Curly Creek Falls and Miller Creek Falls

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington, USA

About Curly Creek Falls and Miller Creek Falls


Hiking Distance: 0.8 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 30 minutes

Date first visited: 2009-08-22
Date last visited: 2021-04-05

Waterfall Latitude: 46.0582
Waterfall Longitude: -121.97245

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Curly Creek Falls was supposed to be the famed waterfall that had the rare distinction of having natural bridges spanning its falling watercourse.

That alone made this waterfall pretty unique, and perhaps its proximity to Mt St Helens in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest hinted at the kind of volcanic heritage required to have such a coupling of geological oddities.

Curly_Creek_Falls_029_04052021 - Curly Creek Falls
Curly Creek Falls

Unfortunately, seeing this spectacle required some timing because it ultimately took us three tries (spanning 12 years) before we finally got to see it properly as you can see in the photo above.

Timing A Visit To Curly Creek Falls

Indeed, when we first came here in late March 2009, the National Forest roads to the Curly Creek Trailhead (see directions) was blocked by snow so we didn’t even get started with visiting the Curly Creek Falls.

When we came back nearly a half-year later in late August 2009, the falls was nowhere to be seen (i.e. dry).

To make matters worse, the natural bridges were hard to make out due to the harsh mid-day lighting under sunny skies.

Curly_Creek_005_jx_03272009 - This was the snow blockage that prevented us from experiencing Curly Creek Falls on our first attempt back in late March 2009
This was the snow blockage that prevented us from experiencing Curly Creek Falls on our first attempt back in late March 2009

We suspect the apparent shortened season of the Curly Creek watercourse would be limited to noticeable flows up to June or perhaps July (depending on the snow pack and thaw).

However, it’s quite possible that the pair of severe winter snowstorms in 2008 and 2009 might have also obstructed the watercourse with debris thereby choking off the flow to the falls.

We’re not totally sure though a local we met here said they were flowing the year before our visit in 2009.

Finally, when we made a Spring Break visit in early April 2021, that was when we ultimately got the satisfactory experience with Curly Creek Falls that we had haunted us for the better part of 12 years.

Curly_Creek_Falls_003_08222009 - This was Curly Creek Falls as we first saw it in August 2009
This was Curly Creek Falls as we first saw it in August 2009

Indeed, we got lucky on that visit as there was just enough thaw to allow trailhead access while at the same time feeding Curly Creek with enough water to see it through its curious natural bridges.

Hiking To Curly Creek Falls

From the Curly Creek Trailhead (labeled 31A in the local Forest Service system), we took an obvious well-shaded forested trail that headed towards the Lewis River.

After about 300ft, the footpath reached an unsigned intersection (which I’d imagine was part of a longer Lewis River Trail), and we kept right to continue going in the downstream direction.

Then, about another 350ft further on the trail, we reached an overlook as indicated by some wooden railings oriented in the direction of Curly Creek Falls across the Lewis River.

Curly_Creek_Falls_010_04052021 - Julie and Tahia approaching the overlook for Curly Creek Falls within the lush forested scenery of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Julie and Tahia approaching the overlook for Curly Creek Falls within the lush forested scenery of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

While the 50-75ft waterfall was attractive and interesting, we noticed that this overlook seemed to be on the verge of being overgrown by the surrounding foliage (threatening to obstruct the view).

At the same time, I learned that Curly Creek Falls might also be a better overcast (or even rainy-day) waterfall so the shadows that inevitably come with sunny days wouldn’t adversely affect the visual impact.

Continuing To Miller Creek Falls

Curly Creek Falls was merely the first of two waterfalls to see on the Curly Creek Trail.

Indeed, the trail continued another 600ft or so before reaching another overlook fronted by wooden railings.

Curly_Creek_Falls_069_04052021 - This was the Miller Creek Falls with healthy flow at the end of the short Curly Creek Trail
This was the Miller Creek Falls with healthy flow at the end of the short Curly Creek Trail

This time, through an opening in the vegetation, we looked across the Lewis River and gazed upon a plunging 40-60ft Miller Creek Falls feeding the river itself.

Like with Curly Creek Falls, I found this waterfall to be best seen under overcast skies to shadows or shade become less of a liability to the overall viewing experience.

Anyways, the Miller Creek Falls overlook was our turnaround point of this short 3/4-mile round-trip out-and-back hike (more like a stroll).

I did do a little more exploring of the continuation of the Lewis River Trail in the upstream direction (the other fork of that unsigned trail junction we encountered earlier on).

Curly_Creek_Falls_082_04052021 - On the return hike from the waterfalls, I actually explored a little bit of the unsigned fork on the right, which followed along the Lewis River. The wider path on the left went back to the Curly Creek Trailhead 31A
On the return hike from the waterfalls, I actually explored a little bit of the unsigned fork on the right, which followed along the Lewis River. The wider path on the left went back to the Curly Creek Trailhead 31A

However, after hiking about a half-mile along that narrow ledge-hugging trail, I turned back when I figured out that it was going to take at least another half-mile to reach the road bridge that we had driven over to get to the Curly Creek Trailhead.

So if the Curly Creek Trailhead might be too busy, I suppose the road bridge over the Lewis River might act as an alternate starting point for a bit of a longer hike.

