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Washington State is filled with pristine hiking trails and verdant scenery that will captivate any hiker or camper.
Wallace Falls State Park is set like a jewel to the west of the Cascades, near Gold Bar, Washington.
A sprawling, 1,380-acre camping park, Wallace Falls is festooned with old-growth coniferous forests and laced through with swift-moving rivers and clear streams.
The park boasts shoreline along four spectacular bodies of water —Jay Lake, Shaw Lake, Wallace Lake, and Wallace River.
But the highlight of the park is Wallace Falls itself — a group of nine waterfalls that plummet 265 feet from the headwaters into the sparkling Wallace River.
When to Hit the Trail
Wallace Falls is one of Washington’s state’s most beloved parks, so it can get a lot of foot traffic, particularly in the balmy summer months.
Still, if you’re looking for serenity on the trail, it can be found as long as you’re willing to venture out earlier in the morning.
The Woody Trail, which takes you from trailhead to the falls through an amazing canopy of conifers, hemlocks, and other natural flora, is quiet and tranquil most mornings.
You can hear the trills of the native songbirds and the buzz of insects as you wend your way through the sun-dappled shade of the trail.
Best of all, many beginning hikers choose to end their hikes at the Lower or Middle Falls, so if you’re up for a challenge, you’ll pass even fewer people on the way to the Upper Falls.
The parking lots are normally full by 11 a.m., so an early start will also ensure you get a good spot.
About the Wallace Falls Access Trail
If you’re ready to hike, just locate the trailhead sandwiched between the restrooms and the information kiosk adjacent to the capacious parking lot.
You’ll soon experience a grand view of Mount Index and Baring Mountain framed within a picturesque clearing, even if you do have to pass under a pair of rather ungainly — and spectacularly large — power lines.
Don’t mind the buzz of the power lines — they’re sturdy and safe.
As you walk on, you’ll move to the left and leave the hustle and bustle of the trailhead behind as you meander along the picturesque Wallace River.
This hike offers an elevation gain of 1300 feet, most of which is spooled out between a half-mile set of switchbacks located between Middle and Upper Falls.
If you’re a beginner or just having an off day on the trail, you’ll still have access to amazing views between the Lower and Middle Falls, allowing you to skip the grueling last leg of the hike.
If you can make it to Middle Falls, definitely do.
You’ll find an impressive, panoramic view of the valley that cradles the Skykomish River and, away in the distance, the Olympic Mountains.
The trails at Wallace Falls are in good condition, despite the large amount of foot traffic the park sees.
The Washington Trails Association (WTA) has kept it clean and maintained through the concerted efforts of work parties that have spent the last four years managing and repairing the trail where needed.
Most of the rougher, more rugged sections of the trail occur from the Middle to Upper Falls hiking areas, and most competent hikers won’t find anything that’s too difficult to handle.
Here’s what to expect point-by-point along Woody Trail.
At the Half-Mile
The entire hike is 5.5 miles long, out and back.
As you approach the half-mile point, there’s a split in the trail. The right-hand, gated trail is meant for hikers only, while the left-hand trails is accessible to bikes as well as those on foot.
Taking the left-hand path will also lead you to Lake Wallace and some of the other scenic attractions of the park. However, if you’re determined to see the falls, you must keep to the right and enter through the gate.
On the right-hand path, you’ll meander along the Wallace River where there are plenty of benches and quiet grottos to enjoy a moment of meditation or a respite from the hike.
The 2-Mile Point
Once you leave the river’s banks, you’ll be on your way to a bit of a climb to the picnic area located at the Lower Falls, at around the two-mile point of the hike.
This is a covered area where you can stop, rest, and refuel for the more grueling trail to the Middle and Upper Falls.
Middle and Upper Falls — The Last Stretch
A half-mile later, you’ll have reached Middle Falls and the panoramic views this trail offers.
Do not at any time leave the marked trails along Wallace Falls, as the area outside the trails has been known to be treacherous.
The last 3/4-mile of Woody Trail takes you back and forth alternating through the densely canopied forest and views of the river bank, with an overlook that gives you a spectacular view of two of the drops of Upper Wallace Falls.
The trail continues beyond this to other points in the park, but signs warn that the next section of the trail poses difficulties if tackled too late in the day.
Other Things to Do at Wallace Falls
There are 12 miles of hiking trails at Wallace Falls, as well as 5 miles of biking trails along the Old Railroad Grade, located within the park.
For the adventuresome, there’s river rafting at Big Eddy, a satellite site located on the Skykomish River around five miles east of Wallace Falls, and rock-climbing at Index, around eight miles east.
Swimming, fishing, kayaking and canoeing are also available in the Big Eddy area and leashed dogs are welcome throughout the park.
For those who really want to take some time to explore the gorgeous scenery and stunning views, there are two tent sites for walk-in campers that are available on a first-come basis.
These are located relatively close to the parking area, so if you’re wanting privacy, this might not be a good choice for you.
There are restrooms close by for your convenience and also showers, although there is a fee for shower use.
There are also five primitive cabins available for rent, but they do not come equipped with kitchens or showers. They do have electric lights, heat, and a locking door.
To make it easy for guests to prepare meals without a kitchen, each cabin is equipped with a picnic table, barbecue stand, and a fire pit, which is a perfect way to round out an overnight camping experience.
The cabins have bunk beds and a futon and can sleep five, total.
If you need more than one room, two of the cabins are two-room affairs and two of them are ADA accessible. Pets are allowed in some cabins with a $15 pet fee for each night.
Cabins can be reserved ahead of time by contacting the park.
What to Bring to the Falls
You’ll definitely want to bring a camera — or your cell phone — to photograph the stunning views and incredible majesty of the falls.
The Washington State Park Service also recommends you include the following items in your day pack:
- Compass or other navigational tools
- Map of the park
- Layered clothing/extra clothing
- Flashlight, or other light source
- Packable food for energy
- Comfortable, appropriate footwear and good socks
Remember to bring sun protection, insect repellent, and any other items you think you might need.
A first-aid kit consisting of (at least) a few bandages and some anti-bacterial cream is a good addition to round out your supplies.
If you’re planning on fishing, you’ll need a recreational license, which you can purchase from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Don’t forget to check fishing season information before heading out to fish in the park.
Wallace Falls — A Hike to Remember
With well-maintained trails, a picnic area, and gorgeous scenery, Wallace Falls offers an incredible experience for a day hike — or an overnight stay.
Even beginning hikers will be able to enjoy the spectacular views of the waterfalls with a stop at Lower or Middle Falls.
Experienced hikers will get a challenge with a hike to the top — Upper Falls — and even beyond. Just be careful to mind the signs and stay on the trails for safety.
Whether you’re a bird-watching enthusiast, a fishing aficionado, or you just love a good romp through the gorgeous forests of Washington State, Wallace Falls State Park is a destination that will keep you coming back time after time.