Written by Adam Sawyer
Go with the flow—and an expertly curated guide
What are some of the most “Washington” things you can think of? Coffee, salmon, craft beer, Mount Rainier, moss on everything. How about waterfalls? They go hand and hand with a landscape such as this. We are drawn to them not only for their natural beauty, but perhaps for more primal and instinctive reasons as well. With visual and auditorial drama, they announce a water source, along with a potential gathering place for fish and game.
Whatever their particular pull might be for you, this corner of the Pacific Northwest is overflowing with them, from the flood-carved eastern badlands to the remote reaches of the North Cascades, west to the Olympic Range and down to the Columbia River Gorge, there is no part of the state you can’t find a wonderful waterfall. Here’s our curated guide, from Instagram all-stars to some that might’ve escaped your attention— until now.
Rainbow Falls / Stehekin
The waterfall itself is only a couple hundred feet from the trailhead. But getting to the town in which it resides is where you put in the effort. Stehekin is at the far end of the 55-mile long Lake Chelan. It is only accessible by hiking in, floatplane or boat. It is a place of dramatic North Cascades beauty, with outdoor recreation options in every direction. It’s also where the 312-foot Rainbow Falls is. From town, it’s a 3.5 walk, bike ride or bus shuttle to the falls trailhead. Like most waterfalls of its kind, the flow decreases as summer progresses, but you’ll still likely catch some rainbows. Visit in spring and you’ll most assuredly get wet if you want to see it up close.
Applications for additional superlatives to describe Palouse Falls are no longer being accepted at this time. The nearly 200-foot, official Washington state waterfall and the landscape it inhabits showcase the greatness of eastern Washington geology in jaw-dropping fashion. Coulees, potholes, vast plateaus, and the rocky buttes of the region all serve as tangible evidence of the ancient lava flows and floods which shaped the landscape. A handful of viewpoints and a 1-mile hike provide all the angles you’ll need to impress your out-of-state friends and relatives with your photography skills.
Bridal Veil Falls / Lake Serene
Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls are a one-two punch combo capable of giving any visitor a nature-induced standing eight-count. With an 8.2-mile hike bearing 2,000 feet of elevation gain, it’s definitely an endeavor for the heartier hiker. Along with the azure-turquoise Serene Lake, Bridal Veil plunges, slides and tumbles a total of nearly 1,300 feet over an imposing granite wall. It’s pretty epic. And as such, it’s justifiably popular, so plan on arriving early or on a weekday if possible. If you visit anytime from late spring through summer, you’ll also be guaranteed trail snacks in the form of berries.
Sol Duc Falls
One of the brightest stars in the Olympic National Park universe, the multi-pronged, 50-foot Sol Duc Falls doesn’t need to explain its popularity to anybody. A 1.6-mile, out-and-back hike through exemplary old-growth forest and one of the more perfectly picturesque waterfalls in the state certainly help put it out in front. The opportunity to stop in or stay at the neighboring Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort and hike another splendid old-growth loop in the same outing only helps pad its lead.
Rodney and Hardy Falls / Hamilton Mountain
Contrary to popular belief, there are waterfalls on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. While throngs of tourists try to out-latte each other at Multnomah Falls, Hardy and Rodney Falls sit in relative obscurity on the other side of the river. As a pair, they might not be quite as photogenic as their counterparts across the river, but the spring and summer wildflower meadows and sweeping views from the top make it a classic. The hike starts within Beacon Rock State Park, so you could throw in summiting that monolith if you’re hungry for more.