Palouse Falls, WA
Time from Seattle: 4 hrs
Length of my stay: two days, one night
What to Pack
DSLR + wide angle lens
Water - lots of it!
Food (snacks, breakfast, lunch - maybe a protein bar)
After about two weeks of rain and clouds this spring, Arturo and I googled "where in the PNW is it not raining." I'm not joking. Palouse Falls popped up; having never been there and always wanting to go, it was a relatively easy decision to hit the road for the weekend for some desert sun and misty falls. Sleeping bag, camera, two water bottles, and we were off. In hindsight, we should've packed a LOT more water and food.
We drove east on I90 until we hit the gorge. Instead of turning left like we would to go the Gorge Amphitheater, we veered right on highway 26 and on through the beautiful green fields this area is known for. I snapped a photo that reminds me of that popular Microsoft background. You'll pass through the tiny town of Washtucna before turning left on 261. We stopped by Java Bloom for a coffee and some kettle corn before continuing. Pick up some snacks here before going forward - it's your last stop for sustenance before the falls.
It was almost 11 by this time and we were in need of a hearty lunch before hiking all afternoon and evening, so we continued past the falls and over the snake river to Lyons Ferry Marina. After a delicious grilled chicken sandwich with a side of crispy onions (like a chopped up blooming onion from Outback Steakhouse - YUM), we ordered a sandwich to go for dinner, walked the little marina where the Palouse River meets the Snake River, snapped some photos and took off back up the road to Palouse Falls.
Again, less prepared than we should've been, we completely forgot our Discover Pass but somehow, the nature gods were among us because that day was a free day.... like WHAT how did we get that lucky? Feeling good, windows down, bumping happy folk music, and taking in the 65-degree, sun-drenched desert road, we arrived at the Palouse parking lot, which actually was a bit more built up than I imagined. The camp sites were right there on site in a nice grassy and shaded piece of park on a first-come first-served basis. We intended to sleep in our car, so we paid an extra car fee for the camping pass to put on our windshield, buddied up with a fellow camper so we were both on the same page (because you're not technically allowed to sleep in your car), and set up our bed for the night. Once settled, I changed into my tank top, leggings, and hiking boots and basically ran to the top of the cliff overlooking the falls. OMG was it spectacular.
The canyon was this incredible green, a stark contrast from the browns that follow. Cows could be seen grazing on the hill behind the falls, and hikers were able to get all the way down to the bottom of the massive cascade of falling water. When we asked a parking attendant for the best way to get down to the falls, she advised against it - one young hiker fell into the falls last year and was found on the river's edge, and another went missing just a few days ago. Sketched out but still intrigued, I safely examined the trails to determine the risk at every leg of the hike. What puts most hikers at risk here, is ignoring the signs that say "no waterfall access." These signs at the top of the falls are true!! The little trails that seem to continue down the cliff face actually end up being full-fledged cliffs. There is no feasible access this way. Instead, continue up the river towards the train tracks. Once down the trail and next to the tracks, you'll see a switchback down the rock pile that will lead you down to the river. The trail is well-trod and safe. This section of the river is absolutely gorgeous with desert flora guiding you down a dirt trail at the bottom of these massive cliffs. This area is technically off of parks property, so proceed at your own risk.
This is also the entrance to the trail that leads to the falls. Continue down the river to the trail head. The trail is narrow, so proceed with caution from here on out, especially when passing hikers returning from the falls. Short and sweet, you'll arrive to the top of the falls in about five minutes after a level hike. Stay a safe distance from the edge and watch your footing!!
There's another narrow trail that leads to the bottom of the falls. This is where it gets sketch. Again, proceed with caution, take every step with care - it's about 200 ft to the bottom. The last leg is the worst in my opinion; It's steep and the trail is often muddy with loose gravel. Once past the top section, ropes assist your descent to the bottom. A rainbow sparkled through the falls as we sat on the river rocks snacking on sunflower seeds and sunshine. A muskrat kept us company before we headed back up. It was beautiful, but I'm not sure that I'd do it again. The view is better from the top and with a much lower risk of loosing your footing.
Once back at the river's edge at the bottom of the switchback, we took off our shoes, broke out the sunflower seeds, and relaxed in the sun by the flowing water for a solid hour. It was an amazing day!!
Back at camp, we picked up a mango, peach, and pineapple Hawaiian shaved ice from the truck parked in the lot, relaxed in the grass, watched a muskrat chase away a nosy crow, and then took off to explore more of the desert landscape. We stumbled upon an old falling down house in one section of the park, climbed a hill or two, hiked through tall grass, snapped some pics, and returned to the falls for golden hour.
Check out these epic shots I got from that short hour!
Returning to the car for the evening, we opened the back, perched on the tailgate and soaked up the last licks of sun before it set behind the hills as we overlooked the falls. Pretty prime location for car camping if you ask me! The clear day led to incredible star gazing, but my unprepared self didn't focus my lens beforehand - I know, newb mistake. Still chugging along with just a 50mm lens for my 5D Mark IV after switching over from my rebel. If you have any recommendations as to where I can get a cheaper wide angle for my 5D I'd love you foreverrrrrrr.
A few beers later and we passed out early for an spectacular early morning. Still warm at probably around 63 degrees in the a.m., we waved to our fellow car campers who showed up overnight, and went for a morning walk before hitting the road again. Now out of water and with only a power bar for breakfast, we said goodbye to Washington's largest falls and sped off to Washtucna for a latte.
By cutting up highway 17 from Othello, we drove through Moses Lake, stopped at Blue Heron Park and soaked up as much sun as we could. The forecast for Seattle: rain. After a short nap in the grass, it was back through the Cascades to end our much-needed quest for Vitamin D.
Thanks so much for reading! Now go explore Washington's legendary waterfall! The sun awaits! Happy wandering!