Walking to the edge and peering over at the official 198’ high Washington State Waterfall is rather miraculous. For miles and miles in every direction, there is nothing but farmland with rolling hills and dry drainages. There are signs that water carved this rolling green landscape but little is found in the area other than the massive and mostly placid Snake River located several miles to the south. Yet, here we were visiting Palouse Falls and we were not alone either. Here, to explore the wonders of this official state waterfall and the remote landscape surrounding it.
This tiny state park and its two extremely small parking lots fill up fast daily. By mid-day, a ranger stands at the entrance to Palouse Falls State Park holding cars back from entering into the full and congested parking lots. Another ranger radios the location of vacated spots and then the first ranger directs the incoming cars to the spot. The line stretched 40 cars deep on the Sunday afternoon we were there. The moral of this story is to arrive early to ensure that you can get a spot.
The sun doesn’t peek into the canyon until mid-morning so if you are too early, shadows will shroud the waterfall. During our June visit, 10:00 AM was a good time to arrive as the parking lot was not yet full, but the waterfall was lit up and the shadows in the canyon were waining.
Palouse Falls is a kind of beautiful oddity. There is almost nothing in this area of Washington State to draw visitors here other than this waterfall and the placid Snake River. The Snake River has a dam every few miles it seems and it is no longer the rough white water ride that Louise and Clark encountered on their journey to the Pacific Ocean. The landscape in this area of Washington State is beautiful but the rolling hills aren’t a tourist attraction and there are no cities. In fact, when visiting Palouse Falls we arrived from the east and hadn’t seen a gas station for over 100 miles, let alone anything resembling a large town.
All established trails within the park are less than 2-miles one-way.
None of the trails are signed. The names I have listed aren’t official.
There is a small cliffside trail near the parking lots. The walking path is paved with a fence railing to keep people from falling off. The views from this area are stunning. This cliffside trail provides some of the best vantage points of the 198’ Palouse Falls. The bowl below the falls as well as the canyon that winds its way south towards the Snake River can also be seen. Better vantage points of the Palouse River Canyon can be found on the unpaved trails, but this trail is great for small children or individuals with mobility issues.
There is a Dirt Loop Trail at Palouse Falls State Park that starts on the northeast corner of the lower parking lot and travels northeast along the edge of the canyon. This dirt trail has some amazing views of the entire park including the iconic waterfall. At the top of the loop, another small cascading waterfall comes into view—the Upper Palouse Falls. A third trail descends into the canyon above the falls. It leads hikers to the edge of the upper falls and then on to the top of Palouse Falls. I refer to this as the Canyon Trail. The dirt loop is mostly flat and easy for all ages but there are no guardrails and the cliffside is a 240′ sheer drop.
The Canyon Trail starts at the mid-point of the dirt trail loop and immediately descends on a rough trail to the edge of the railroad tracks that run through this part of the country. Here, we were surprised to find a yellow-bellied marmot. These creatures usually inhabit alpine terrain so we were surprised to see this one at just over 900’ above sea level. We also found a snake. Other than birds these were the only animals we saw in the park and they were within 12’ of each other on the trail.
The trail continues adjacent to the tracks for a short distance before descending on a more established rocky trail into the canyon and on to the Upper Palouse Falls. Poison Ivy is pervasive in the canyon so stay on the trail. Beyond the riverside vantage points of the Upper Palouse Falls, the trail continues through the canyon, undulating over the rocky terrain to a vantage point directly above Palouse Falls. This spot doesn’t provide great views of the waterfall itself but there are amazing views of the canyon below. I especially enjoyed the rocky fin that stands out above the falls. The river at one point was wider and must have been a twin waterfall split in two by these thin rocky spires. In total it is a 240’ descent from the canyon rim to the top of Palouse Falls.
Inner Cliff Trail
Just before arriving at the top of the waterfall, there is another small thin trail that I will call the Inner Cliff Trail. This trail leads to the right and wraps around the inside south-facing wall of the canyon. While the trail is well established it is very narrow. Should you slip it would most likely mean a 200’ fall into the canyon. The trail itself provides amazing views of Palouse Falls the top of which is now at eye level. The Inner Cliff Trail traverses the inside of the canyon to a point where some intrepid hikers descend a rockslide to the canyon floor. The rockslide isn’t an established trail and so we did not proceed. We would not recommend anyone doing so. Again this is a very remote part of the country so you hike all these trails at your own risk.
Camping at Palouse Falls
The campsites at the Palouse Falls Campground are all tent sites and first-come, first-served. There are no RV campsites within the park and the closest place to camp in an RV is at the Starbuck-Lyons Ferry Marina KOA on the Snake River. The Palouse Falls Campground is adjacent to the parking lot and not far from the cliffside. During the day this is not a quiet spot to camp but at night it is truly amazing. The sound of the waterfall permeates the area and the stars emerge as there is very little light pollution.
Visiting Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls is a small park located in some of the most remote areas of Washington State but houses the state’s official waterfall. It became the state’s waterfall on March 18, 2014. This is in a state that has three mountainous national parks where amazing waterfalls are abundant. The fact that this waterfall stood out enough to become the official Washington State waterfall in 2014 speaks volumes of its unique beauty. Visiting Palouse Falls should be on the itinerary of anyone traveling to the Northwestern part of the United States.
Share this guide to visiting Palouse Falls with one of your friends who loves waterfalls.