the short loop walk at Shell Falls Interpretive Site turned further down canyon
Shell_Falls_097_iPhone_07312020 - Canyon view from one of the last lookouts on the short loop walk at the Shell Falls Interpretive Site
Shell_Falls_100_iPhone_07312020 - Looking back at the loop walk as the dark thunderclouds continued to grow and threaten to overtake us around the Shell Falls Interpretive Site
Shell_Falls_106_iPhone_07312020 - Closeup look at some of the wildflowers blooming by the short loop walk at the Shell Falls Interpretive Site
Shell_Falls_108_iPhone_07312020 - Just to give you an idea of how much bite was in that thunderstorm that overtook us by Shell Falls, this was a snapshot of the hail storm that threatened to damage the windshield of our rental car as we were driving back north to the Burgess Junction along the US14

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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.

Cody_021_iPhone_07312020 - We stayed in the town of Wapiti, which was under 30 minutes drive west of Cody, but we made most of our grocery runs in Cody. It also seemed to be a magnet for thunderstorms even when most of Yellowstone National Park didn't have as many thunderclouds during our visits
We stayed in the town of Wapiti, which was under 30 minutes drive west of Cody, but we made most of our grocery runs in Cody. It also seemed to be a magnet for thunderstorms even when most of Yellowstone National Park didn’t have as many thunderclouds during our visits

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.

Shell_Falls_006_iPhone_07312020 - Looking back at one of the entrances for the Shell Falls Interpretive Site
Looking back at one of the entrances for the Shell Falls Interpretive Site

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.

Shell_Falls_007_iPhone_07312020 - Looking across parking area at the Shell Falls Interpretive Site
Looking across parking area at the Shell Falls Interpretive Site

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.

Slow deliberate sweep going from downstream to upstream of the Shell Falls from the lookout


Examining the entire experience at the first lookout spot for Shell Falls


Sweep starting with a very distant view of Brindle Falls before panning down along the steep canyon carved forth by the creek responsible for Shell Falls


Sweep revealing Brindle Falls and the steep canyon carved forth by the same creek yielding Shell Falls all while under a rapidly budding thunderstorm

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Tagged with: sheridan, wyoming, bighorn national forest, big horn county, bighorn mountains, interpretive site, shell canyon



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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.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.