A year-long study of four western Montana streams (two impacted by mining and two "pristine") evaluated surface water geochemical dynamics on various time scales (monthly, daily, and bi-hourly). Monthly changes were dominated by snowmelt and precipitation dynamics. On the daily scale, post-rain surges in some solute and particulate concentrations were similar to those of early spring runoff flushing characteristics on the monthly scale. On the bi-hourly scale, we observed diel (diurnal-nocturnal) cycling for pH, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, dissolved inorganic carbon, total suspended sediment, and some total recoverable metals at some or all sites. A comparison of the cumulative geochemical variability within each of the temporal groups reveals that for many water quality parameters there were large overlaps of concentration ranges among groups. We found that short-term (daily and bi-hourly) variations of some geochemical parameters covered large proportions of the variations found on a much longer term (monthly) time scale. These results show the importance of nesting short-term studies within long-term geochemical study designs to separate signals of environmental change from natural variability.