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Ron Sholand
Searching for sublime waters in the Cascades
By Andrew Engelson Pilgrimage is an appropriate aren’t visible through thickets of
term, since so many of us treat Douglas fir, devil’s club and ferns
If you’re searching for a de- waterfalls with a special kind of surrounding them. But here the
scription of why many of us enjoy reverence. There’s something endless stream of white is very
waterfalls so much, look no fur- hypnotic about a waterfall. The visible and inspiring.
ther than William Wordsworth. incessant white noise tends to There were plenty of other
In “Lines Composed a Few Miles drown out flitting thoughts and hikers gawking at the spectacle
Above Tintern Abbey,” the Eng- provide a moment for contempla- on a balmy March afternoon, but
lish poet wrote in 1798: tion. But there’s also a raw power that didn’t diminish the force of
The sounding cataract and danger about them. It’s that its beauty. The Upper Falls is my
Haunted me like a passion: mix of beauty and awe the poets favorite—and not just because
the tall rock, called the sublime. the higher elevation tends to
The mountain, and the deep There’s a good reason that weed out the exhausted masses.
and gloomy wood, Wordsworth is quoted on a It’s a novel perspective, peering
Their colours and their sign at the start of the trail to down into the bowl of the falls
forms, were then to me Wallace Falls, outside the town opposite. At eye level with the
An appetite; a feeling and a of Gold Bar. “Come forth into plummet of water, you’re more
love… the light of things. Let nature aware of gravity at work here.
In Washington’s deep and be your teacher,” it reads. On Gripping the smooth, peeled-
gloomy woods (and also in its a recent weekend, I decided to log railing, I felt it shudder from
arid, rolling hills), you’ll find an take that advice and savor the the impact of falling water. The
abundance of “cataracts,” from falls. What I learned was that upwelling mist shook the mosses
subtle cascading streams to thun- you can experience the sublime and ferns hanging precariously
dering falls that shake the stones even on a trail packed with fellow from the black cliffs, and as it
to their foundations. In fact, our bootsteppers. rose, it cooled my face.
mountains—the Cascades—are Broken into three tiers, Wal- If nothing else, all that falling
named for the multitudes of fall- lace Falls can be observed from a water makes a hiker thirsty. After
ing waters you’ll find here. number of rest stops at the upper a steep and quick climb to the
One of the joys of waterfall end of the 2.7-mile Woody Trail. top of the falls, I finished off the
viewing in the Northwest is that Railings provide a small comfort last drops in my water bottle, as
you’ll always find at least one as you peer into the chasm of the a bead of sweat trickled down my
flowing any time of year. Some Wallace River. In late winter, the arm. All this falling water makes
are perennial, falling year-round. falls were surging with rainwater you glad to be alive.
Others are seasonal. Some stream and sending out a roar worthy of
from glaciers heating in the sum- the space shuttle.
mer sun, some are fed by winter The 265-foot Middle Falls is
rains, and others course from the most impressive, if for no Photo: Feature Show Falls
melting snow packs in spring. other reason than this is the along the Boulder River
Many can be reached by car, but clearest view you’ll get of the Trail, Boulder River Wilder-
the most rewarding are those three falls. Many remote falls ness. Waterfalls combine
requiring a hike—either a short in the Pacific Northwest might the beautiful and the
wander through the woods, or a be equally as popular as Wal- powerful in a compelling
grueling multi-day backpacking lace—if not for the fact that they combination.


Searching for sublime waters in the Cascades
tion on Northwest falls. Over
Don Paulson

Robin Rowan
3,000 falls in Washington
state alone are cataloged,
described, and sometimes
photographed. Each list-
ing includes height, width,
magnitude (volume of water
flow), seasonality, source,
and GPS coordinates. As
comprehensive as the site
is, Swan insists he’s only
scratched the surface.
“I’ve got approximately
3,000 inventoried in Wash-
ington. I imagine that’s prob-
ably less than 20 percent of Wallace Falls, a great year-round
the total count.” hike near the town of Gold Bar.
Swan is comfortable ei-
ther driving, hiking, or
When’s the best time
bushwhacking to follow his
obsession. He’s never had a to view waterfalls?
mishap at a falls, although For waterfalls that aren’t fed by
one time he was so fixated glaciers, April to June is prime
on trying to get a glimpse of time, while glacier-fed falls
a falls in British Columbia he tend to peak between June and
neglected to notice the rear September.
A hiker contemplates Comet Falls, Mount Rainier end of an elk not more than a How should I
National Park. In addition to the 320-foot falls, few feet from his nose. photograph
waterfalls coming out of Rainier’s glaciers are He’s recently started to
another reason to check out this trail in mid- venture off-trail to some of
Swan suggests using a polarizing
summer. the more remote and spec-
filter to help make the falling water
tacular falls in the state. He
stand out from the surrounding
recently had the opportunity

