By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
GOLD BAR — On a hot day, just looking at a waterfall can make you feel cooler — even if you have to hike a ways to do it.
That at least was the prevailing feeling of those who flocked to Wallace Falls State Park near Gold Bar recently on a scorching Sunday.
It’s an easy round-trip of only a mile from the parking lot to the closest set of falls, and a farther and steeper hike for the other cascades.
“It’s a beautiful hike, beautiful falls and scenery, and so close,” said Brenda Wahl of Arlington, who was there with her husband and two friends.
As everyone knows, there’s no shortage of water in the Pacific Northwest, and some of it comes down the mountainsides in a particularly beautiful way.
Snohomish County boasts a good share of these picturesque flows. The World Waterfall Database lists 68 waterfalls of significance in the county, all in the Cascade Range.
The site lists 84 waterfalls in King County and 37 in Skagit County.
Waterfalls are measured in two main ways: total height from top to bottom, and amount of freefall or the distance that water is in the air.
Snohomish County’s tallest by total height is Bridal Veil Falls at 1,328 feet, located south of the Skykomish River near Index.
It’s one of the more accessible and popular falls in the county, said Gary Paull, wilderness and trails coordinator for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Many of the Snohomish County falls are located in the national forest.
Bridal Veil Falls, located near Lake Serene, is only about two miles up a trail from a parking area that holds about 100 cars, he said. The trail is steep for only the last half-mile near the top. The lake and the falls are visited by thousands of people each year, Paull said.
It’s hard to tell which one has the highest freefall but it could well be Wallace Falls, he said.
Other accessible local falls include Feature Show Falls and Asbestos Creek Falls near Darrington; Rucker Falls and Big Four Falls near the Ice Caves off the Mountain Loop Highway; and Hundred Step Falls, one of several falls along the trail to Lake 22 near Verlot.
Asbestos Creek Falls, listed as the fourth highest in the county at 950 feet, is a long series of cascades just upstream from Clear Creek Road. People have a tendency to get out and climb on the rocks there — sometimes with disastrous results.
“We’ve had a number of fatalities up there,” Paull said. “People climb around up there, it’s slippery and they fall off.”
Safety is an important consideration near waterfalls, he said. To get a better look, visitors often put themselves in danger.
“People are tempted to get to the edge of things and hang onto limbs or branches and get to places they shouldn’t be,” Paull said. “You might be standing on something that is undercut.”
Just recently at Wallace Falls, a man fell into the water in the canyon and had to be airlifted out by helicopter, park aide Linda Wilson said. He luckily was OK, she said.
Some of the taller falls in the county are difficult or impossible to reach.
Blanca Lake Falls, the second highest, is not far from Wallace Falls as the crow flies but are deep in the mountains. It’s tough to see from anywhere other than an airplane, he said.
One unnamed falls — given the name of Fletcher Falls on the database website — may be seen from a distance from the Mountain Loop Highway. It’s near Monte Cristo Lake, but “you have to cross a river to get to it,” Paull said. “It’s even a little tricky to do that.”
Wallace Falls also may be seen from a nearby highway — U.S. 2. Located only a few miles from Gold Bar, however, it’s easy to get to.
Wallace Falls, listed at 367 feet, is the tallest of three main falls in Wallace Falls State Park. Above it is Upper Wallace Falls, 240 feet, and below is Lower Wallace Falls, 212 feet.
A set of small falls is only a one-mile round trip hike from the parking lot, according to a park map. The lower falls is a 3½-mile round-trip; Wallace Falls, in the middle, is a 4¼ mile round trip, and the upper falls is about a 5½ mile round trip.
The trail steepens sharply between the middle and upper falls.
“The last bit was steeper than the falls were worth,” said Jon Edgar of Mukilteo, who visited the park on June 30 with his wife Jacqui.
Still, it was an enjoyable experience, the couple said.
“The trail was extremely well maintained,” Edgar said.
The different hiking options seem to contribute to the park’s popularity. The park draws about 160,000 visits per year, according to the Friends of Wallace Falls State Park website.
On June 30, with the mercury nudging 90 degrees, the park’s 107-car parking lot was full, and more than 50 other visitors parked down the road.
Nathan Warren, 23, of Everett, said he’s been there many times.
“I come here to do a little spiritual growth. I like to pray,” he said.
Brady Blankenship of Marysville was part of Wahl’s group and it was his first visit.
“The falls give you the destination,” he said, “to get to the end.”
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
State’s tallest falls
Waterfalls are measured in two main ways: total height from top to bottom, and amount of freefall or the distance that water is airborne.
In the total height category, Johannesburg Falls in the Skagit County portion of North Cascades National Park is listed by the World Waterfall Database as the second tallest in Washington state and the 17th tallest in the world at 2,465 feet.
Colonial Creek Falls near Diablo Lake in Whatcom County is listed as the tallest in the 48 contiguous United States and 13th in the world.
Among waterfalls with a freefall of at least 500 feet, the tallest in the state is Depot Creek Falls, also in North Cascades park in Whatcom County. It has a total height of 948 feet and is ranked 84th in the world.