Wallace Falls

near Gold Bar / Snohomish County, Washington, USA

Rating: 3.5     Difficulty: 4
Wallace Falls

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Wallace Falls was a very popular waterfalling excursion as it was well within reach of both Everett and Seattle. It was really a series of three major waterfalls on the Wallace River - Lower, Middle, and Upper - as well as some intermediate cascades along the way. So on just the waterfall scenery alone, it was understandable why this was one of Washington State's most popular trails, especially on the weekends. Of these waterfalls, the most impressive was the Middle Falls (pictured above), which boasted a 260ft drop followed by some additional cascades said to tumble another 100ft or so. Sometimes this waterfall alone would be referred to as the Wallace Falls though I tended to think of the whole ensemble of waterfalls as such. The first (lower) waterfall contained a few cascades before making a pair of plunges further downstream. The cumulative drop of all the lower tiers (apparently five in all) was said to be 212ft. The last (upper) waterfall was also said to have five drops, but I was only able to spot two of them, which was said to have a cumulative drop of about 100ft (240ft if you count the unseen drops).

In order to get the full experience of most (if not all) of the Wallace Falls, I had to go on a 5.5-mile round trip hike on the Woody Trail Route where about 1100ft of the 1300ft overall elevation gain pertained to the stretch between the Middle and Upper Falls. While most people would stop and turn around at the Middle Falls (a 4.2-mile round trip hike), I found the entire hike to be rewarding as the upper reaches of the trail provided views of the Skykomish River Valley from the top of the Middle Falls (in good weather, of course) in addition to the upper waterfalls. I managed to experience the entire excursion on two separate occasions - once during a rainy day in late May when the Wallace River swelled and the waterfalls were gushing, and another time during late July on a warm and sunny Summer day when the falls exhibited a more graceful character while panoramic vistas opened up before me. Indeed, the differing conditions made for a pretty unique experience each time I've done this.

From the pretty spacious parking lot at the trailhead, I initially had to walk beneath a clear cut area dominated by high voltage power lines. The buzz from the current racing through the transmission lines overhead was a little unnerving, but it also provided an interesting panorama by a picnic table just before the trail veered back into the forest. Almost immediately back in the forest, the trail had split into the Railroad Grade and the Woody Trail shortly after a sign with some wise words from the English poet William Wordsworth. I kept to the right to continue on the Woody Trail as it initially descended towards the banks of the Wallace River. And shortly after the trail bottomed out, there was a signed junction where a spur trail led to the so-called Small Falls Interpretive Site, which was dry during my latest visit in August.

For much of the next 1.2 miles, the trail gently meandered and climbed amidst a forested canopy where trees seemed to have mossy hairs growing out of their limbs attesting to how moist this area tended to be. I eventually reached a picnic shelter and some more signposts pointing the way to the Lower Wallace Falls spur as well as the continuation of the trail towards the Middle Wallace Falls, and the Greg Ball Trail towards Wallace Lake. In good weather, I was able to catch my first glimpse of the Middle Wallace Falls further upstream from some intermediate cascades that tumbled before me. The spur trail continued descending towards a dead-end beneath the picnic shelter, where the last two plunging drops of the Lower Wallace Falls could be seen (though I was upstream from the very last drop so that one was difficult to see satisfactorily).

Next, the trail started to climb for the next quarter-mile before I reached the fenced lookout for the Middle Wallace Falls (roughly a 500ft cumulative elevation gain from the parking lot to this point). This was the vantage point yielding the photo you see at the top of this page. As you can see, it featured the entirety of the Middle Falls with its impressive 260ft plunge as well as some cascades immediately downstream from it. These drops blended in with each other when Wallace Creek was rain swollen during my first visit here, but the distinct sections could clearly be seen when I made my return later in the Summer. Anyways, with no real opportunity to safely get closer to the bottom of this section, this view was the turnaround point for most hikers. Pushing forward from here began the steepest part of the trail as it switchbacked its way towards the top of the Middle Falls, ultimately climbing an additional 800ft when it would eventually reach the Upper Falls.

The trail briefly veered away from the Wallace River as the scenery became more tranquil as I climbed my way up the well-forested terrain with some stepped sections in addition to the switchbacks. Towards the top of the switchbacks, there were a couple of spur trails leading to two separate lookouts near the top of the Middle Wallace Falls. The first one focused just on looking down at the main drop of the Wallace Falls, but the second lookout presented a nice panorama of the Skykomish River Valley as well as a different partial view down at the brink of the Middle Wallace Falls.

The last 3/4-mile stretch of trail beyond continued climbing up more switchbacks in a well-forested setting once again departing from the Wallace River in favor of the temperate rainforest settings. Eventually, the trail veered back towards the Wallace River where there was another fenced overlook peering right at a pair of the drops of the Upper Wallace Falls. In order to see the bottom of this drop (at least without needing to hop the barricade), I had to stand a bit on the fence and look down. While the trail was said to continue past the Upper Falls towards Wallace Lake, this was my turnaround point. Some additional signs here also warned of venturing beyond this point too late in the day or being unprepared for wilderness conditions as the next section was where most hikers would get lost, especially if it got dark.

