Washington’s Beautiful but Deadly Official Waterfall: The Palouse Falls

Last Updated on June 22, 2018

On our way home from visiting family in Eastern Washington this past weekend, Daniel and I decided to visit Palouse Falls. Designated as Washington state’s official waterfall in 2014, the 198-foot waterfall is a stunning surprise amid the Palouse region’s arid rolling hills.

Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls

When I mentioned our plans to my aunt, she grew concerned and warned us to stay away from the cliff’s edge. I thought she was being overly cautious until I did some research and found out that four people have died at Palouse Falls in the last two years, and 17 people have had to be rescued via helicopter.

This is as close to the cliff as we dared to get… well back from the edge by several feet

When we arrived at Palouse Falls on Memorial Day, it was easy to see how so many people could’ve gotten hurt there. The parking lot was packed and tourists swarmed the day use area. We could see day hikers in flip flops scrambling down steep cliffs on unofficial trails and even swimming in the river at the base of the falls. Large signs are posted all over the park warning of impending doom if one gets too close to the cliff’s edge, so these folks clearly knew the risks.

You can’t say that they didn’t warn you…

The safest way to view the falls is from a scenic overlook right off of the parking lot – it boasts a great view of the falls along with interpretive signs and a fence so you can’t accidentally fall in while taking a selfie. We started our visit there and then headed for a gravel trail near the north end of the parking lot. The trail winds through a grassland to the end of the state park’s property line. From there an unofficial trail descends down a hill near some train tracks and then down into the river’s canyon. It looked a bit dangerous so we elected to stay above the falls. We wandered around a bit more, taking some other dirt trails but being careful to stay well away from the cliff’s edge.

Walking the trails in the grasslands above Palouse Falls
Reaching the end of the state park property line
The unofficial trail to the river’s edge

The waterfall is truly spectacular but it was hot and crowded so we didn’t stay long. I’d love to come back sometime when there are fewer crowds and watch the sunrise over the falls. Now that would be something.

The smaller upper falls

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