(Silverdale, Washington; May 4, 2021) – Waterfalls wash away strife and care, the rushing cataract mesmerizing the eyes even as it soothes the soul.
As I near my departure from Washington State, I wanted to share a few more memories of the amazing places we have here. I’ve found much solace, wonder, and water droplets obscuring my camera lens over the past two years at six rather lovely falls in the Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Please allow me to take you on a tour of these wonderful sites.
Marymere Falls is a 90-foot drop where Falls Creek (yep, that’s the name!) drops on its way to emptying into Barnes Creek, which then empties into the stunning Lake Crescent. The hike to the falls is a very easy, one-mile trail that swings through some seriously old-growth forests. The hike alone through the ancient, giant trees is enough to make one feel small, and any attempt at conversation under the lumbering giants is just plain wooden (sorry; couldn’t resist!). The hike to Marymere is a great, short excursion on a well-maintained trail. Afterward, pull out a picnic and eat on the shore of Lake Crescent. You can’t do better on a spring or summer day than being out there!
Perhaps the most unusual, and certainly most ephemeral falls, I’ve ever seen is Loowit Falls inside Mount St. Helens. Fed by the geologically young Crater Glacier (which only formed after the volcano’s 1980 eruption), Loowit Falls allows meltwater from the glacier to drop over 200 feet into the very edge of Mount St. Helens’ horseshoe-shaped crater. Loowit Falls is reached by a very difficult, 8-mile round-trip hike from Windy Ridge. The hike is difficult because the trail takes you directly across the path of the 1980 blast…and you cross that blasted landscape literally under the shadow of the volcano. The trail crosses rough lava beds and the shattered debris left behind by lahars and pyroclastic flows.
The trail is difficult because, even though in human terms the 1980 eruption was 40 years ago (half a lifetime), but, in geological terms, it happened yesterday. If the Earth lived within a human lifespan, the 1980 eruption was about five minutes ago. Although grasses and mountain goats (beautiful!) have reclaimed the area, the land is still shattered, providing a stark sense of the volcano’s power… and you get this experience while standing directly under the breach in the crater wall where the eruption erupted.
The hike is worth it because the journey is spectacular, and Loowit Falls might exist for 100 more years…or 100 more minutes. Mount St. Helens is still quite active; any increase in volcanic activity (even if that activity is limited to local earthquakes) could redirect or destroy the falls in mere minutes. The hike also provides unparalleled views of Mount Adams, Mount Rainier…and even Mount Hood down in Oregon on a clear day! You can see down into Spirit Lake five miles away and observe the floating mats of dead trees still buoyant after being blasted down four decades ago.
Still, if you do the Loowit Falls hike, be sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, walking sticks, and extra water. This trail is deceptively easy when you view it, and each swale seems to promise steady footing and smooth ground. You only discover the level of difficulty once you’re about two miles in and find you’re walking on broken volcanic rock that’ll roll your ankles into a bowline knot with a Dutch marine twist the moment you let your concentration slip.
Moving on to our biggest volcano—Mount Rainier! Mount Rainier boasts many waterfalls. The first I visited was on the Wonderland Trail, but I don’t have any good imagery of Carter Falls. The problem was the lighting—the day was bright! White water is very reflective, and a bright, sunny day can result in a waterfall reflecting so much light it blasts out the image. Carter Falls, however, is easily accessible on the Wonderland Trail if you park at Cougar Rock.
The two falls I got some great imagery of are Christine and Narada. Christine Falls is a 69-foot drop where the Van Trump Creek plummets down ancient lava flows. Most scenically, Christine Falls is crossed by Paradise Valley Road. There are a couple of parking areas, and a short (but steep) trail down to where the falls can be viewed, framed by the lovely stone bridge carrying the road across them.
The grandest falls I got to see was Narada Falls, also just off Paradise Valley Road. Narada drops nearly 200 feet in two sections, letting the Paradise River cascade down the mountain. The trail down to the bottom of the falls is steep, rough, and often wet from spray and ground seepage. Wear good shoes, have a staff for extra steadiness, and take your time. This is a slippery slope (literally), so take your time, or else you might reach the bottom of the falls far faster than you’d prefer.
The view is worth it. Of all the falls I’ve seen outside of Guam, Narada and Madison Creek Falls are the two most picturesque, archetypical examples of waterfalls I’ve encountered. If you wanted to make a movie with an exotic waterfall for the background, go to Narada or Madison Creek Falls. Both will make you feel like you’re in some expensively produced program on the Travel Channel.
Madison Creek Falls is located in the northern part of Olympic National Park. Like Marymere, Madison Creek Falls can be reached by a short walk (not hike) along the nicely paved Madison Creek Falls Trail. Madison Creek Falls is a 90-foot drop allowing a creek to feed into the Elwha River. The water here is usually pretty low, but the trail is pretty low too, so be sure to keep an eye on the weather. If there’s been a lot of rain upcountry, or a lot of snowmelt in the spring, the Elwha and its tributaries, like the Madison Creek Falls, can swell unexpectedly.
All of these waterfalls are easily researched. The Washington State Trails Association (https://www.wta.org) provides a lot of great information in addition to what you can find on each national park’s website. With the exception of the Loowit Falls Trail, all are reached via nicely maintained and well-marked trails. Loowit Falls is most certainly an advanced hike, so prepare accordingly!
Waterfalls soothe the soul and mesmerize the mind in ways few other natural phenomena can. The cascading cataract coolly careening to its misty terminus is at once overwhelming in its power while also providing a glimpse into a reality of peace, beauty, and harmony.
Go seek out a waterfall or two. While I do encourage anyone visiting a waterfall to take loads of photos and leave only footprints, I also suggest you put the camera down for a time. Allow yourself to see the falls, to experience their presence. Photos are wonderful, but give yourself the opportunity to build memories and enjoy the view.
Go, look, listen, and let yourself fall head over heels for waterfalls!
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