Denny Creek Waterslides & Keekwulee Falls
|Scenery:||(4.0 / 5)|
|Difficulty:||(3.5 / 5)|
This classic Pacific Northwest day-hike leads through old-growth forest to a family-friendly all-natural waterslide section of Denny Creek—where brave kiddos of any age can slide down the smooth granite rock faces propelled by a sheen of rushing snowmelt runoff—and then up to greater heights and overlooks of awe-inspiring Keekwulee Falls as it horsetails down 35 feet before spreading out and dividing itself over a granite knob before finally plunging another 90 feet in one last sheer vertical drop.
Look for the signed trailhead at the north end of the Denny Creek parking area, which can accommodate ~50 cars (with overflow parking available along the road) and has two pit-toilet privies. Follow the trail as it quickly ascends into glorious old-growth temperate rain forest with huge western red cedar, hemlock, and Douglas fir trees dominating the canopy layer. The rushing sounds of Denny Creek to the South Fork Snoqualmie River compete with traffic noise from nearby I-90, which passes over the trail via a huge set of concrete spans some 200 feet above the forest floor.
After a half mile of hiking, the trail crosses directly under I-90. From there the trail starts to ascend more vigorously, crossing into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, as marked by a carved wooden sign nailed to a tree. Keep climbing and check out rolling and tumbling Denny Creek to the west of the trail as it cascades over bumps and dips in a frothy and turbulent trip downstream.
Within another half mile the trail dips down into the gorge around Denny Creek and dumps you at the edge of Denny Creek toward the bottom of the famed waterslides, where the combination of smooth rocks and fast-moving water have been delighting the young at heart for eons. Expect to get wet up to your ankles at least in fording 25-foot-wide Denny Creek (sandals or water shoes, let alone a trekking pole or tripod/monopod, would come in handy). Once safely across to the west side of Denny Creek, spend some time wandering around the upper sections of the waterslides. Take a hydration or lunch break on the broad, flat rocks that serve as veritable bleachers as dozens of onlookers watch kids and other bold souls ride the natural waterslides on their butts.
Once revived and restored, pick up the trail from there and continue west to make the push up to view Keekwulee Falls. Continuing back into the forest, the trail gets steeper and rockier, but the understory wildflowers and ferns provide a nice visual backdrop to the tougher-going. Rushing Denny Creek down to the right (east) is always there to keep you company as you proceed another half mile to a big debris slide where lots of big rocks have piled up, affording your first view across the valley to the northeast of Keekwulee Falls as it drains a snowfield before dodging and weaving over giant granite stair steps before finally freefalling over a ledge and plunging 90 feet in one drop.
While these full frontal views of the falls are great, push on another 0.2 mile to a junction with a small spur trail to the right (east) that leads down to the snowfield and rocks above Keekwulee Falls. The side trail winds down quickly through dense, stunted alpine trees, leading to a granite shoot with some rocky footholds built in by nature. Squeezing through this last obstacle, you’ll find yourself on a big flat expanse of several layered huge granite cliffs that channel the source waters of Denny Creek into Keekwulee Falls and, below that, the waterslides. Watch your step as your explore this dramatic natural wonderland. Then retrace your steps and make your way back down past the waterslides and back to the parking area.
Heading east on I-90, take exit 47 (Asahel Curtis/Denny Creek) and turn left (north) to cross the highway and then turn right (east) at the “T” and go another 0.25 mile to Denny Creek Road (FR 58). Turn left (north) and drive 2 miles, passing the Denny Creek Campground. Just past the campground, turn left onto FR 5830, pass the Franklin Falls trailhead and cross a bridge over the South Fork Snoqualmie River. Continue another 0.2 mile to the dead-end parking area. A Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking. Look for the signed trailhead (GPS: N47 24.911’ / W121 26.606′) at the north end of the parking area.
For more info, contact: Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Snoqualmie Ranger District; (425) 783-6000.