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A must-see for anyone traveling along the Mt. Baker Scenic Byway (also known as WA 542), Nooksack Falls divides the North Fork of the Nooksack River into three segments and sends them plunging 88 feet into a grotto-like gorge below. At the bottom, the North Fork continues on to the west but spawns Wells Creek, which heads south. One of the more dramatic waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest—it was even featured in the hunting scene in the movie The Deer Hunter—Nooksack Falls is well worth the short detour on a longer trip to the Mt. Baker area.
Nooksack Falls is not only one of the most scenic waterfalls in the northwest, but is also easy to access. A sign at the trailhead near the parking lot details the history of the falls as a source of hydroelectric power and cautions visitors that at least 11 people have died trying to get better views over the years. From there, a 200-foot walk down a rutted and root-filled dirt trail leads to a clifftop viewing area directly across from the falls proper. A chain link fence protects visitors from falling into the chasm between them and the falls. Another sign warns: “Extreme Danger, Do Not Proceed, Slippery Rocks, No Trespassing.”
The falls is named after the Native American tribe that still calls the area home—the Nooksack reservation is based 25 miles to the west in Deming, WA. The name Nooksack either means “mountain men” (as distinguished from Salish tribes inhabiting the coast) or is a reference to the native word for bracken ferns (“noot-sa-ack”) that historically served as a staple food item for the tribe.
Kids of all ages will delight in climbing on and around an old-growth western red cedar stump in the middle of the viewing area that sports the springboard scars showing where loggers of yore would jimmy in boards to stand on while they sawed through huge trees by hand.
Head east on WA 542 (Mt. Baker Scenic Byway) from Bellingham. Seven miles east of the Glacier Public Service Center in Glacier, WA, turn right at the “Nooksack Falls” sign onto Wells Creek Road (also known as FR 33) and proceed for 0.66 mile to the parking area on the left and marked trailhead on right (GPS: N48 54.344’ / W121 48.542′).
For more info, contact: Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Glacier Public Service Center; (360) 599-2714.