Fascinated by Waterfalls? These 11 Are Must-See!
Water defines the Pacific Northwest. Everywhere you go, from the rainforests of the Olympics to the channeled scablands of eastern Washington and the wilds of Idaho, the power of precipitation has left its mark on the landscape.
Showing off dramatic drops in elevation as freshwater furiously races down to the ocean, waterfalls can be found throughout the region. There are dozens of falls around Washington and North Idaho, but these 11, grouped by region, show off the power, beauty and wild spirit of the Pacific Northwest and are not to be missed.
Because of COVID-19, please take recommended safety requirements, check road closures, and practice social distancing if you are planning a future trip.
Sol Duc Falls. Photo by iStock.
Famous for the ever-present rainfall that formed the region’s rainforests, the Olympic Peninsula is one of the easier places to find waterfalls. Seemingly every creek or river has its fair share of waterfalls, growing into torrents of water after heavy spring rains. One of those waterfalls is Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park. Find Sol Duc Falls after a family-friendly, 1.6-mile (round trip) hike to Olympic National Park’s most-famous waterfall.
As the Sol Duc River runs toward the Pacific Ocean, multi-channel falls carved into the rock create a breathtaking destination. On the trail, a bridge spans the river near the falls, providing glimpses of the tumbling water and rainbows forming in the mist under the late summer sun. Be aware that the road to the falls is not open in the winter.
Near Lake Crescent, Marymere Falls is a favorite year-round Olympic waterfall that is strongest during the spring months. Reach Marymere after a short and mostly flat 1.8-mile (round trip) hike through the forests of Olympic National Park. From the overlook at the end of the trail, which you reach after climbing up wooden steps through a lush ravine, you’ll see the 90-foot drop of Marymere Falls. Read more about the North Olympic Peninsula.
Along the western side of the Peninsula, Merriman Falls is a roadside gem on the Lake Quinault Loop. Located in Olympic National Forest, the 40-foot tall cascading waterfall is surrounded by ferns and trees dripping with moss. This is a beautiful waterfall any month of the year, as the region is known to receive a dozen feet of rain annually.
Snoqualmie Falls. Photo by iStock.
Separating eastern and western Washington, the Cascade Mountains have some of Washington’s most-visited waterfalls. Most people get their introduction to the tumbling waters of the Cascades at Snoqualmie Falls, just a few miles from Interstate 90. During the spring rains and runoff, the falls become indescribably huge, roaring over the 268-foot cliff and spraying mist hundreds of feet into the air. The falls are easily reached via an ADA accessible path from a large parking area.
Further east on I-90, Franklin Falls is an easy day hike, serving as an introduction to hiking around Snoqualmie Pass. The 2-mile (round trip) trail is open year-round, but should be avoided during the winter months because of heavy snow on the road and difficult hiking conditions. Between April and July, the waterfall is the largest, giving you a chance to see the power of this stunning destination.
Mount Rainier National Park has many breathtakingly beautiful waterfalls, but Myrtle Falls gives folks of all ages a quintessential Washington state experience. With Mount Rainier looming large in the background, Myrtle Falls cascades under a wooden bridge, creating a picture-perfect view. Myrtle Falls, best seen in the summer and early fall months, can be reached by following a well-maintained trail, less than a mile round trip, from the Paradise parking area. Read more about visiting Paradise and Mount Rainier.
In southwest Washington, off Forest Road 25, an overlooked, but truly stunning waterfall is awaiting your adventure. Tumbling down 43 feet and spreading over 200 feet, Lower Lewis River Falls will dazzle waterfall enthusiasts. Reached by a short, kid-friendly hike that has a few spots of tricky footing, the lower falls are the crown jewel of the Lewis River, which has several waterfalls within hiking distance. The falls are most powerful during the spring months and may be inaccessible during the winter. Read more about taking a North Cascades road trip.
Palouse Falls. Photo by iStock.
Eastern Washington once had some of America’s most impressive waterfalls. At the end of the last major ice age, around 15,000 years ago, floods from burst glacial dams raged west. The surging water created waterfalls that, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), were five times the width of Niagara and 10 times the flow of all current rivers in the world combined. Today, a few waterfalls still dot the arid landscape, surrounded by cliffs that hold memories of the pounding pressure of water.
Palouse Falls is the most well-known waterfall in eastern Washington and is the state’s official waterfall. Perfect for road trippers passing near the Tri-Cities, this is one detour that needs to be taken. Tumbling 198 feet down into a large cirque, this waterfall is breathtaking year-round, partially freezing most winters. You’ll find the waterfall in Palouse Falls State Park, after following a very short, ADA-accessible hike. Read more about things to do Tri-Cities.
Near Vantage, Ancient Lakes holds a few waterfalls that still remain from the massive ice age floods. Found by hiking a mostly flat, 4-mile (round trip) trail, find the Ancient Lakes waterfalls at the back of the valley, after passing picturesque lakes surrounded by sagebrush. Because of irrigation of the surrounding landscape, the falls are active most of the year.
To see more of the power of ice-age era floods, head to Dry Falls at Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park. The cliffs of the once-mighty waterfall don’t have water pouring over them, but their size (3.5 miles long and 400 feet deep) is incredibly impressive.
Post Falls. Photo by iStock.
North Idaho and Beyond
North Idaho is home to dozens of great waterfalls, but two in and around the Panhandle are fantastic introductions to the region. The first waterfall in Idaho many see is Post Falls, right off I-90. Reached via a short, ADA-friendly paved path, the 40-foot roaring waterfall is a great roadside stop before exploring more of the Gem State. This waterfall may entice you to seek out some of the more remote and off-the-beaten-path waterfalls in North Idaho.
Twenty-one miles east of the Idaho-Montana border on Highway 2, Kootenai Falls and suspension bridge is a quick must-stop spot. This stunning swinging bridge and multi-level waterfall is reached after a short, roughly 1.5-mile hike along a partially paved trail. During the runoff in late spring and early summer, the river and falls absolutely rage and should not be skipped.
–Written by Douglas Scott
Top Photo: Lower Lewis River Falls by iStock.
Interested in planning your next road trip with AAA Washington? Call your travel agent directly or your nearest AAA store to get pro tips, TripTik maps, and more. Find more Pacific Northwest scenic drives and road trips.