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Palouse Falls

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Its size and splendor make Palouse Falls one of the most scenic and impressive waterfalls in all of Washington, but its location adds even more magic and wonder to its image.

Nestled in a deep coulee, the Palouse River creeps mostly unseen through the scablands north of the Snake River. It is only when you are right at the edge of the river's chasm that you can see and appreciate the deep cut the river makes through the basalt highlands. The same holds true for the falls, which starts in a deep cut and falls into a deeper hole. The falls can't be seen until you are nearly on top of it, but then--wow! A broad, broken plateau of black basalt stretches out to the horizon as you approach the entrance to the state park, when suddenly--boom!--there they are: the thundering waters of Palouse Falls pounding 198 feet into a circular bowl carved out of the cinder-black rock. Winter and spring are the prime times to see the falls. In the dead of winter, the jagged cliffs around the falls are lined with shimmering bands of ice, while in spring, the runoff from snowmelt in the high country has the falls running full bore as a thundering spectacle. Palouse Falls is a photographer's delight. Sunlight streams over the complex canyon walls, birds flitter around the cliffs, picking insects out of the air, and wildflowers color the sandy benches between rimrock bluffs.

From the parking area, a paved trail winds around the overlook area--this is where 98 percent of visitors stay, as it provides wonderful views of the falls with little or no effort.

The local wildlife also hang out here. A large community of yellow-bellied marmots lives in burrows dug just across the safety fence that keeps human visitors from plunging into the deep pool. Resident reptiles also appreciate the smooth sunbaked surface of the paved path on cool days. We've frequently seen bull snakes and the occasional rattler sunning themselves on this path--scuff your boots every other step to warn the serpents before you reach them and they'll quickly and quietly slither off the path.

Once you've enjoyed the views from the easy-access trail, head north on the well-marked dirt trail leading out of the parking lot. In spring and early summer, this path is lined with a veritable rainbow of color. The local wildflower bonanza includes balsamroot, bluebells, yellow bells, buckwheat, three species of desert parsley, lupine, locoweed, vetch, and death camas.

The trail winds through the upper plateau area, skirts an old, seldom-used but still active railroad track, then drops into a small cirque filled with massive sagebrush. Before descending to the banks of the Palouse River above the falls, the trail weaves around--and under--some sage towering 8 to 10 feet. The river then drops through a series of step rapids before reaching the head of the falls (out of sight from this point).

Many trails lace around the upper canyon area for the hiking from here, but they are narrow and have a great deal of exposure (steep cliffs). Don't explore past the head of the falls: There is no safe way to descend to the bottom of the falls, despite the presence of trails that appear to lead that way.

As you return to the parking area, take a moment to notice the nearby railroad tracks. Because trains have to stay on fairly flat tracks (can't have a lot of severe ups and downs, anyway), the rail route was carved into the plateau to avoid the bluffs and ravines. The tracks essentially follow an open-topped tunnel through the basalt plateau. That's amazing engineering in an amazing landscape.
Driving Directions:

From Dayton, drive US 12 north for 14 miles. Turn left on State Route 261 and continue through the tiny community of Starbuck (sorry, the only coffee here is usually day-old Hills Brothers at the small cafe). You'll also pass Lyons Ferry Park at 14.7 miles. At 20.5 miles from US 12, turn right onto Palouse Falls Road signed "Palouse Falls State Park--2." Drive down the hill 2.4 miles to enter the park and to park.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 19 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Palouse Falls — Apr 20, 2014 — Madhopper
Day hike
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Lovely hike, lots of folks hiking, and lots of dogs. Made for pleasant company. Hiking boots are ver...
Lovely hike, lots of folks hiking, and lots of dogs. Made for pleasant company. Hiking boots are very useful.
We saw some marmots (or packrats, not sure). The canyon is very beautiful, we camped here and it is a well maintained site. The trail beyond the top of the waterfall is dangerous, lots of loose gravel and its not maintained. We saw many people doing it with ease, and went halfway and turned back.
I wish WTA would take up maintenance of that trail.
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Palouse Falls — Mar 27, 2014 — Cascadian Kim
Day hike
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The weather was looking volatile in so many parts of the state, especially in the mountains today. W...
The weather was looking volatile in so many parts of the state, especially in the mountains today. With only a forecasted 40% chance of rain to the East, I chose to head into the Palouse, where the skies are endless and the clouds let you know what's coming from a long ways. The Palouse Falls are particularly beautiful in the Spring, but especially so on a day like today! The dry landscape is turning green, yet the yellow tufts of grass and the bare sticks of the brush in the lowlands are a contrast to the new life coming on. The ledges of the cliffs through which the river flows are green atop long columns of ancient rock layers. The clouds are varied, big cotton balls growing even bigger, building higher into the blue sky... heavy, ominous weights ready to release... and thin wispy ones smeared above the landscape.

