Palouse Falls State Park

Monday 17 August, 2015

Classic view of Palouse Falls from overlook.

Washington's Palouse Falls is a remnant of the ancient catastrophic Missoula Floods. Washington Trail Association's web site tell us that, "Palouse Falls remains as one of the magnificent and lasting remnants of these glacial floods. It is the only major waterfall left along this thousands of years old glacial flood path." Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest describes Palouse Falls as "another one of the spectacular natural features of Washington State." We describe it as geologically fascinating and a challenging but incredibly fun hike. Our friend Grant from Portland joined us for our adventure at the falls, and we had an amazing day of exploration.

Palouse Falls from the overlook.

The Missoula Floods were a series of floods occurring at the end of the last Ice Age. One ice dam after another broke, allowing glacial Lake Missoula to flow freely over the ancient land. The floods repeatedly swept across eastern Washington, through the Columbia River Gorge, down to the Willamette Valley. Across the Pacific Northwest from east to west, in other words. We just can't imagine that amount of water today. [Source: Wikipedia]

Apparently the drought has made the falls' flow unusually small, but it's still pretty.

Grant took our picture at the overlook.

We had heard about this beautiful place from our friend Lars, who had brought Mark there to see the geology. Mark wrote about their visit. I am trying to follow Mark's example of being a nature educator on a regular basis, but here we were following in his steps more literally.

Canyon carved by the Palouse River, which feeds into the Snake.

Above the falls is a collection of volcanic spines known as the Castle. Photo by Eric.

As we made our way down the 2.4-km/1.5-mi trail to the top of the falls, Eric photographed the Castle and the falls together.

Eric also photographed the upper falls. You can see from the surrounding area that there is usually quite a bit more water here.

This was the least precipitous and dangerous trail down to the top of the falls.

Grant made many joking threats to lead us down some of the more suicidal trails, but we got him to agree to take this one. Photo by Eric.

Eric took another picture of the upper falls as we got close to them.

We had to cross over the stream.

Eric took my picture crossing with a considerable amount of camera equipment. Probably I should have put the tripod back in Sydney after taking pictures from the overlook, but I didn't know what the trail was going to be like.

We hiked through this devastatingly beautiful canyon, occasionally clambering over rocks.

The trail took us right past the Castle, where I took a picture of Grant fooling around.

We had seen people swimming in this beautiful pool, but how do you get down there? They told us they had thrown their belongings over first and then jumped from that ledge down there. Oh, my.

Not being quite that adventurous, we hiked back through the canyon until we found a place where we could cross the stream, then climbed up and hiked along the other side down to the pool.

Looking up at the Castle from down near the pool.

Grant walked right out to the edge of the waterfall.

We met a young man who worked at the Spokane REI, who took our picture at the edge.

Looking down over the edge.

On such a hot day, the cold water felt so good! Photo of me by Eric.

Eric and Grant agreed to fall backwards into the water together.

Apparently, they found it cold!

We soaked our hats in the water and put them over our heads to cool off.

It was such a pretty and comfortable place, it was hard to leave. The movement of the water was so slow and calm, it was hard to believe it led down to a waterfall.

Reflections along the peaceful water. You can see that the water level is ordinarily much higher.

Reflection deeper into the canyon.

Eric took a lovely picture of the top of the falls with the edge of the Castle above.

Unfortunately, shortly after we started out on the return trip, I stumbled on the ankle I had injured two months previously. The stupid thing had never quite gone back down to the size of the other one, and, ow, ow, ow, it really hurt. I had Eric help me up so that I could immediately keep walking to stop the swelling from building up. I took four ibuprofen and hoped for the best. The activities planned for next several days were a bike ride and then a convention, not things that involve a lot of lateral ankle movement. I was glad it hadn't happened on the way down.

Eric identified this feature as columnar basalt, likening it to the caves at Reynisfjara in Iceland. Washington Trail Association's web site confirms the accuracy of his identification.

Dramatic rock wall behind the upper falls.

These wildflowers (Black-Eyed Susans?) covered the ridge.

I made it back to the parking lot without too much pain. We made a plan to have dinner in the Ritzville, and from there make a motel reservation in Coeur D'Alene, to make it easier to get to the Hiawatha bike trail in the morning. While neither the atmosphere nor the fried chicken and tuna melts at Jake's Cafe in Ritzville were as good as pretty lily pond and the creamy chicken mushroom dish I had had the night before, we were comfortable and the food was tasty. We headed off for Motel 6 in Coeur D'Alene and a cycling adventure the next day.

Palouse Falls was a positively incredible adventure. Amazing scenery, fascinating geology, and a calm and cool pool. This hike, while definitely in the moderate-to-hard range, is incredibly rewarding for those who can do it!

On to the Hiawatha Trail.

Last updated: 17 August, 2015 by Eric and Beth Zuckerman