About Franklin Falls
Franklin Falls is a powerful and mist-throwing waterfall right underneath the I-90 highway by the scenic Snoqualmie Pass.
What stood out most to us about this 70ft gusher on the South Fork Snoqualmie River was its popularity.
Upon visiting this waterfall, we could appreciate why this excursion attracted crowds.
After all, we went on a roughly 1.5-mile well-maintained trail (at least 3 miles round-trip) that pretty much followed along the South Fork Snoqualmie River as it was lined with cabins nestled in a cool, evergreen forest.
About half-way up the trail, we encountered a lookout with an intermediate waterfall called the Denny Camp Falls according to my surveyed Gaia GPS map.
Besides, it probably also benefitted from being close enough Seattle and its suburbs, and couple that with the fact that we made our June 2021 visit on a Saturday morning.
Of course, popularity means lots of people, and made us a bit nervous during our visit due to the COVID-19 risk.
There’s a mix of masked and unmasked visitors, and with the threat of increasingly contagious variants of the coronavirus, that made us seek alternative ways to do this hike, which I’ll get to later.
Hiking to Franklin Falls via the Franklin Falls Trail
From the main parking lot (see directions below), we actually had to backtrack about 1/4-mile to get to the actual Franklin Falls Trailhead, which was right across from handicapped parking spots and just past a busy restroom facility.
Once on the trail, it immediately skirted alongside the rushing South Fork Snoqualmie River while generally climbing.
Roughly a half-mile along the trail, we encountered a fenced lookout revealing the bottom part of the Denny Camp Falls, which also flowed on the South Fork Snoqualmie River.
Beyond this waterfall, the trail continued to skirt above the flow of the river while revealing more cascades and rapids (many of which were unseen or difficult to see through overgrowth).
At about another 3/4-mile beyond the Denny Camp Falls lookout (or roughly 1.2 miles from the actual trailhead), we encountered a signed trail junction with the Wagon Road Trail.
There was actually signage at the park recommending taking the Wagon Road Trail back to the start, and we kept that in mind when we would be coming back from Franklin Falls.
At roughly 0.1-mile beyond the Wagon Road Trail junction, we finally descended towards Franklin Falls, which was quite crowded because there was very limited viewing space.
The trail actually kept continuing along a narrow and slippery ledge alongside the South Fork Snoqualmie River thanks to spray from the base of Franklin Falls, but just about all people (myself included) went no further into the spray zone.
It took us around an hour to get from the trailhead to the Franklin Falls, which was about average given the relatively easy, family-friendly trail (for the most part until the viewing area at the end).
However, on the return hike, we did have a choice of going back the way we came or taking the Wagon Road Trail, and we ultimately opted to do the latter.
Returning from Franklin Falls via the Wagon Road Trail
The Wagon Road Trail was a more “inland” forested route that hugged closer to the one-way Franklin Falls Road than the more scenic South Fork Snoqualmie River.
For that reason, we found the trail to be delightfully peaceful and quiet because it lacked people.
Therefore, we were better able to breathe the air as we didn’t have to breathe through our masks, and for that reason alone, I appreciated the forest service’s advice on doing the loop hike in this manner.
At roughly 300ft from the trail junction between the Franklin Falls Trail and the Wagon Road Trail, we encountered some trail signage, which also happened to be near the one-way Franklin Falls Road (NF-58).
The presence of this entry point to get to the waterfall suggested to me that if we had the foresight to park this far along the NF-58 Road, then the hike might only be as little as a quarter-mile round-trip!
That said, since we saw nobody do this (even though it was suggested in the Gregory Plumb book), I suspected that the authorities might have prohibited parking here.
Nevertheless, continuing on the Wagon Road Trail, we pretty much went gently in a downhill direction among a well-shaded grove of tall trees.
At about 0.6-mile from the Franklin Falls Trail and Wagon Road Trail junction, we would traverse the NF-58 Road (there was white paint in a pseudo-crosswalk pattern) to continue the trail.
We’d encounter yet another similar road junction another 1/4-mile or so before continuing down the final stretch as the road paralleled the NF-58 Road.
Finally after roughly 30 minutes or so of doing the Wagon Road Trail, we ended the hike pretty much right back at our parked car, which was only a few paces from the third intersection with the NF-58 Road.
Indeed, with the relatively easy hiking, well-shaded terrain, and gushing river, this hike seemed to be the perfect antidote for the heat wave that the Pacific Northwest was about to face the following weekend of that trip.
Franklin Falls resides in the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest near Snoqualmie Pass in King County, Washington. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about this area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
I’ll first describe the directions from Seattle before describing the directions from Ephrata (which was where we had stayed the night before our visit to Franklin Falls).
Driving from Seattle to Franklin Falls
From Seattle, we basically would have to drive east on the I-90 for about 45 miles towards Snoqualmie Pass.
However, before reaching the pass, we would exit the I-90 at exit 47 for Denny Creek / Asahel Curtis.
Then, we’d head north towards Franklin Falls (I recalled there were signs for it at this point), and we’d take the NF-9034 east towards the NF-5800 Road (Franklin Falls Road).
We’d follow these narrower forest service roads for roughly 2.5 miles before reaching the Denny Creek Camp, where the road became a one-way road shortly thereafter.
We wound up driving this one-way road for roughly a quarter-mile beyond the commotion at the Franklin Falls Trailhead where people were already parallel parking on the left.
There was also a more formal parking lot with marked spaces, but that filled up real fast while also lacked shade which most of the informal parallel parking spaces had.
This was where we started our hike, but as more people showed up, they ultimately parked further along the one-way Franklin Falls Road (some may have parked far enough away to have added an additional mile in each direction!).
Driving from Ephrata to Franklin Falls
Coming from Ephrata, we had to drive south for 18 miles to reach the I-90 west.
From there, we drove for roughly 104 miles towards the Denny Creek exit (and not the Snoqualmie Pass exit, which our GPS kept insisting on).
Once we got off the I-90 ramp, we’d then follow the directions as above to the Franklin Falls Trailhead.
By the way, the reason why you don’t want to get off at Snoqualmie Pass is that the Franklin Falls Road is one-way and you’d be going right to the exit of that one-way road.
Fortunately, if you do make this mistake, there’s signage telling you to return to the I-90 and to get off at the Denny Camp exit.
For some context, Snoqualmie Pass is about 117 miles (under 2 hours drive) west of Ephrata and 54 miles (under an hour drive) east of Seattle.
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