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The waterfall hunter

By on July 26, 2021 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments
Rainbow Falls makes a joyous 312-foot leap at the headwaters of Lake Chelan.

Most NCW waterfalls are easy to find, but may take some work to get to

By Alan Moen

Even since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by waterfalls.

The sight of a river or stream taking its leap of faith over a cliff, turning lovely as it descends in plumes of white, throwing spray and thunder into the air before it crashes into rocks, pools and mist below has always been magical to me.

And so, growing up in waterfall-rich western Washington, I’ve always sought out waterfalls in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, in the United States and even all over the world.

I’ve seen Niagara Falls in the U.S., 974-foot Staubbach Falls in Switzerland, too many waterfalls in Norway to count, and once traveled high into the Drankensberg Mountains of South Africa on a misty, rainy day to try to get a glimpse of Tugela Falls, at 3,110 feet the second tallest waterfall in the world. (Angel Falls, the tallest, located in the dense jungle of Venezuela, South America, has still eluded me.)

Washington State is blessed with some great waterfalls for the waterfall hunter.

Most, not surprisingly, are found on the wetter western side of the Cascade Mountains. From easily accessible Snoqualmie Falls and Wallace Falls near Gold Bar to Comet Falls in Mount Rainier National Park.

In the Enchanted Valley of the Quinault River in Olympic National Park, reached only by a 16-mile trail, dozens of waterfalls pour hundreds of feet down a high mountain wall into a verdant meadow below.

Drury Falls

But north central Washington also has its share of waterfalls, and most are fairly easy to visit.

The tallest is Drury Falls in Tumwater Canyon, quite visible from near The Alps candy store on Highway 2. Here from near the top of Icicle Ridge, waters take an airy plunge of 520 feet off a granite ledge into a deep gorge. Counting the cascades beneath the main falls, the total drop is approximately 1,200 feet.

Fed primarily by snowmelt, the falls diminishes greatly in summer, and turns into a giant column of ice in winter, beckoning the boldest of climbers. Unfortunately, access to the falls is limited to a long hike up Icicle Ridge or a strenuous bushwhack up the gorge after crossing the river below.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls, another tall and impressive waterfall, lies at the headwaters of Lake Chelan about three miles above Stehekin, which can only be reached by boat.

A short bicycle or bus ride provides easy access to the 312-foot falls on Rainbow Creek, which has a large parking area beneath. A new trail to the left of the parking area allows visitors to take a short hike up to the bottom of the falls for better views.

Alan Moen at Silver Falls, likely the most popular local falls to visit.

Silver Falls

Even closer to civilization, 140-foot Silver Falls is located 29.5 miles up the Entiat River Road between Wenatchee and Chelan, and is definitely the most popular waterfall to visit in the area.

Just past the Silver falls campground is a large parking lot. Take the well-marked family-friendly trail through the shady pine forest directly across the road to see the falls.

The short but steep rail climbs up along Silver creek, much of it following stone steps and somewhat rickety guardrails put in by the CCC back in the 1930s.

It splits in a short distance near a bridge. Take the right hand fork, ascending to view the dramatic 50-foot plunge of the lower falls. Although you can scramble off-trail over wet rocks to stand close beneath the falling water, this is slippery, somewhat dangerous and is not recommended.

Above the lower falls, the trail continues upwards and veers right across and open slope, where burnt trees show the damage done by a 2016 wildfire that burned right through the falls area, even destroying bridges over the creek. Finally the trail returns to the creek and climbs to a new wooden bridge that spans it where the tumbling waters begin their descent.

Crossing the bridge, the trail continues steeply down to the right, following switchbacks with more views of the falls, and eventually joins the other trail below to complete the 1.7-mile loop.

The popularity of he Silver Falls Trail can make it very crowded, as it was particularly during the height of the recent pandemic, especially on weekends. Still, it’s a great place to go on a hot summer day, where the cool falling waters provide a welcome respite from the heat.

Ancient Lakes Falls

Dry coulee country is hardly where you would expect to find waterfalls, but waterfall hunters should not miss the several high waterfalls surrounding the Ancient Lakes near Quincy.

The most dramatic of them is located at the very end of the three lower lakes, a 100-foot cascade that begs for a closer look.

Unlike other waterfalls in the area, it does not dry up in summer.

The falls can be reached by taking the lower two-mile trail to the lakes and scrambling around the upper lake either on the left (recommended) or the right, crossing the stream at the bottom of the falls and ascending a long scree slope to the top. 

More small waterfalls await in the basin above, and even more lakes as well.

Happy waterfall hunting!

Longtime waterfall hunter Alan Moen lives in the Entiat Valley.   

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