The Waterfall Guy

cliffs. He also recommends shoot-
to see Depot Creek Falls, a
ing pictures on an overcast day to
975-foot falls in Washing-
reduce contrast, and better bal-
Bryan Swan knows Washington’s ton’s North Cascades that’s
ance the white of the falls with the
waterfalls inside and out only accessible by crossing
dark of the surrounding rocks.
south over the border from
By Andrew Engelson
British Columbia. He describes it as “pos- W h e re ca n I f i n d
sibly the most impressive waterfall I’ve more information?
Just about as long as he can remem- been to in person. Possibly only Yosemite Swan’s website www.waterfalls-
ber, Bryan Swan has had a thing for Falls tops it.” On his list to see firsthand: is an invaluable
waterfalls. Sulphide Creek Falls on the southeast resource.
“One of my first memories,” he says, flank of Mount Shuksan and Green Lake
For information on falls in
“was hiking to Rainy Lake with my par- Falls at the headwaters of Bacon Creek
Washington, Oregon, and Idaho
ents when I was maybe 3 or 4 and seeing in the North Cascades. Both probably
exceed 2,000 feet in height, and both consult Gregory Plumb’s book
the waterfall on the far end.”
Waterfall Lovers Guide Pacific
Since then, he has made an avocation require battling what he dubs “class 5
Northwest (Mountaineers Books,
of waterfall spotting in the Northwest. brush” to reach them.
But you don’t have wrestle devil’s club $18.95, 2005)
In 1998 he started a website cataloguing
the region’s waterfalls. In February 2005 and slide alder to see many of the state’s For information on waterfalls fur-
it underwent a major transformation and impressive waterfalls. See the following ther afield, consult Bryan Swan’s is now the page for a brief list of some of Swan’s World Waterfall Database at www.
most impressive collection of informa- favorites in Washington.


Searching for sublime waters in the Cascades
Nine great waterfall hikes

Don Paulson
Boulder River Lewis River
9 miles RT, Elevation gain: 600 feet Trail
Hikeable most of the year Gifford Pinchot
Green Trails 77 Oso, 109 Granite Falls National Forest
This lovely trail into the Boulder River Wilder- Mileage varies,
ness is a great hike for kids, and has several total one way
notable waterfalls to offer. Most prominent trip: 18.5 miles,
is Feature Show Falls, a wedding-cake of a Elevation gain:
falls across the river from the trail. It’s at its 900 feet
peak flow in winter and spring.
Hikeable March-
Foss Lakes
Alpine Lakes Wilderness If you can arrange
8 miles RT, Elev. gain: 2,300 feet to have a car at
Hikeable July-Oct. both the Lewis
Green Trails 175 Skykomish, River and Quartz
176 Stevens Pass Creek trailheads, Middle Lewis River Falls. The 18.5-mile Lewis River Trail
you’ll be treated is packed with waterfalls large and small.
This trail abounds with lacy tributary falls and
to rolling, 18.5-
mile trek past some of the state’s loveliest Taylor River
a string of high lakes in this classic Alpine
Lakes landscape. The capping attraction is
waterfalls, including Curly Creek, the Lower, Middle Fork Snoqualmie River
Malachite Falls, 600-foot magnitude 74 falls
Middle and Upper Falls of the Lewis River, 10 miles RT, Elev. gain: 500 feet
at the outlet of Copper Lake.
and plenty of other unnamed falls along the Hikeable April-Oct.
way. Or pick and chose your favorite stretches Green Trails 174 Mount Si, 175 Skykomish
Lava Canyon to day hike, as there are numerous trailheads On this road-to-trail you’ll find access to three
Mount St. Helens along the Lewis River. Be sure to also take the unique waterfalls: Marten Creek, Otter Falls,
3.5 miles RT, Elevation gain: 1,100 feet 1.5-mile jaunt to 130-foot Big Creek Falls and Big Creek Falls. The highlight is Otter
Hikeable late June-Sept. Falls, a 600-foot slide of creek descending
Green Trails 364 Mount St. Helens a huge granite slab into Lipsy Lake. A cairn
Skyline Loop
A geological wonder of a trail, with bizarre Mount Rainier National Park at 4.5 miles marks a short spur trail to the
lava formations, deep gorges, an adventur- 5.5 miles RT, Elev. gain: 1,700 feet lake and falls.
ous trail bridge and 7 waterfalls of varied Hikeable late July-October
height and magnitude. Green Trails 365 Lone Butte Van Trump Park
The popular Skyline Loop above Paradise Mount Rainier National Park
is usually noted for its wildflower displays, 6 miles RT, Elev. gain: 2,200 feet
Dave Nobles

but there are some fine waterfalls to be Hikeable mid July-October

seen here, including the small, but beauti- Green Trails 269 Mount Rainier West
fully braided Myrtle Falls and 300-foot The obvious highlight of this summer hike
Sluiskin Falls. in Mount Rainier National Park is 320-foot
Comet Falls. But as you ascend to Van Trump
Spray Park Park, you’ll see dozens of other falls, including
Mount Rainier National Park many crashing directly from the Kautz and
6 miles RT, Elevation gain: 2,200 feet Van Trump Glaciers.
Hikeable mid-July-Oct.
If you want to see hundreds of fantastic Wallace Falls
waterfalls, hike the entire 95-mile loop 5.5 miles RT, Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
around Mount Rainier. For those with less Hikeable most of the year
time or stamina, hike this popular route Green Trails 142 Index
though meadows and subalpine forest to This great foothills hike is fantastic for
the base of Spray Falls, an elegant 350-foot families—although it does gain 1,200 feet,
fan-shaped falls. so prepare the kids for some exercise. The
three-tiered falls is one of the state’s premier
lowland falls (ranking with Snoqualmie and
Palouse Falls) and is accessible most of the
Above: Hikers take in the lower section of 350-foot Spray Falls, Mount year. Middle Falls is the most scenic. 
Rainier National Park. The summer hike is 6 miles round trip.