When all was said and done, it took me around 3 hours each time I've done this hike. Back in May 2006 when I first did this hike, I had no trouble with crowds nor finding parking, but that was because it was raining pretty hard and the trail was quite muddy while the Wallace River was raging with a lot of brown from the erosion of the river's banks. In July 2017 when I next did this hike, I had gotten an early start so I also had no trouble finding parking. That said, when I returned to the trailhead at the conclusion of the hike, the parking lot was completely full and there were many more people on the trail. The morning sun was also shining directly against me for both the Middle and Upper Falls views so I'd imagine the lighting would be better in the afternoon. Of course, that would also mean contending with the limited parking and more people on the trail. So I guess you can't really have it all on this excursion unless you were willing to stay here all day after an early start.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

This was the Valley Overlook view over the Skykomish River Valley from the top of the Middle Wallace Falls in good weatherThis was the Valley Overlook view over the Skykomish River Valley from the top of the Middle Wallace Falls in good weather
Even though Wallace Falls was closer to Everett, it was still a reasonable day trip from Seattle (Pike's Market shown here)Even though Wallace Falls was closer to Everett, it was still a reasonable day trip from Seattle (Pike's Market shown here)
One of those must-do (albeit overly expensive) activities in Seattle was going up on the Space Needle for these views over the cityOne of those must-do (albeit overly expensive) activities in Seattle was going up on the Space Needle for these views over the city
Finally, for that quintessential view of the Seattle skyline backed by Mt Rainier, we had to go to Kerry Park in the late afternoon on a good weather dayFinally, for that quintessential view of the Seattle skyline backed by Mt Rainier, we had to go to Kerry Park in the late afternoon on a good weather day
The fairly large parking lot at the Wallace Falls State Park TrailheadThe fairly large parking lot at the trailhead

Looking towards the restroom facility, the electronic parking kiosk, and some trailhead signsLooking towards the restroom facility, the electronic parking kiosk, and some trailhead signs

Hiking beneath some power pylons and transmission lines in the first half-mileHiking beneath some power pylons and transmission lines in the first half-mile

This was the scenic view and picnic area beneath the power lines towards the end of this clear cut stretchThis was the scenic view and picnic area beneath the power lines towards the end of this clear cut stretch

Hiking past a sign with some wise saying from William Wordsworth as the trail entered the forestHiking past a sign with some wise saying from William Wordsworth as the trail entered the forest

This trail junction was where the trail split into the Railroad Grade on the left and the Woody Trail on the rightThis trail junction was where the trail split into the Railroad Grade on the left and the Woody Trail on the right

Approaching a bridge crossing over the North Fork of the Wallace RiverApproaching a bridge crossing over the North Fork of the Wallace River

The Woody Trail follows the Wallace River for most of the way. This photo was taken from my first visit when the river was swollen with a lot of rainThe Woody Trail follows the Wallace River for most of the way. This photo was taken from my first visit when the river was swollen with a lot of rain.

This dry creek was where I believe the Small Falls was supposed to be.  I didn't notice this on my first visit when it would've been flowing, but it was well-signed on my second visit which took place in mid-Summer when there was less waterThis dry creek was where I believe the Small Falls was supposed to be. I didn't notice this on my first visit when it would've been flowing, but it was well-signed on my second visit which took place in mid-Summer when there was less water

Some rest benches were strategically placed along the Woody Trail for those hikers who would rather take their timeSome rest benches were strategically placed along the Woody Trail for those hikers who would rather take their time

For much of the first 1.2 miles towards the Lower Falls, the Woody Trail stayed true to its name as it meandered amongst temperate rainforest settings like what's shown hereFor much of the first 1.2 miles towards the Lower Falls, the Woody Trail stayed true to its name as it meandered amongst temperate rainforest settings like what's shown here

Making it to the signage where the trail branched three ways - towards the Lower Falls on the right, towards the Middle Falls in the middle, and towards Wallace Lake on the Greg Ball Trail on the leftMaking it to the signage where the trail branched three ways - towards the Lower Falls on the right, towards the Middle Falls in the middle, and towards Wallace Lake on the Greg Ball Trail on the left

Looking towards the picnic shelter above the Lower Wallace FallsLooking towards the picnic shelter above the Lower Falls

These were the first two or three drops of the Lower Wallace FallsThese were the first two or three drops of the Lower Wallace Falls

This was the next to last drop of the Lower Wallace Falls as the last drop was further downstream and couldn't be seen cleanlyThis was the next to last drop of the Lower Wallace Falls as the last drop was further downstream and couldn't be seen cleanly

This was what the Lower Wallace Falls looked like in a rain-swollen state back on my first visit in 2006This was what the Lower Wallace Falls looked like in a rain-swollen state back on my first visit in 2006

The impressive Middle Wallace Falls could be seen in the distance from above the uppermost drops of the Lower Wallace FallsThe impressive Middle Falls could be seen in the distance from above the uppermost drops of the Lower Falls

