By Tali Treece
For Inland 360
If you decide to visit (and you should), head straight to the fenced viewpoint area. From there you will have a clear view of the falls cascading 198 feet over basalt cliffs into the Palouse River Canyon below. If you enjoy taking photos, this is a great place to get a full-length shot of the falls.
From there, continue north on the trail until you start seeing tall red signs that read:
“Travel beyond this point is on unmarked, potentially hazardous trails.” If you’re reasonably fit, don’t let this warning stop you. Follow the sandy trail down through rocks and sagebrush until you come to railroad tracks. Turn right and make your way down a steep, rocky hill. Footing is tricky here, so be careful.
At the bottom of this hill you’ll find the upper falls: whitewater rapids tumbling over a series of rock steps. With many flat boulders and a cool breeze off the water, this is a great place to stop and rest. Or, if you want a further challenge, rock-hop across the rapids to pose for a picture in the middle of the falls. Then continue along the trail to the top of the lower falls, where a Seuss-like rock formation reaches its jagged towers toward the sky.
In order to hike to the basin at the bottom of the falls, follow the narrow trail along the ridge. On your right the cliff wall stretches straight up; on your left, just a few feet away, is a 200 foot drop-off. This is when I remembered I’m actually pretty scared of heights. The words “potentially hazardous” flashed like an electric shock in my mind, but I kept my eyes on the trail and pushed on, ready for the climb into the basin.
The descent is extremely steep and slippery, so be sure to use the ropes there to lower yourself down. As I picked my way across the rocky beach at the bottom, I heard the thunderous drone of surging water, felt the spray from the falls and watched fishermen cast their lines into the deep pool. A family of geese swam behind the waterfall and hopped onto the rocks, preening their feathers. A rainbow arced in the mist. Once you’ve taken in the beauty — as well as a few more snapshots — it’s time to return to the trail. Going up is surprisingly easier than going down and it only takes a few minutes to reach the top.
Back on the ridge, continue down the path, which loops all the way to the original viewpoint. If you’re game for a little more climbing, you can take a shortcut up a craggy rock crevice that leads directly to the day-use area. Now that you’ve come full circle, pull that camera out again. Time it so you return to the viewpoint at sunset and you can get a photograph of Palouse Falls shining and shimmering in the magical light of the golden hour.
Tali Treece is an adventurous outdoor and travel enthusiast who lives in Moscow. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing from Pacific University.
If You Go
What: Palouse Falls State Park
Where: Starbuck, Wash.
When: Summer hours are 6:30 a.m. to dusk
Cost: There is a $10 day fee and you must have exact change or a check. A $30 annual Discover Pass is also available.