|Scenery:||(3.5 / 5)|
|Difficulty:||(3.5 / 5)|
Wallace Falls may be one of the most popular waterfalls and hikes in the state, and for good reason. The 5.5-mile out and back jaunt gets the heart racing any time of year and puts hikers in the middle of some stunning second-growth forest. The payoff, of course, is a doozy of a waterfall starting out up high as a horsetail and spreading out over the course of its first and major drop (265 feet) into a showering cascade falling into a serene-looking pool. But that’s not all: The pool empties into a windy slot canyon of its own making and then spreads out and falls again — this time 102 feet — before resuming a gentler course downriver.
Hiking to Wallace Falls isn’t for the faint of heart, but that said, anybody in decent shape should be able to make it just fine. A kiosk at the trailhead at the east side of the parking lot provides an overview map of the hiking route to viewpoints of both the lower and upper falls, along with an alternative route (although longer and less scenic) for those insistent on not retracing their steps. At the outset the trail is wide and flat and follows the course of some imposing towers supporting electrical lines that are carrying electricity from Columbia River dams to Western Washington. A crackling sound reminiscent of rain’s pitter-patter or far-off insects is actually electricity surging through the overhead lines.
After a third of a mile under the lines, a viewpoint offers up a panorama including jagged Mt. Baring, Philadelphia Mountain, Mt. Index, and Mt. Persis. Then the trail jogs left (north), narrows, and enters into a dark second-growth forest. A hundred feet into the woods, a sign on the right side of the trail reads, “Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher. –W. Wordsworth.” Soon thereafter, go right (north) onto the well-marked Woody Trail (at its junction with the Old Railroad Grade Trail) and cross through a 6-foot-tall wooden gate meant to deter bikes and horses. Listen for the sounds of the rushing Wallace River as they start to replace the buzzing of the power lines.
A side trail to “Small Falls” detours for 100 feet to the base of a scenic small woodland waterfall—it is usually dry by late summer. Continuing on, the Woody Trail sidles right up to the Wallace River and offers hikers the chance to dip their toes (or more) into the cold rushing water as it flows through boulder-strewn flats. From there, the Woody Trail turns left (west), leaving the river and embarking on a couple of brutal switchbacks up the side of its gorge.
At the junction with the Railroad Grade Trail, stay right (east) on the Woody Trail, which thankfully starts to descend ever so slightly, leading eventually to an overlook high above the confluence of the Wallace River and its North Fork tributary. As the Woody Trail continues northeast, it delivers hikers to a 65-foot wooden footbridge over the North Fork. Once across the bridge, look for a little side trail leading down to a riverside grotto—another good spot to cool off those aching feet or splash away the sweat.
Back on the trail, another quarter mile of hiking yields views of the lower section of Wallace Falls, sporting a 25-foot drop, from an overlook with a picnic shelter. While this makes for a good lunch or snack spot, the show isn’t over. Another quarter mile push gets to a viewpoint of Middle Wallace Falls, a stunning 81-foot waterfall that serves as a fine destination for those who have gone far enough. But the real treat beckons another half mile ahead. You’ll have to work for it, though, as you can only see sinewy 265-foot Upper Wallace Falls if you’re willing to ascend some 500 vertical feet over more than nine switchbacks on the way up to the viewpoint.
From Monroe, WA, head east on US 2 to the town of Gold Bar, then turn left onto 1st Street and then take the second right onto 1st Avenue West/MacKenzie Road/May Creek Road, which turns into Ley Road in three-quarters of a mile. Another half mile along, turn left onto Wallace Lake Road, then a quick right into the marked driveway entrance to Wallace Falls State Park. Stay left at the fork to continue to parking lot at trailhead (GPS: N47 52.013’ / W121 40.677′). Washington State Discover Pass required for parking there (available on-site for single-day use at $10 or for an annual fee of $30).
For more info, contact Washington State Parks; (360) 902-8844