Lewis County is home to more than 180 waterfalls, according to this list on the Northwest Waterfall Survey’s website. Many of them are easily reachable through a hike or trudge through forests, along trails and among wildlife.
In this edition of the DLC Blog, we’ll share a weekend trip worth taking that takes you to some of those waterfalls, and across a great cross-section of our county to some of the prettiest scenery you might ever see. And this also doubles as a great auto tour route if you’re not the hiking type — there’s still plenty to see from the windows of the car or, better yet, stepping just outside when you stop to take in the views.
Pack your stuff, get the family together and hop in the car because this is one awesome outdoor adventure you'll remember for a long time!
There are two particularly notable waterfalls in the southern and western portions of Lewis County, and while they’re not impressive in terms of height, the beauty and scenery of the areas in which they are located are more than enough reason to visit these waterfalls.
First off, take Exit 59 from Interstate 5 and head west toward the small town of Vader. Once there, take a right on Annonen Road, just before you reach the Little Crane Cafe, and head north to McMurphy Park. Make your way down to Olequa Creek on the northern end of the park, and head down the embankment to see the waterfalls that gave the town of Vader its former name of Little Falls. These series of small yet lively rapids are great for photos, and the relative peace of the surrounding park makes it a perfect setting for a time to relax or enjoy a picnic.
Once done from there, head back into Vader and go west on Highway 506 toward Ryderwood. Turn right on Wildwood Road and follow it all the way out to Pe Ell McDonald Road, where you’ll bear left. Follow the road into Pe Ell, and if you wish you can stop for some food, enjoy a break at the Willapa Hills Trailhead, or simply continue the journey after passing through the eastern edge of town.
Hang a right on State Route 6 and follow the highway to the signs for Rainbow Falls State Park. Make sure you have your Discover Pass — but if you don’t have one already, you can purchase one at the park entrance station.
Once inside the park, head all the way back to the day-use meadow area and park your car. Walk on down toward the river to see Rainbow Falls — again, not huge in magnitude, but very picturesque — and just enjoy watching the waters of the Chehalis River rush over the basalt rock before making a final plunge. If you’re lucky, you might even catch sight of a salmon or two trying to fight against all odds and jump its way up the falls.
Once done here, you can head back toward Interstate 5 on Highway 6. From here, it’s an hour and a half by car to our next destinations in the eastern part of Lewis County. If you want to continue, head south on Interstate 5 from the SR 6 intersection. To visit Chehalis and Centralia, keep going straight on SR 6, which becomes Main Street through Chehalis. Several wayfinding signs in Chehalis give directions to points of interest and amenities in the town.
You’ll notice a major change in the geography and feel of the area as it switches from primarily agricultural land near the beautiful Chehalis River, to more mountainous terrain. Back on I-5, hit Exit 68 and follow U.S. Highway 12 eastward. In just a couple miles, you’ll be on the White Pass Scenic Byway, arguably one of the most beautiful corridors of travel in all of Washington state and the Northwest.
The waterfalls are the destinations, but you’ll find your trip more rewarding if you visit the towns of the byway and stop along Mayfield and Riffe lakes, if for no other reason than to enjoy beautiful views for a few moments. Better yet, the lakes make ideal places for an overnight stay, with several parks, resorts and cabins for rent along their shores — making this a good spot to make a basecamp for the weekend. Here's a pretty exhaustive list of lodging establishments including campsites, RV parks, motels and more in East Lewis County.
Get your hiking boots ready now, because what you’re gearing up for is a hike to some seriously beautiful scenery accentuated by multiple waterfalls in a vast stretch of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Once you pass through Mossyrock (you really should buy some blueberries there) and Morton (you should check out their food options downtown), you will come to the community of Randle (you should stop for food here if you haven't yet), where you will make a right-hand turn south on State Route 131. Bear left to head toward Cispus Center following the signs to the center. Once there, park just outside the main gate adjacent to the main road — there are spots for a couple cars there. You’ll set out on the Covel Creek Trail and follow the trail, which meanders along the creek and then takes you up, up, UP to Covel Creek Falls one mile in.
