Dry Falls

Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park / Coulee City / Ephrata / Soap Lake, Washington, USA

About Dry Falls


Hiking Distance: roadside
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2021-06-19
Date last visited: 2021-06-19

Waterfall Latitude: 47.60611
Waterfall Longitude: -119.35153

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Dry Falls is the geological legacy of one of the largest waterfalls ever documented (albeit through geological forensics since no one was actually there and documented it when it happened).

How big of a waterfall are we talking about?

Dry_Falls_032_06192021 - As much of the extent of Dry Falls that I could see
As much of the extent of Dry Falls that I could see

It had a rim that was 3.5 miles wide and 400ft tall, which allegedly would have made it the largest waterfall in the world.

To give you an idea of how this compares to what I call the “Big Three”, Iguazu Falls is nearly 2 miles in cumulative width, Victoria Falls is about a mile wide, and Niagara Falls is nearly 0.6-mile in cumulative width.

While other large waterfalls have disappeared or been severely impacted due to manmade intervention (e.g. Sete Quedas or Guaira Falls), Dry Falls was an exhibition of Mother Nature’s violence.

Experiencing Dry Falls

As far as visiting the Dry Falls, it was pretty much as simple as driving up to the Dry Falls Visitor Center, where there was a fairly large parking lot (see directions below).

Dry_Falls_010_06192021 - If this artist rendition of Dry Falls when it was flowing is accurate, then the overlooks at the visitor center only allowed us to see the horseshoe with protruding buttes on the waterfall's western third of the drawing!
If this artist rendition of Dry Falls when it was flowing is accurate, then the overlooks at the visitor center only allowed us to see the horseshoe with protruding buttes on the waterfall’s western third of the drawing!

Throughout the parking area, we were able to look out at the cliffs that once harbored the massive waterfall, but there was one corner where a lookout protruded further out from the cliffs near a shelter.

On the opposite side of the parking area, there was a visitor center as well as some refreshments or ice cream stands.

During our visit in mid-June 2021, that visitor center was closed (likely due to COVID-19) so we can’t say anything more about what else we could have learned and experienced from within its confines.

In any case, as far as witnessing the view before us, it was hard to wrap our heads around the scale of the Dry Falls, especially since the overlook only seemed to reveal the western third of its overall width!

Dry_Falls_026_06192021 - Julie and Tahia on the protruding part of the overlook area. Note that the butte on the far right side of this picture is the same butte shown in the left side of the drawing shown above!
Julie and Tahia on the protruding part of the overlook area. Note that the butte on the far right side of this picture is the same butte shown in the left side of the drawing shown above!

We couldn’t even see the other two-thirds of its overall width due to an elongated butte or island obstructing the far right side of Dry Falls.

I did notice some vehicles driving an unpaved road within the basin of where Dry Falls once flowed, and perhaps there may be other opportunities or ways to experience the falls, but we haven’t pursued them.

Why Talk About A Waterfall That No Longer Exists?

Technically, Dry Falls shouldn’t even have a write-up on this website since it isn’t really a legitimate waterfall.

Indeed, it’s really more of a geological attraction than a waterfall attraction, but then again, aren’t waterfalls in general also a consequence of the earth’s geology at some point in their history?

Dry_Falls_001_iPhone_06192021 - Looking towards the Dry Falls Visitor Center and some accompanying refreshment stands
Looking towards the Dry Falls Visitor Center and some accompanying refreshment stands

Regardless, I decided to devote a write-up about Dry Falls because it is the geological legacy of one of the largest waterfalls ever documented (albeit through geological forensics).

Of course, using the term “waterfalls” can mean different things to different people because shouldn’t the waterfall have had some permanence when it was flowing in the way that Niagara Falls perennially flows?

However, in the case of Dry Falls, we’re really looking at a blip in the geological time scale because it was pretty much a flash flood for all intents and purposes.

So should ephemeral flash flood waterfalls be considered legitimate?

Dry_Falls_057_06192021 - Julie checking out the more downstream parts of Dry Falls, but we're still unable to see (without a drone or from the elevated confines of the visitor center) the other two-thirds of the waterfall due to the long butte in the way on the topleft of this picture
Julie checking out the more downstream parts of Dry Falls, but we’re still unable to see (without a drone or from the elevated confines of the visitor center) the other two-thirds of the waterfall due to the long butte in the way on the topleft of this picture

I’ll leave that up for debate, but when we drove towards Coulee City, we noticed that there was a dam that actually held up water that would have drained and fallen over Dry Falls!

Therefore, Dry Falls could have actually still been a legitimate waterfall (albeit a much smaller version of its former self) had the dam by Coulee City as well as the Grand Coulee Dam even further upstream not been there to obstruct its flow to the Columbia River.

