I lived in Eastern Washington for the majority of my life, but somehow I never made it out to Palouse Falls. That changed last week when my wife, her sister, and I made the drive out to see this iconic spot.
One of my favorite things about Eastern Washington is that it’s a land of stark contrast. It’s a place comprised of tall mountains next to rolling plains; beautiful farmland and vineyards next to sun bleached sagebrush; high desert cut by roaring rivers. Palouse Falls is a perfect example of Eastern Washington charm.
The first challenge you’ll face is simply finding the place. Palouse Falls is right next to nowhere. To get there you exit highway 395 onto WA-260 E. You drive through the little town of Kahlotus, and then continue on until you see the turnout for Palouse Falls State Park. Check out the map below for more detailed directions.
Once you find a spot to park, remember to pay the fee. It’s $10 per day or $30 for the year. In the park, there’s a little campground with 11 first-come first-served campsites, a bathroom, and a viewing spot where you can see the falls. However, if you really want to experience the falls you’ll have to get off the beaten track a little bit.
There were a few signs indicating that the state of Washington plans to improve the trails to get down to the Palouse River and the falls, but until they do there is still a way to get down (it’s just slightly sketchy).
Essentially, the trail is a user-created trail for which the State Park takes no responsibility. This is clear from the many warning signs that say “Proceed at Your Own Risk.” While the trails down to the river and around the falls aren’t particularly difficult, they are very narrow and one false step could lead to a really long fall. I wouldn’t advise bringing small kids or anyone who doesn’t like heights.
There’s a gravel path on the North side of the parking area where the hike begins. Hike about a quarter mile until the gravel path ends. From there you’ll see a dirt path that descends into the canyon. This is where the sketchiness begins.
Once you get down to the river, there are some small waterfalls that drop into a great little swimming hole. This is called the upper falls.
This is a great spot to stop if you want to cool down (especially if you’re like me and want to jump into every body of water you come across). When we were there in mid-July, the water was very comfortable.
After you’ve had a nice swim, you can continue on towards the falls. The trail hugs the cliffs on the South side of the river and follows those to Castle Rock (pictured to the right).
Castle Rock is a pretty cool sight in it’s own right, and this is the marker for where the trail starts getting really precarious. If you have kids, I would recommend stopping here.
The trail wraps around Castle Rock before skirting the Palouse Falls basin. It’s only about 2 feet wide most of the time and hugs the cliffs on the right with a steep drop on the left.
You can follow this trail as far around the basin as you like. There are many spots along here where you can get great views of the falls!
That’s basically it. You can follow the trail farther along the Palouse River gorge if you want or you can head back up to the parking lot. Just remember to use common sense and only hike this trail if you feel up to it.
- Bring sunscreen and lots of water (it gets pretty toasty).
- Try to come in the morning or evening, otherwise the sun will be beating down on you.
- If you can come on a weekday, it will be much less crowded. Holiday weekends can mean you’ll have to walk quite a ways to reach the park.
- Bring your camera, this place is stunning.
- If you’re a photographer, make an effort to get here at sunrise or sunset, otherwise the light can be pretty harsh (as I found out the hard way).
- It’s possible to get down to the base of the falls too. However, don’t swim near the falls because multiple people have drowned due the power of the falls.
- Don’t be dumb.