Authorities

Curly Creek Falls resides in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Carson in Skamania County, Washington. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Curly_Creek_Falls_003_04052021 - At the Curly Creek Trailhead 31A. Our daughter (drawing from her observations from a trip to Norway in 2019) actually pointed that this restroom facility had a turf roof
Curly_Creek_Falls_007_04052021 - Julie and Tahia going on the short hike to the Curly Creek and Miller Creek Falls
Curly_Creek_Falls_012_04052021 - Context of Julie and Tahia checking out Curly Creek Falls from its overlook during our early April 2021 visit
Curly_Creek_Falls_015_04052021 - Zoomed in look at Curly Creek Falls flowing beneath a pair of natural bridges as seen in early April 2021
Curly_Creek_Falls_032_04052021 - Broad contextual look at Curly Creek Falls to illustrate just how easily overgrown its overlook can become.  This photo was taken in early April 2021
Curly_Creek_Falls_037_04052021 - A little more contextual look at Curly Creek Falls in early April 2021
Curly_Creek_Falls_043_04052021 - Julie and Tahia continuing to hike beyond the Curly Creek Falls Overlook towards the lookout for the Miller Creek Falls
Curly_Creek_Falls_044_04052021 - Julie and Tahia hiking among the well-shaded interior of the lush fern-filled forest en route to the Miller Creek Falls during our early April 2021 visit
Curly_Creek_Falls_049_04052021 - Julie and Tahia continuing along the Lewis River's trajectory en route to Miller Creek Falls
Curly_Creek_Falls_050_04052021 - Julie approaching the lookout for Miller Creek Falls
Curly_Creek_Falls_062_04052021 - Context of Miller Creek Falls as seen during our early April 2021 visit
Curly_Creek_Falls_074_04052021 - Like with Curly Creek Falls, views of the Miller Creek Falls also seemed to be close to having its line-of-sight obstructed by the foliage surrounding it during our early April 2021 visit
Curly_Creek_Falls_080_04052021 - Last look at Curly Creek Falls before heading back to the trailhead to end our early April 2021 visit
Curly_Creek_Falls_084_04052021 - Briefly exploring the narrow trail along the Lewis River before heading back to the Curly Creek Trailhead 31A
Curly_Creek_Falls_095_04052021 - Context of the Lewis River Trail with a glimpse of the Lewis River to the left of it
Curly_Creek_Falls_097_04052021 - Finally making it back to the Curly Creek Trailhead to end our early April 2021 visit
Curly_Creek_Falls_001_08222009 - Julie checking out the sign at the Curly Creek Falls and Miller Creek Falls trailhead
Curly_Creek_001_jx_03272009 - Earlier in the year, we did try to visit Curly Creek Falls in late March, but we knew something was wrong when we started seeing snow on the banks of the road
Curly_Creek_005_jx_03272009 - Snow blocked further progress on this road and we were still not close enough to walk to the Curly Creek Falls car park so this attempt was a fail


Although it’s possible to access the Curly Creek Trailhead from the west via Cougar or from the south from Carson, we generally prefer to take the route from Carson.

Even though there’s a toll to cross the Columbia River at the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks or from Hood River, I like how being around the Columbia River and its waterfalls so I generally don’t mind paying the fee.

Drive_to_Curly_Creek_001_iPhone_04052021 - Traversing the Hood River Bridge over the Columbia River to cross over the state border from Oregon into Washington and pursue the Curly Creek Falls
Traversing the Hood River Bridge over the Columbia River to cross over the state border from Oregon into Washington and pursue the Curly Creek Falls

Thus, I’ll describe the directions from there.

So from Carson, we drove north for 14 miles along the Wind River Road before turning right onto the continuation of the Wind River Road via NF-30 for the next 13 miles.

Then, we turned left onto Curly Creek Road, and followed it for 5 miles to its junction with the NF-90 Road.

Next, we turned right onto NF-90 Road and followed it for just under a mile before turning left onto the NF-9039 Road (there should be signs pointing the way to the Lewis River and Curly Creek Trailhead at this point).

Curly_Creek_Falls_002_04052021 - The Curly Creek Trailhead with its turf-roofed restroom facility
The Curly Creek Trailhead with its turf-roofed restroom facility

Finally, we’d then drive the remaining mile over the unpaved road (crossing a bridge over the Lewis River about 3/4-mile en route) before reaching the trailhead on our left.

Overall, this drive would take about an hour, but it might be good to check with the National Forest Service about road conditions so you don’t waste time (like we did) driving to an impassable roadblock.

For geographical context, Carson, Washington, was 9 miles (roughly 15 minutes drive) east of Cascade Locks, Oregon, 20 miles (about 30 minutes drive) west of Hood River, Oregon, 54 miles (about an hour drive) east of Portland, and 49 miles (an hour drive) east of Vancouver, Washington.

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Focused video on Curly Creek Falls with zoom ins


Video focusing on Miller Creek Falls then zooming in and then back out


Long video showing both Miller Creek Falls and Curly Creek Falls as well as the trail in between them


Bottom up sweep of the very-hard-to-see falls in low, late Summer flow. Note: this is not the same stream as the one with the natural bridges through them. That one is a couple minutes further up the trail at a lookout platform. That falls was dry when we were there.

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Tagged with: gifford pinchot, national forest, skamania, cascade locks, wind river, washington, waterfall, mt st helens



Visitor Comments:

Northwest Waterfall Survey (Curly Creek Falls) August 25, 2009 4:06 pm by Bryan Swan - Curly Creek Falls appears to have been partially channeled into a sink between the bridge on FR 90 and the falls. It flows well during the spring and early melt season, but by mid summer it dries out completely now - as you suspected this is likely the result of flooding 6-7 years back because… ...Read More

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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

It’s still there, just seasonal (Curly Creek Falls) November 30, 2009 6:19 am by _Anonymous19 - I've seen it in November twice, and it definitely flows during the winter rainy season. Apparently there's a sinkhole (old lava tube) upstream that diverts the entire dry season flow of Curly Creek before it reaches the falls. ...Read More

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