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The Beauty & Power of Palouse Falls

If you are thinking of travel in the Pacific Northwest or in Washington specifically, then Palouse Falls has got to be on your bucket list.  This powerhouse of a waterfall is incredible when the water levels are high, although it is quite majestic throughout the entire year.  The tremendous landscapes draw in large numbers of people, and on March 18, 2014 it was officially made Washington’s state waterfall according to the Washington State Parks website.

Photographers and artists alike make every effort to capture vibrant sunrises and captivating sunsets.  Palouse Falls does have a specific area with designated paths for walking, however there are a plethora of paths that lead to a multitude of incredible viewpoints, including the very edge of the waterfall looking down.

 

Warning signs are in place, because there is a pretty good risk of falling if hikers are not careful.  I went on several of the trails outside of the state park area, and found it to be quite an adventure although I recommend staying in the designated area unless well prepared.  One of the trails off by the railroad tracks had an old rope tied around a large bush and I was able to utilize that rope to rappel down the incline and reach the trails below.  That rope would serve as my only way back up the hill as well, making this trip more of an adventure than I had initially thought it would be.  This point is where I had my first interaction with some local wildlife, as I happened to spot a solitary yellow bellied marmot at the top of the hill, and another dozen or so down tucked into the rocky hillside below.  Other animals that visitors can possibly encounter are different birds of prey such as Peregrine Falcons, Golden Eagles, and Swainson’s Hawks.  These birds of course can occasionally be seen perched along the basalt cliffs or flying around scouting an area for possible food.  In the springtime, tourists to the area can expect to see some nice wildflowers growing as well.

 

The waterfall has quite an extensive history, both geologically and culturally.  According to many sources there is a tale once told by people of the Palouse Tribe, the Palouse river and waterfall were the scene of an epic battle between 4 giant brothers and a mythical creature called “Big Beaver.”  Story has it the brothers chased and attacked the creature 5 times, and each time they struck “Big Beaver” with a spear it caused a bend in the river.  The creature fought fiercely and valiantly during the fifth attack from the brothers.  The struggle tore out an enormous canyon, and this is where the river fell over the ledge and became Palouse Falls.  The canyon walls are said to show the jagged edges from “Big Beaver’s” claw marks.  Also, as mentioned on www.stateparks.com the waterfall was once called “Aputapat” meaning “falling water” or something close to that, but was later changed to honor the Palouse culture.

Geologically the canyon’s creation goes back around 13,000 years to a time of Ice Age Flooding and glacial movement, leaving Palouse Falls as one of the few remaining active waterfalls along this ancient glacial flood path.  The floods of that time were said to be extremely violent and catastrophic.  The park has plenty of information signs and a kiosk available for people to learn a bit about the floods.  These Ice Age floods left a destructive path as the ice, water, and mud ripped tons of rock and earth away to carve the canyons in parts of eastern Washington and the Columbia River Gorge on the way to the ocean at speeds possibly reaching close to 60 mph.  The state park here is also one of the more active camping areas in the region, so some pre-planning is almost essential if you want to make it in during low traffic times.

 

Campsites are available, and a lot of good information can be found by once again going to www.stateparks.com for price listings and regulations specific to Palouse Falls State Park.  A quick rundown shows that standard sites run $15, while utility sites are a bit more at $21.  Visitors can also expect to pay dump fees when using the dump station.  Campsites allow up to 8 people per site, and second vehicles can remain parked for an additional $10 per night.  Campers are allowed up to 10 consecutive days during the busy season, and they stay is extended to 20 days between October 1st and the end of March.  A Washington State Discover Pass is also required, or visitors will have to pay the park entrance fee of $10 for the day also.  Anyone visiting the park and waterfall will certainly be in awe of the massively majestic landscapes, and the crushing current that cascades nearly 200 feet into the canyon below.  Just remember to stay happy and stay safe when visiting!

Here are a few clips from my hike through the area:

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Hiking Around Hawk Creek Falls

The area around and including Hawk Creek Campground is an interesting area, and that is because of the geological landmarks, the history of the land, and because of the recreation activities available to visitors.  The water level will vary depending on when a person visits, but the waterfall itself was flowing strong during both of my visits.  Mid January of 2018 provided a nice serene snow covered landscape, which was complimented by the sound of Hawk Creek cascading over the ledge and plunging to the rocks below.  Hiking the area at that time proved pretty difficult, but the campground was easy enough to navigate.  Navigating to the campground is easy enough with good directions, and the most accurate coordinates I could find are 47.816 N, 118.325 W according to Google Maps.

The wildlife in the area is probably what most folks would expect to see.  Deer, beavers, and probably the occasional elk or moose can be found wandering across the hills.  Waterfowl are typically floating around while birds of prey such as eagles dominate the skies.  Along with watching wildlife people can find quite a few activities to pass the time, such as biking, hiking, boating, kayaking, fishing, and swimming in the designated areas.

A couple things to consider when planning a visit are road conditions and the water level.  Most hikers seem to agree that the area is best to hike when the water is low, because you can follow a fisherman’s trail through the pines, around a couple bends, and down to the beach for a nice stroll.  As the water level increases through the year, beach access decreases.  If you happen to hike during the later part of the year, there are always some trails that lead up the hills to the rocky ridge line.  Along that ridge is where some caves can be found, although I am not sure exactly how many are up there.  Some great information about the 4.5-5 mile hike and the geology of the area can be found on this Washington Trails Association info page.

I happened to spot a massive cave from the parking area near the boat ramp, but visitors need to turn and look up the hillside through some trees.  The hike from there is not a super long hike, and there are a few game trails to follow.  However, the trek is a relatively steep grade, and there are some loose rocks along the path.  Once hikers reach the cave the view is pretty spectacular.

People can keep trekking along the ridge for an amazing view, and at certain times folks might be able to even make it out to the Columbia.  About 5 to 6 miles north is the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia Rivers, which is an area people may be able to visit in the same day if planned accordingly.  Planning also means packing appropriately, and this Outbound Collective report by Rose Freeman reminds people to pack all of the essentials with some extra food and water.  Plus the hiking needs will include comfortable and sturdy boots or shoes, some trekking poles, and of course a camera to capture some of the marvelous landscapes around.  It is also a good idea to take some camping gear if using one of the 21 provided camping spots.  Just remember to pay the small fee at the station.  All of those things considered, it should make for a great day trip for anyone wanting to visit the area.