May 15, 2021
I’ve been to Lewis River Falls before: once camping in the rain with a leaking tent and kitchen fly—the last time I used either of them. (I just found that post on my old blog; it made me laugh. I offer it here. I still love to camp. I’m no longer desperate to go.) I went before that too, according to the post, also in the rain. I’ve also tried to go other times, but found it still snowed in. I’ve kept it on my list for a sunny day to hike to the top. Tuesday was the day.
The falls are south down I-5 then east toward Mts. Adams and St. Helens, past the tiny town of Cougar, past the Ape Caves in Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument area, and into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It’s three hours from home, which is on the outer rim of the distance I will travel for a hike. I left at 4:30 and am kind of ready to be home before I get there.
I make a pit stop at Speelyai Bay Park where there are three goose families. I guess they are all in the same pandemic-times pod, but are socially distanced all the same. One has four adults. They were hanging out on the beach, but go waterborne onto the misty lake when I approach. I don’t have my longer zoom camera in my hand, sadly.
The road winds through the national forest after that, with occasional glimpses of the non-crater side of Mt. St. Helens through the trees, but never with a clear photo opportunity. Though the falls are near St. Helens, the Lewis River is fed by glaciers on Mt. Adams.
There are three major falls along the trail, creatively named Lower Falls (which is at the campground), Middle Falls (which also has a parking lot at another trail head), and Upper Falls (which is a hike beyond Middle). There are also two smaller falls, one on the Copper Creek tributary and one on the Lewis.
It is a spectacular day and the falls are running high. Here’s the photo journal of my trek.
The falls were formed—according to the signage—by ancient volcanic debris. Lower Falls ranks 20th best on the Northwest Waterfall Survey. There are more waterfalls in the PNW than anywhere else in North America, which isn’t too surprising, I suppose. There are over 5,000 on the survey, 3174 in Washington. Ancient tribes fished for salmon here, slowed by the falls as they fought their way upriver. There are no longer salmon, due to downriver dams.
Flora: Sitka valerian, newborn devil’s club, trillium, vanilla leaf
Upper Falls from below
So far, the only people I’ve seen are five people and two dogs at the bottom of Upper Falls. I feel sure they are not going farther, so I don’t dally there, but head up the only steep part of the trail to the top of the falls where the roar is stupendous.
Upper Falls from the top
I lean against that fallen tree mesmerized by the thunderously plunging water, and have to step back from the vibrating log. It’s thoroughly stuck there, but it still disconcerting. The power in this volume of water is awesome to behold.
I don’t know where the trail goes now, but I keep going, through big trees and carpets of vanilla leaf beginning to flower on slender stalks, robins, and violets.
When the trail and the river begin to curve in opposite directions, I turn back. Four and a half miles, and I still have to return. Another time I’ll see where the trail continues to, and where the road goes. (Back home I read there’s another falls, Twin Falls.)
By the time I’m back at the Middle Falls parking lot, I’m really wishing my car was here. This might have been too long for an early-season hike. The tops of my hip bones are screaming. All told, from Middle Falls down, I met 21 people and eight dogs. But mostly I was alone with the roaring, rushing water.
The light is different at Lower Falls now. I try a long exposure shot on my iPhone—a cool trick I learned on FaceBook.
And then the long road back to the interstate and an early dinner at the McMenemins in Kalama by the mighty Columbia, into which the Lewis River flows. I started dreaming about it on the drive down. I’m so hungry I forget to take a photo of my salmon burger as I watch the wind surfer sail back and forth. The wind picks him clean out of the water from time to time, sometimes landing him back on his feet, sometimes swallowing him.
It was a really great day, followed by three doses of ibuprofen over the next 24 hours.
Postscript: Wednesday was #4 grandboy Adrian’s fifth birthday! They stopped for lunch on their return from an Oregon vacation. He loved the robot Gigi gave him! Although he did say that when he told me he wanted a robot, he “had in mind a big one he could get inside of.” When they were ready to go, he said he wanted to stay with me. We need to get Camp Gigi on the calendar.
Love is big here.