Catching four waterfalls in 20 miles sounded pretty impressive, even with three of them stashed right off the highway. Usually, getting around to...
Catching four waterfalls in 20 miles sounded pretty impressive, even with three of them stashed right off the highway. Usually, getting around to that amount of dropping water would require a longer hike than our kids, 4 and 11, would tolerate. But here were a series of four stunning waterfalls, all on different rivers and streams but conveniently located along a 20-mile stretch of Highway 2 around the small town of Index.
Rather than rushing past to Stevens Pass or Leavenworth, we slowed down to explore sometimes unmarked turnoffs to waterfalls, short hikes and impressive rock formations along the scenic two-lane road. Now is a great time to see the full spring-runoff glory of the varied waterfalls, which range from a cliff cascade (Bridal Veil Falls) to a double-wide drop (Alpine Falls) to tiered falls (Deception Falls) and gushing whitewater (Eagle Falls). All are located in the Skykomish Ranger District of Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Heading out on Highway 2 from Monroe, we stopped at two waterfalls on our way east to Deception Falls, then returned west and hiked to Bridal Veil. Though Bridal Veil is actually the first waterfall we passed, it’s a four-mile roundtrip hike to reach it. We knew it would be easier to get our kids out of the car for the easy walks to the remaining falls if they weren’t already tired from a hike.
Go soon; mountain snowpack is rapidly melting, and waterfalls will be less dramatic as summer progresses.
Highway 2 waterfalls
From Interstate 5, take Highway 2 east from Everett (the Monroe/Wenatchee exit) and drive about 35 miles to the waterfall area. The highway can be busy on summer weekends. Some of these falls are reached from highway pullouts; keep a close eye on children and traffic.
Listed west to east, the waterfalls on our tour included:
Bridal Veil Falls
The falls are visible from Highway 2, but for a closer view, take the 4-mile roundtrip hike from the Lake Serene No. 1068 trailhead. From the highway, turn south onto Mount Index Road (just east of Milepost 35). Drive 0.3 miles and bear right (Mount Index Road heads off to the left). Continue 600 feet to the trailhead parking area, which has vault toilets. A Northwest Forest Pass is required ($5 day pass, $30 annual pass). The trail receives heavy use.
About four miles east of Index, watch for a parking turnout at Milepost 39 on the south side of Highway 2. There are no signs. Short paths lead to a rock formation and spots for viewing the whitewater cascade.
From the Skykomish Ranger Station (at Milepost 50, one mile east of the town of Skykomish), continue east on Highway 2 about 5.3 miles. Watch for a turnout on the south side of the road, just west of the bridge crossing the Tye River. There is a short, obvious path to a lookout above the falls; several steep, rustic trails lead down to the river below the falls.
This developed area, with picnic tables and vault toilets, is marked with a sign. The parking lot is on the north side of Highway 2, about 5.6 miles east of the Skykomish Ranger Station.
Northwest Forest Pass
Forest Pass parking permits (needed for the Bridal Veil Falls hike) are available at Skykomish Ranger Station at Milepost 50 on Highway 2. Or order on the Web: www.fs.fed.us/r6/feedemo/index.shtml
For Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest trail conditions, see www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs/recreation
A helpful Web site on Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest is at www.waterfallsnorthwest.com
For Washington Trails Association‘s Bridal Veil Falls trail description, see www.wta.org/~wta/cgi-bin/wtaweb.pl?3+tg+fetch+english+1127
Note: Some waterfall lists include nearby Sunset and Canyon falls, but the Skykomish Ranger District does not encourage visitors there because of access issues.
We visited Eagle Falls early in the day, when just one other car was parked at the turnoff. But the lineup along the highway later in the afternoon suggested it’s a popular picnic stop (and, as the trash indicated, probably a party spot, too). The thundering whitewater doesn’t drop far (about 30 feet), but it’s an impressive amount of water, and the setting is gorgeous.
We scrambled on the sculpted, terraced rocks along the river, but others set out towels or lawn chairs and jumped into the deep pool below the falls. There’s a rope swing, but the chilly water is clearly only for experienced swimmers. (Note: The Skykomish Ranger District says this section of the South Fork of the Skykomish River is closed to boating and swimming because of the dangerous falls.)
This was our kids’ favorite spot to play. Along the bank, a small creek fed into the river; rock ledges, large puddles and a tiny beach provided good places to throw pebbles and dip feet.
There’s not much at this spot besides the waterfall itself, but it’s a pretty sight. Dropping over a rock as wide as the Tye River itself, the falls split into three sections in their 50-foot drop. One side pours through a narrow channel and slams into a jutting rock. While we were there, a bird flew back and forth across the crashing spray, at one point apparently disappearing into its nest in the rocks above the falls.
From the parking turnoff, the wide trail/dirt road leads to an overlook, but the best view is from below the falls. This requires taking one of a number of steep, rustic paths down to the water. There’s no beach, but large rocks offer a place to stand.
You can get to the falls immediately from the parking lot and picnic area, but for optimal impact, head for the half-mile nature-trail loop.
The dirt trail winds through lush forest, over a wooden bridge (creek play, anyone?), along the Tye River and then up Deception Creek’s gorge. Despite being so close to the highway, it feels surprisingly remote.
Interpretive signs highlight the area’s natural features and geography. Marvel at the creek’s crystal-clear water, for example, then discover that its clarity shows it’s mostly sterile, devoid of creatures and algae. Another sign points out the notches in a large tree stump used to hold springboards for loggers who cut trees for the nearby railway in the 1800s. Because of its proximity to the river, a tall Western red cedar tree near the falls survived a fire that hit the forest nearly 300 years ago.
Three observation platforms overlook the sequence of falls. The first drop churns through a narrow chute; at the second falls, we saw two rainbows in the spray. But most dramatic is the 60-foot upper falls, which drop under the Highway 2 bridge. There’s a view from the rocks below, from a bridge across the creek and another from an overlook on the east side.
Bridal Veil Falls
By this point, the adults in our group were ready to get out and do more than stroll. From the highway, the falls look like they’re halfway up Mount Index.
The National Forest trail guide rates the 7-mile Lake Serene trail as “most difficult,” with a 1,600-foot elevation gain.
Getting to the waterfall, while still requiring a steep climb, is considerably easier. At 1.5 miles, a signed branch heads a half-mile up to the waterfall, for 4 miles roundtrip.
Renovated in the late 1990s, the trail features several staircases to make the elevation gain manageable. We saw lots of families with children and babies in backpacks. Our 4-year-old got carried a good part of the way up but jogged the downhill return.
The well-defined trail starts on an old logging road, crosses a little creek via a narrow walkway and then gradually climbs through forest and shrubby undergrowth. Thanks to a tall dad, the kids munched bright orange salmonberries along the way, despite an assurance by two female hikers that they’d already picked the bushes clean.
At the waterfall turnoff, the trail becomes both steeper and more scenic. Even the wood-lined gravel staircases are attractive. Large trees hang with green moss, and just before reaching the waterfall, the view opens up across the valley to the surrounding jagged Monte Cristo peaks (marred only by a jarring clear-cut patch).
This was our fourth waterfall of the day (or sixth, if you counted the three Deception Falls separately, as my son insisted we should), but it was impossible to be blasé about an enormous granite cliff with a creek plunging over it. A wide-angle camera lens is essential to capture both the height and width of the cascading prongs. The nice overlook, complete with benches, is close enough to feel the cool spray.
There’s another waterfall below this, but signs warn against exploration as “falling is deadly.” We were glad we saved the most impressive falls for last, even if it required walking more than a few yards off the highway.
Stephanie Dunnewind: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2091.