The Journey to Palouse Falls
Palouse falls was somewhere that we’d seen come up on Instagram time and time again, and when we decided we’d road trip from Calgary to Oregon, we knew that this would just have to be one of our stops. It was about halfway between Calgary and Portland (our rough destination), so we made sure to make a detour along the way and check out this incredible looking spot.
…And a detour it was; the countryside started to look more and more arid as we drove through rural Washington, and we started to wonder how on earth there could possibly be a massive waterfall in the middle of what seemed to be a load of dry farm land.
But after passing a few miles of farms, and several small dust tornados, eventually we started to see some big cracks in the ground, which opened out into a massive canyon, and we knew we were getting close. How anyone found this place before GPS is a mystery to me.
We recommend that if you’re going to try and find this place that you have
1) air conditioning,
2) GPS – (loaded on your phone before you get out into the wilderness.. there’s no signal), also we recommend loading/writing down your route away from Palouse afterwards, because good luck trying to load directions when you’re in the middle of nowhere with no signal. Two phones with GPS is ideal.
3) Plenty of fuel – Did we mention it’s in the middle of nowhere?
We arrived in the park, and suddenly out of nowhere, we came to the edge of the canyon, overlooking the famous waterfall. We kind of had to double take, because the massive waterfall that we’d seen in the photos seemed to have turned into more of a trickle! It was still pretty impressive nonetheless, but we realized that going in August at the end of a hot summer meant that the water flow was significantly less than it is at its peak. We hear that going just after the winter thaw is the time to go and see it at its strongest.
We stood and took in the waterfall for a while on the cliff top, and were about to turn around to leave when we saw a person suddenly appear by the top of the waterfall. Then, looking further still, we noticed a small path winding around the cliff and down to the plunge pool at the bottom. We obviously couldn’t leave without checking it out.
Hiking down to Palouse Falls
Following the cliff around eventually led us to a scree covered slope down to some railway tracks, and then more scree still leading down to the bottom of the canyon. Waiting at the bottom of thevalley was an incredible view with beautiful little waterfalls and amazing rock formations along the sides of the canyon.
We still had our bearings and followed the side of the canyon along the river until we eventually reached the top of the waterfall and another beautiful and aptly named rock formation called “Castle Rock”.
From there we found a winding path along the side of the canyon, keeping our eyes upwards to avoid any falling rocks (of which there were several). The path then got a lot steeper and slippier, as we descended the dusty gravelly path, and thankfully there was a rope to hold on to for the hairier parts.
Swimming in Palouse Falls
We finally reached the bottom and found that we had the entire valley to ourselves. We hadn’t really come prepared, not knowing that one could reach the bottom, but decided that swimming in this pool was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed. As it was a hot day, and the hike down was sticky and dusty, it was a welcome relief to swim around in the water below. Being at the bottom was an amazing experience as we felt totally sheltered from the other tourists above. Palouse Falls are every bit as epic as they look in the photos!
It was well worth the hike, and our trek seemed to have convinced others to also make the journey down, so we packed up and made our way back up to continue on with our journey towards Portland. I would say that to just see the waterfall from the top would be only a fraction of the whole experience, and walking down and swimming really made for some incredible memories. I would hasten to add though, that the hike down is certainly a little treacherous, so please do it at your own risk. Oh, and also…. bring a towel!
If you have any more questions about planning a trip through Washington state or to Palouse Falls, or on any of our other posts, don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected].
Awesome write-up! We’re on a road trip from Portland and heading there now. Thanks for the tips!
Glad you found it helpful! Have an incredible trip!
Great review, very helpful! Did you find any nice places to camp near there?
Thanks Andrea, glad you found it useful! I’m afraid we were just passing through so we can’t be much help. Best of luck and have a great trip!
Robin how long is the hike from the top down to the bottom of the canyon? In time or miles..
Hi Kate, honestly it was a long time ago so my memory is a little fuzzy now, but it couldn’t have been more than an hour to get down. The loop trail around the top is 1.2 miles, and I would guess that it’s not too much longer to get to the bottom, there’s just a lot more elevation to deal with. Also bear in mind, it’s a lot more precarious and slippery, so that might add a bit more time if you take it slow. Attempt at your own risk but have fun! Hope that helps!