A quick day trip to one of the largest and most remote waterfalls in Washington State: How to get to Palouse Falls and what to expect
I had seen photos of Palouse Falls in our home state of Washington and always wanted to go there, but it wasn’t really close to anything and is quite a long trek from Seattle. An off-shoot of the Snake River located in Southeast Washington State, Palouse Falls really is in the middle of nowhere. This summer, we had plans with some friends to spend a few days in Walla Walla—about an hour drive from Palouse Falls. We decided to take a day trip to check it out.
While wine tasting the day before in the Walla Walla area, our wine servers advised that we go to Palouse Falls early in the morning if possible. Visiting the falls has become increasingly popular. We set out on the road from Walla Walla at around 9:00 AM on a Saturday, hoping to beat any possible crowds.
The drive to Palouse Falls from Walla Walla is through rolling hills of wheat fields. You can take a couple different roads from Walla Walla to get there. The most direct is highway 125/Lyons Ferry Road, which has a lot of windy twists and turns in the beginning. If you are prone to motion sickness, this might not be the best route for you. The other direct way is highway 12, connecting with the 261 in Lyons Ferry. The latter goes through a small town or two, and is longer but a bit less twisty.
We took highway 125/Lyons Ferry Road, which was pretty but did make me a little queasy, despite sitting in the front seat. The drive was only about an hour, and there was still plenty of parking available when we got there. We took highway 12 back.
*Note: Palouse Falls is a state park, which requires a Discover Pass to park there. There are no places to purchase a pass at the park, so buy an annual pass or day pass prior to your trip.
From the parking lot, walk down through the tiny campground to the cliff to view the falls.
The falls are stunning, and the canyon is a sharp contrast to green western Washington, and even the golden wheat fields on the way to the falls. There are a few view points from the parking lot area.
We were hoping for a small hike or something to make the visit a bit more exciting than getting out of the car and looking at the falls. We walked up the hill to the left of the parking lot facing the falls and found a small trail, with this sign:
The trail led away from the falls, along the canyon towards an eventual descending trail down to the canyon floor a ways from the falls.
We walked on it for a little ways, but had no intention of trying to get down to the falls.
If your plan is to swim beneath the falls or hike down to the falls, please reconsider. There have been several deaths at Palouse Falls, the more recent ones including a man who fell when a ledge crumbled underneath him, and another where a man swimming under the falls got sucked under by the waterfall and drowned. It is extremely dangerous, and the falls are best enjoyed from the top of the canyon, a safe distance from the edge.
We may have been interested in exploring the trails on the top of the canyon away from the falls a bit more, had it not been 90 degrees with the strong possibility of rattlesnakes.
Regardless, the views were gorgeous and there were copious amounts of wild sunflowers.
The area was gorgeous, and it was a nice morning activity from Walla Walla. I don’t think the trip to Palouse Falls would be worth the drive for a day trip from anywhere further away than an hour and a half. There isn’t a lot to do other thank take in the beauty of the falls and the surrounding canyon.
Staying near Palouse Falls:
For a longer visit, the tent campground at Palouse Falls State Park wasn’t great. There was no privacy at all and you have day trip visitors trekking through the campground constantly. It is also first-come, first-served, meaning that if you drive all the way out there and the campground is full, you are out of luck. However, I am willing to bet that at night when all the visitors are gone and it is just campers left, the stars probably look spectacular.
If you really want to camp in the area, you might be better off camping at the Starbuck/Lyons Ferry KOA a 15 minute drive away. I haven’t stayed there, but they take reservations and the campground is right on the Snake River. Their website shows swimming and boating activities available at the campground.
Overall, Palouse Falls and the surrounding Snake River area is a unique area in Washington State and definitely worth a visit.
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