The mountain is unmistakable: With its top blown off during a cataclysmic explosion more three decades ago, Mount St. Helens resembles a rich, creamy ice cream surprise that invites travelers to taste the countryside.
Despite her eruption, she still reigns over a pretty landscape any time of year, but try to visit when views of the Lewis River waterfalls are sweetest, just before the first breath of spring dresses up the vine maple, alder, and willow in new green finery.
Hidden on the southern flanks of the famous mountain, the Lewis glistens in spring as it pours its glacial runoff through a deep canyon accessible via an easy hiking trail.
The series of nine waterfalls along the Trail of Falls will leave you breathless from the beauty, not the exercise.
The five described in this getaway can be wispy, windblown affairs or explosive torrents.
The access road, Washington 503, winds its way like a coiled snake past manmade Lake Merwin, Yale Reservoir, and Swift Creek Reservoir before reaching the Lewis River.
Each reservoir complex offers restful picnic parks, boat ramps for day-long excursions, and camping grounds for longer visits.
The highway also provides access to beautiful viewpoints suitable for framing, so bring a camera.
After crossing the Eagle Cliff Bridge on the eastern end of Swift Creek, you’ll find the Lewis River unaffected by any dams and flowing freely all the way from Mount Adams.
Curly Creek Falls
Any serious waterfall hunter knows you have to get off the highway and onto the dirt to see the show. Follow the highway directions (below) to Curly Creek Road.
Then turn left and drive three-quarters of a mile to the parking area.
Park, walk across the bridge, and follow the trail downstream for three-tenths of a mile to a well-designed log-rail viewing platform across from the falls.
Born in glacial ice fields just miles away, Curly Creek Falls thunders out of a fir-shrouded cleft in the basalt and drops seventy-five feet in two tiers, part of it through a natural rock arch, then spilling freely to the Lewis River below.
Watch for the early-spring milky white blooms of the trailside trillium. They contrast brilliantly against the flourishing ferns and other greenery. Don’t linger too long though, as there’s much more to see.
Big Creek Falls
Drive five miles past Curly Creek Falls along Lewis River Road (Forest Road 90). Park on the north side of the marked crossing for Big Creek.
Marked by old-growth fir, hemlock, and cedar, Big Creek Falls shimmers in a lacy pattern as it drops for 125 feet into a deep pool backed by glistening springy moss.
I am a dedicated addict to these joyous affairs because they simply make me smile! Plus, I’ve never met anyone at a waterfall who’s in a bad mood.
Lower Lewis River Falls
Continue East on Lewis River Road about five miles to the Lower Lewis River Falls parking area. (Note: In some places the road is a little rough where winter landslides have recently been repaired.) From the parking area, follow the looped trail for about five minutes.
Many believe that Lower Lewis River Falls----with its multiple cataracts ricocheting over a wide cliff spillway onto a jumble of rocks--is the showstopper along the Trail of Falls.
Then the river rolls on its wondrous way. Historians tell me this was a mecca of a fishing spot for Native Americans--a formidable natural barrier for salmon, so a terrific place to catch them, too.
Unfortunately the downriver dams lack adequate fish passage, so the Upper Lewis River’s salmon runs are gone.
Copper Creek and Middle Lewis River Falls
You have a choice now. You can stay in the Lower Lewis River Falls parking lot and hike a mile upstream to Copper Creek and Middle Lewis River Falls or drive a mile to a marked parking area for Middle Lewis River Falls.
Copper Creek flows through a verdant forest, then it slashes downward in a sharp cut that twists sixty feet to its pool, providing quite an interesting moment as you meet the falls head-on from the trail.
A short ten-minute hike to the end of the trail brings you to Middle Lewis River Falls--another giant stair step of a falls, but with smaller steps. The trail down to this falls is a bit steep, but worth the effort.
Many, many more waterfalls can be easily reached in this part of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, so poke around and have fun!
Take Interstate 5 north and exit at Woodland, Washington. From there, drive east along the Lewis River on Washington 503 for about twenty-four miles to its junction with Forest Road 90 at the Eagle Cliff Bridge.
Cross the bridge and drive east on Forest Road 90 for about five miles to Curly Creek Road.
All falls trailheads are accessed off of FR 90.
For More Information
Gifford Pinchot National Forest, (360) 891-5000