13 Waterfalls to See in the Winter
The return of cold air to the Pacific Northwest is an exciting time. The snow piles up in the mountains while storms push freezing temperatures into every corner of the state. The lower the temperature drops, the closer our waterways slow to a near stop. A long, deep freeze transforms scenic spots into a nearly unrecognizable winter wonderland.
It is during this time when we start to see the majestic waterfalls begin to freeze over. The normal roar of these falls is replaced with a trickle of movement and a landscape sculpted by ice.
Blues and whites in all possible hues emerge from the frozen water, the perfect destination for an unforgettable winter adventure. Read on to find the best frozen waterfalls in our area.
Once the temperatures drop and snow sticks around in the mountain passes, consider a trip to Snoqualmie Pass. Not only is the region incredible for skiing and snowshoeing, but there are also two scenic waterfalls worth checking out when they freeze.
The first is Franklin Falls, beloved by outdoor enthusiasts and one of the top winter waterfalls destinations in Washington state. The 135-foot falls dazzles visitors with a breathtaking wall of ice and snow.
Close to Seattle and right off Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass, reaching the falls on the winter route is roughly 7 miles in length round trip. The view of frozen Franklin Falls is worth the effort of hiking there in snowshoes or traction devices. This is a sought-after destination, so arrive early to be guaranteed a parking spot near the road closure.
Lower down Snoqualmie Pass, Snoqualmie Falls is a much more accessible and truly spectacular winter waterfall destination. When the region plunges into a deep freeze, the turbulent spray of the 269-foot Snoqualmie Falls builds up masses of ice around the picturesque destination.
What makes this experience so great is that you can see the frozen falls easily from the observation decks or you can hike the trail to the base of the falls. Although the freeze of Snoqualmie Falls isn’t an annual event, when it does happen, it is a can’t miss experience.
One spot that is consistently known for frozen waterfalls is Mount Rainier National Park. One of the iciest and most accessible waterfalls in Washington is Christine Falls.
Found along Paradise Valley Road, Christine Falls is a gem. The lower falls, 37 feet in height, is perfectly framed by a deep canyon and a rocky bridge. This idyllic winter scene is a found on a short, sometimes icy path. From the scenic vantage point, enjoy the whites and blues from the ice and snow.
Farther up Paradise Valley Road, a winter stop at Ruby and Narada Falls offers short outdoor adventures to a few breathtaking, often-frozen falls. The 30-foot, two-tiered Ruby Falls wows visitors when it becomes a sheet of ice in the winter.
The overlook can be reached along a short and sometimes icy path. Those hoping for a longer snow day with proper gear should head past the Ruby Falls Overlook to Narada Falls.
Icy and snow-covered in the winter months, Narada Falls has two drops, one of 168 feet and one of 20 feet. The size makes Narada even more stunning than Ruby Falls. Tag on a winter adventure to Reflection Lakes, which is around 5 miles round trip, for a truly memorable day.
Waterfalls get fewer the farther east you go in Washington, but two destinations provide memorable adventures in the central part of the state. The first is Frenchman Coulee, just across the Columbia River from Vantage. A short drive from Interstate 90, the scenic road passes geological wonders as it drops to the Columbia River.
One of these wonders is the Frenchman Coulee Waterfall. This 100-foot, low-volume waterfall is a remnant from the great ice-age floods along the Columbia River that created the channeled scablands. In the winter, the waterfall freezes to the cliffs in the desert. It can be viewed from the road or up close after a less than a 5-mile out-and-back trek.
For a truly unique frozen waterfall experience, head up to Chelan and catch the Lady of the Lake. This year-round ferry will take you up Lake Chelan all the way to the remote town of Stehekin. Along the way, you’ll have a chance to take in the stunning scene of frozen Rainbow Falls.
Plunging down 392 feet in two tiers, the falls usually freezes in the winter and is truly spectacular. The boat ride is an all-day excursion and runs on a varying schedule between Oct. 16 through April 30, so plan ahead to see this winter wonder. If you time it right, you can catch a winter fireworks show over the lake.
No waterfall trip to Eastern Washington is complete without a detour to Palouse Falls. Far from the beaten path, Washington’s official state waterfall is a true delight in the winter. The cold air and lack of sun in the canyon helps transform the falls into an icy paradise.
The spray of the 200-foot Palouse Falls freezes to every nook and cranny, occasionally even freezing the basin at the bottom of the falls. While the drive to get here is long, seeing it in the depths of a deep freeze will leave you speechless.
Right off Interstate 9 in the heart of Spokane is Spokane Falls. Spokane Falls partially ices over in cold weather. Flanked by snow on the shore, the slight spray of the falls creates ice on the rocks all around.
On the coldest of days, huge icicles may have formed on everything over the river. For a similar scene away from the hustle and bustle of the town, keep heading east to Post Falls, Idaho. Here, a short trail will lead to a frozen pond and an icy canyon.
Olympic Peninsula and Oregon
Long lasting, subfreezing temperature are not extremely common on the Olympic Peninsula but, when they do, three waterfalls are sure to dazzle both locals and visitors alike. Near the Dosewallips River and the tiny town of Brinnon, you’ll find the 229-foot Rocky Brook Falls.
Reached after a short hike from a parking area 3 miles from the turn on Dosewallips Road, Rocky Brook is gorgeous all year long. In the winter, the smaller channels to the sides of the falls will freeze, framing the still tumbling cascade with icicles.
On the northern Olympic Peninsula, Marymere Falls is a classic winter waterfall near Lake Crescent. The short, mostly flat hike to the falls is pretty in snow and cold weather but can be a bit slick.
When it has been below freezing for a week, you should see the gorgeous 90-foot waterfall wrapped in layers of ice. For a similar experience in the region, Madison Falls is a 60-foot falls near the Elwha River and is reached after a short hike.
When rare winter storms send frigid air funneling though the Columbia River Gorge along the Oregon and Washington border, frozen waterfall lovers need look no farther. Deep freezes leave Multnomah Falls and the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge an icy paradise that should not be missed.
The Columbia River Scenic Byway passes numerous roadside waterfalls and spots to take short hikes to frozen wonderlands. If the forecast calls for a week or longer of bellowing freezing temperatures, the gorge could give you a lifetime’s worth of amazing winter sights and frozen waterfalls in a day.
–Written by Douglas Scott
–Top photo of Franklin Falls is by Samantha