What Caused Dry Falls?

The prevailing theory of its formation so far is that an Ice Age glacial ice dam held up the Glacial Lake Missoula, which was about the size of Lake Huron covering most of Western Montana.

At some point, the ice dam failed, which released most of the lake’s waters in what seemed like the mother of all flash floods.

Dry_Falls_039_06192021 - The Dry Falls Visitor Center was closed during our visit in mid-June 2021 so we didn't get a chance to gain any more information other than what was available in the signs along the northeastern side of the overlook area
The Dry Falls Visitor Center was closed during our visit in mid-June 2021 so we didn’t get a chance to gain any more information other than what was available in the signs along the northeastern side of the overlook area

It left a geological legacy known as the Scablands throughout Central and Eastern Washington.

Dry Falls is one of the remnants of the Great Missoula Flood, but it was also responsible for a re-route of the ancient Palouse River to its present course resulting in the Palouse Falls.

There is apparently evidence to suggest that the Great Missoula Flood was not a singular event, and that it might have occurred multiple times throughout past Ice Ages.

For more information about this geologic puzzle, there is a well-made video showing a computer simulation of the flash flood event, which you can view here.

Dry_Falls_015_06192021 - Looking across some educational signboards towards the lookout shelter at the corner of the parking lot for the Dry Falls Visitor Center
Looking across some educational signboards towards the lookout shelter at the corner of the parking lot for the Dry Falls Visitor Center

I’ve also found an in-depth article about the Great Missoula Flood from PBS, which you can also read about here.

Authorities

Dry Falls resides in the Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park near Coulee City in Grant County, Washington. It is administered by the Washington State Parks. For information or inquiries about this area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Dry_Falls_002_06192021 - When we first visited Dry Falls in June 2021, we first gravitated towards this shelter probably because it was quite a hot day when we showed up
Dry_Falls_009_06192021 - Context of the western side of Dry Falls with someone at the protruding lookout providing a sense of scale
Dry_Falls_013_06192021 - Looking across the width of the western third of the overall width of Dry Falls
Dry_Falls_019_06192021 - Tahia checking out Dry Falls from the end of the protruding lookout
Dry_Falls_028_06192021 - Another contextual look at the protruding overlook with people at its end while surrounded by Dry Falls
Dry_Falls_032_06192021 - As I walked closer to the visitor center, I tried to capture more of the extent of Dry Falls along the way
Dry_Falls_035_06192021 - Looking towards the Dry Falls visitor center and some refreshment stands to the right of it
Dry_Falls_045_06192021 - Another look at the coulee left behind by the Missoula Flood and the lakes in the distance
Dry_Falls_047_06192021 - In case you're wondering what we got from the refreshment stands at Dry Falls, this picture shows a vanilla bean milkshake, a lemonade drink, and some kind of berry-vanilla sundae
Dry_Falls_053_06192021 - Context of some of the parking spaces closest to the rim of the canyon opposite the walls making up Dry Falls
Dry_Falls_058_06192021 - Context of Julie standing by the canyon rim checking out Dry Falls
Dry_Falls_061_06192021 - Another look at Dry Falls juxtaposed with a rising moon on the topright of this photo
Dry_Falls_063_06192021 - Context of the shade provided by the Dry Falls Visitor Center, which helped to mitigate some of the mid-90s heat during our mid-June 2021 visit


Since we stayed in Ephrata when we visited Dry Falls, I’ll start by describing the driving directions from there.

From Ephrata, we’d drive for about 6.6 miles northeast on the WA-28 to the WA-17 at Soap Lake.

Dry_Falls_050_06192021 - Looking across the parking lot for Dry Falls
Looking across the parking lot for Dry Falls

Turning left onto the WA-17, we then drove another 18 miles to the Dry Falls Visitor Center Parking Lot on the right.

Had we come from Coulee City, then we’d drive about 1.7 miles across the dam responsible for Banks Lake, then we’d turn left onto the WA-17.

Once on the WA-17, we’d drive southwest for about 2 miles before turning left into the Dry Falls Visitor Center Parking Lot.

For some context, Ephrata was 29 miles (a little over 30 minutes drive) southwest of Coulee City, 94 miles (over 90 minutes drive) north of Kennewick, about 123 miles (under 2 hours drive) west of Spokane, and 171 miles (over 2.5 hours) east of Seattle.

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Back and forth sweep of Dry Falls from beneath the visitor center


Back and forth sweep from the end of a protruding overlook towards Dry Falls and the remnant Sun Lakes left within the canyon

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Tagged with: sun lakes, grant county, ephrata, soap lake, coulee city, missoula flood



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