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Falling 186 feet into a huge basalt punchbowl canyon below, it’s no wonder that dramatic Palouse Falls is Washington State’s official state waterfall. While anyone can make it to the paved, handicapped-accessible main overlook across from the falls, hikers can explore a few extended walks nearby as well. Palouse Falls, tucked into Eastern Washington’s high desert plateau and with a climate far different from Seattle and environs, may not be on the way to anywhere else, but stopping for an afternoon or camping there overnight is a classic Northwest experience. Pair it with a drive through the rolling, multicolored agricultural fields around the nearby towns of Colfax, Steptoe, and Palouse for a weekend’s worth of stunning scenic delights.
Viewing Palouse Falls couldn’t be easier. Park in the parking area where Palouse Falls Road dead-ends and then follow the paved path down to the obvious overlook spot to the east. Meander south along the fence that is the only thing keeping you from falling into Palouse Falls’ canyon (keep rambunctious kids close and pets on a leash) and check out different views of the thundering cascade. Work your way south along the fence line to another higher overlook with a roof that offers up views down the canyon from the base of the falls. Then loop back up through the picnic area and campground back to where you started.
If you want more, head north from the parking area on a gravel path marked by several log stumps and continue for about a third of a mile, paralleling the railroad tracks for the last bit before turning right (south) on the second dirt path descending into a small side canyon with views directly across to Squaw Falls (also known as Upper Palouse Falls), where the Palouse River drops 20 feet or so as it rumbles across a wide rocky ledge and warms up for the much bigger drop 1,000 feet downstream. The trail becomes increasingly rocky and unstable as it continues south into the canyon below Squaw Falls, eventually dead-ending at a rock formation known as Castle Rock that forms the head of Palouse Falls. If you are a risk-taking thrill seeker, pick your way down for views over the top of the 186-foot cascade—watch your step as some rocks are loose and there is no railing to save you from a fatal fall—before retracing your steps back to the parking area.
Head east on I-90 toward Spokane, and 28 miles east of Ellensburg take exit 137 and merge onto WA 26 East toward Othello/Pullman. Follow WA 26 for 83 miles and then turn right (south) onto WA 261 (Main Street), which goes another 15 miles before a final left onto gravel Palouse Falls Road and another 2.5 miles to a dead end at the parking area (GPS: N46 39.833’ / W118 13.633′) between the campsites and the falls overlook at Palouse Falls State Park (Discover Pass or $10 day-use fee required).
For more info, contact: Palouse Falls State Park; www.parks.wa.gov/559/Palouse-Falls; (509) 646-9218.