The temperature was a perfect 60 degrees, with only a slight breeze now and again. Because there was mist beneath the falls and squalls in the desert surrounding the canyon, rainbows appeared and disappeared throughout the afternoon. I hiked down to what I call "The Castle", columnar basalt set atop the falls, as if precisely and singularly placed by a giant gardener.

I sat on the cliff and watched the kestrels soar and dive within the walls of the canyon. They are like dare devils, zooming toward the rocky columns, then spinning on a dime for the heights, before pulling in their wings for a fast free-fall to the river bed. Free entertainment.

Lots of rain fell in the desert that day, but I managed to avoid a single drop.
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Palouse Falls — Mar 22, 2014 — Mike
Day hike
Issues: Mud/Rockslide
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I been wanting to see this falls for awhile but did not feel like driving that far just to see it ...
  I been wanting to see this falls for awhile but did not feel like driving that far just to see it so today was a perfect time since I was driving through the Tri-Cities and that was my overnight stop.
  The falls are definitely out in the middle of nowhere but very much worth seeing. Just off the two lane Highway 261 on a gravel road that comes to an end at the park. In the spring the fall is raging and also it would seem to be a more popular time of the year based on the amount of cars in the parking lot. Parking lot was overflowing
 Tucked down in a canyon along the Palouse River which flows into the Snake River and eventually into the Columbia River, this area is a nice place to learn your geology of Washington. It has one of the largest concentration of Igneous Rock on the west coast and one of the top 20 in the world. Scientist speculate a combination of volcanic flow for Yellowstone carving the canyon and a large glacier lake that broke loose from Montana bringing the water. Who knows but it is worth seeing.
  There is a small gravel or concrete trail or side walk for ADA to hike or push a wheelchair down to see the falls. There is also a trail that heads off north from the parking lot that takes you to the upper falls which is not near as tall but would seem to be wider. Here you can walk down to this fall but be careful as the rock is really loose here and if you or a child gets hurt its a long way to get help.
  There is no designated trail to get you down to the bottom of the larger falls that I could see and you would have to go on private property to do it safely. I did see people at the bottom though. There are some trails to hike to the top of the larger falls but they are not designated or recommended. The best pictures are just below the parking lot.
  Checkout my videos of this hike or over 300 other hikes I have done in Washington State or click on the direct link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lj85ZdcZbx8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIKTmDGkeUY

As always get out and see this beautiful state!!

Take Care,
Mike
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Palouse Falls — Mar 22, 2014 — Mike S.
Day hike
Issues: Washouts | Water on trail
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This was the second trip in two weeks to the falls for me. Last week my wife and kids came. The tr...
This was the second trip in two weeks to the falls for me. Last week my wife and kids came. The trails near the parking area are easy enough for anyone to walk with fencing along the edge. Once you start to venture off it is completely up to you to not fall off (that last step is a big one). We took the kids to the head of the falls (castle rock) and enjoyed that for a bit before returning to our cars. Total time out was about 2 hours

This weekend a friend and I went with the intent of getting to the bottom of the falls. We chose to follow the "trail" that follows along the north edge of the cliffs. There is little to no room for a misstep along this path. The trail leads to a washout where we slid down to the bottom. The climb back up the washout was slow make sure you have good boots. At the top of the washout continued following the path until we came to a ravine which comes out between the parking area and overlook. There were a few times when I thought about returning back to the trail head. Don't let your EGO get in the way of a safe trip. There are numerous spots where a slip can lead to serious injury or death.
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Palouse Falls — Feb 02, 2014 — Medusa La Stone
Day hike
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On my way back from Eastern Washington I stopped off at Palouse Falls. Trails are a bit muddy so I d...
On my way back from Eastern Washington I stopped off at Palouse Falls. Trails are a bit muddy so I didn't venture down towards the headwaters of the falls. The ground was snow free and the weather overcast and a tad cold.

This canyon and area has some interesting history. Did you know the Palouse Tribe developed the American Appaloosa? They were originally called The Palouse Horse! ^_^
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Palouse Falls- Mary Cooke
Palouse Falls. Photo by Mary Cooke.
Location
Eastern Washington -- Tri-Cities
Washington State Parks and Recreation
Statistics
Roundtrip 2.0 miles
Elevation Gain 293 ft
Features
Rivers
Waterfalls
Wildflowers/Meadows
Wildlife
User info
Discover Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Best Desert Hikes: Washington (Bauer & Nelson - Mountaineers Books)
Hiking Guide to Washington Geology (Carson & Babcock - Keokee) p. 179-183
Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Connell

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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Red MarkerPalouse Falls
46.6635614 -118.2280661
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