After climbing beyond the Lower Wallace Falls, I reached this lookout for the Middle Wallace Falls shortly before the sun breached the cliffsAfter climbing beyond the Lower Falls, I reached this lookout for the Middle Falls shortly before the sun breached the cliffs

This was the entirety of the Middle Wallace Falls in mid-Summer flowThis was the entirety of the Middle Falls in mid-Summer flow

This was the Middle Wallace Falls on a rainy day during my first hike in the area back in May 2006This was the Middle Wallace Falls on a rainy day during my first hike in the area back in May 2006

Beyond the Middle Wallace Falls, the Woody Trail gained most of the 1300ft in overall elevation gain via switchbacks like thisBeyond the Middle Falls, the Woody Trail gained most of the 1300ft in overall elevation gain via switchbacks like this

Looking down over the top of the Middle Wallace Falls after taking a short spurLooking down over the top of the Middle Wallace Falls after taking a short spur

This was the signposted fork where the spur trail on the right led to the very brink of the Middle Wallace Falls and the Valley OverlookThis was the signposted fork where the trail on the right led to the very brink of the Middle Falls and the Valley Overlook

Beyond the top of the Middle Wallace Falls, the trail continued climbing some steps as well as a few more switchbacksBeyond the top of the Middle Falls, the trail continued climbing some steps as well as a few more switchbacks

Some steps leading up towards the viewing area for the Upper Wallace FallsSome steps leading up towards the viewing area for the Upper Falls

Approaching the lookout for the Upper Wallace Falls. As you can see here, morning was not the best time for photographs hereApproaching the lookout for the Upper Falls. As you can see here, morning was not the best time for photographs here

Finally making it up to the Upper Wallace FallsFinally making it up to the Upper Wallace Falls

This was how the Upper Wallace Falls looked like in its swollen state when I first saw it back in 2006This was how the Upper Wallace Falls looked like in its swollen state when I first saw it back in 2006

This was one of the panoramic views that I noticed on the return hike, but I believe the mountain that was supposed to be seen here was obscured in haze and possibly smoke from fires hundreds of miles awayThis was one of the panoramic views that I noticed on the return hike, but I believe the mountain that was supposed to be seen here was obscured in haze and possibly smoke from fires hundreds of miles away

On the return hike in 2006, I took the other way on the split trail, which was more lush but narrower (and it might have passed by the Small Falls though I didn't know it at the time)On the return hike in 2006, I took the other way on the split trail, which was more lush but narrower (and it might have passed by the Small Falls though I didn't know it at the time)

Back at the footbridge over the North Fork of the Wallace RiverBack at the footbridge over the North Fork of the Wallace River

Making it back to the power linesMaking it back to the power lines

When I returned to the trailhead, the parking lot was full. So it was a good thing that I got an early startWhen I returned to the trailhead, the parking lot was full. So it was a good thing that I got an early start


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Longer video showing area around Lower Wallace Falls junction before descending further to another lookout with a more impressive look at the real Lower Falls


360 degree sweep showing the impressive Middle Wallace Falls


Top down view of the Middle Falls and over-the-top angle of the Lower Falls all from the Valley Overlook


Looking against the sun down towards the Upper Wallace Falls as well as a 360 degree sweep


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

The Wallace Falls State Park is near Gold Bar. I'll describe the driving directions from Issaquah since both times I've done this hike, I've made the drive from there. This route also encompasses the more popular starting points in Seattle as well as Everett).

So coming up from Issaquah, I drove west on the I-90 for a little over 7 miles towards the I-405 north near Bellevue (note this junction was about 5.5 miles east of downtown Seattle along the I-90). I then followed the 405 north for a little over 11 miles towards the exit 23 to merge onto the WA-522 highway. Then, I continued on the 522 northeast for about 14 miles towards the US-2 (Stevens Pass Hwy). Note that this junction between the 522 and the 2 was about 15 miles east of Everett along the US2.

Turning right to go east on US2, it was pretty much surface streets for the remaining 15 miles as it would eventually enter the town of Gold Bar. Following a brown sign pointing the way to Wallace Falls State Park, I then turned left onto 1st Street before turning right onto May Creek Rd less than a half-mile later. Continuing on May Creek Rd, I then encountered a fork at about 3/4-mile. I kept left at this fork to continue the remaining 0.6 miles to the parking lot for the trailhead.

Overall, this drive took me a little less than 75 minutes. While the parking lot was spacious, it filled up quickly (especially on the weekends) so I'd recommend getting an early start. I also had to pay for the Discovery Pass at the electronic kiosk, which costed me $10/car. As far as I knew, they didn't accept my Interagency Pass (formerly the National Parks Pass) at this park.

Finally for some geographical context, Gold Bar was 29 miles (a little under 45 minutes drive) east of Everett, 46 miles (about an hour drive) northeast of Seattle. Seattle was 173 miles (over 2.5 hours drive) north of Portland, Oregon, 143 miles (about 2.5 hours drive not counting border crossing delays) south of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and 1,137 miles (17 hours drive) north of Los Angeles, California.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES





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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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