Covel Creek Falls is awesome because of its sheer magnitude, the sound it makes being amplified by the rock face it roars past, and the awesome yet unique view you get as you pass behind it on the trail leading up to the other side. You’ll definitely want to grab the camera (and a towel too, we might add — the spray can get crazy in high stream flow).
From here you have two options: continue up the trail on the other end of the falls and get a nice workout in, or turn back and follow the rock face back to the Burley Mountain Trail, where you’ll hang a right and follow the upper portion of another creek. Both these options lead to the same destination: Angel Falls, a waterfall highlighted by the creek breaking up into several small streams that cascade over several rock faces that jut out below the one above it. It’s really one of the more unique waterfalls in the Gifford Pinchot.
If you want to get close to Angel Falls, you’ll want to clamber over the rocks to the left. Be careful as they’re a bit slippery and remember that getting down is a lot tougher than getting up. Navigate from here as you feel comfortable.
If you’re REALLY adventurous, try heading along the creek bed from the same direction you came to find Bridal Veil Falls, a seemingly expert-hidden waterfall that is impressive in and of itself. Very few who make this hike even get to see the lower tier of this waterfall. Are you up for the challenge?
Once you’ve seen Covel Creek and Angel Falls, it’s time to head back to the car. Retrace your steps back to Forest Road 23, but this time take a right. Just up the road a bit, but not far, you’ll hit Camp Creek, a relatively easy hike that only goes back about 1/4 to 1/2 of a mile and offers a fantastic view of Camp Creek Falls — itself a sizable falls that is best viewed from the end of the trail.
So far, if you’ve followed this trip the way we’ve described it, you will have seen five named waterfalls and a few more smaller, unnamed cascades as well. But we’re not done yet; we’ve still got a few more, including one more hike and a few more to drive to. That is, if Stevens Canyon Road through Mount Rainier is open. If it’s not, skip this section and come back to it at a later time. If it is, are you ever in luck!
Point your car back east on Highway 12, head into Packwood and visit the folks at Destination Packwood Association for some ideas on even more stuff to do. It’s a great opportunity to relax the legs, and you might even see some of the gentle elk that roam through backyards, tromp across the highway and rest in the fields near some lodging establishments on their travels.
Hop back in the car and begin your ascent up White Pass, but turn left at State Route 123 to Mount Rainier National Park. Before long you’ll come up on the Ohanapecosh entrance of the park, and you’ll follow Stevens Canyon Road next to several — and we mean several — waterfalls that you can pull off and view. For more than 20 miles, the scenery is unmatched, making this one of the prime drives in America. (Yes, we said it, in all of the United States.)
Take as little or as much time as you need to see everything along the road here, then head on up to Paradise to get some even better views and maybe grab a bite to eat. On the way back down, you’ll continue down toward Longmire, and on the way you’ll see two of the most seriously impressive waterfalls that carry the Nisqually River and its drainage down the mountain: Narada Falls and Christine Falls.
Narada and Christine Falls both have parking available. Narada, only a couple miles down from Paradise toward Longmire, leads you down a steep trail to the falls’ viewpoint. Even though you’ll have a pretty big hike back up, this one’s worth it. Make sure you have your camera handy.
And although crowded, Christine Falls is a beautiful double-tiered waterfall that is bisected visually by a beautiful stone bridge that carries the Road to Paradise. Again, make sure your camera is handy for this one too.
Once done, you can pretty much go anywhere from here. Explore the park, head into Elbe, back into Morton, check out more of the scenery, you name it. But you will have hit at least seven named waterfalls, each one a beautiful reminder of the scenery we are gifted here in the Pacific Northwest and Lewis County!
There are directions to even more waterfalls, including impressive details on height and what watershed they reside in, at the Northwest Waterfall Survey website. " target="_blank">Check it out.
Also, local outdoors expert and author Buddy Rose has written a book called “Fire Mountains: Treks & Treasures.” Several of these waterfalls are mentioned in that book, with even more granular detail on the topography, descriptions of the falls and more. On occasion, Rose gives talks about hiking and the outdoors at places such as the White Pass Country Museum, which has copies of the book for sale. Give 'em a visit!
The White Pass Scenic Byway website has even more trip ideas for the East Lewis County neck of the woods. Visit their website and download their mobile app for even more cool stuff to do.