About Harmony Falls
Harmony Falls was a waterfall that drastically changed its appearance as a result of the major eruption of Mt St Helens in May 1980.
It was once a 50ft waterfall dropping directly into Spirit Lake before the eruption buried it (the lake level rose 200ft) and resulted in a reduced cascade of similar height set further back from the eerie lake.
Prior to the eruption, Harmony Falls was surrounded by old growth forest while accompanied by an accommodation called the Harmony Falls Lodge.
With the altered landscape in the wake of the eruption, it is likely to change even more given the erosion caused by its creek as it slowly cuts into the newly-introduced debris as the water charts its new course back to Spirit Lake.
Case in point, an old photo in Gregory Plumb’s book showed a view looking across Harmony Falls in a barren landscape towards Mt St Helens with people standing on a lot of loose rock and debris.
However, when I made my visit in late June 2021, I wasn’t able to get the same view.
This was due to significant vegetation adjacent to the stream while the debris field that people once stood on has worn down to its underlying hard-rock layer.
Who knows what shape this waterfall will take as the landscape continues to change?
Hiking to Harmony Falls
To experience Harmony Falls, I had to do a rather steep upside-down hike from the Harmony Viewpoint (see directions below) to the waterfall on an established trail called the Harmony Trail #224.
It immediately started its descent into the vegetation from the northeast side of the parking lot and made its 700ft descent over a length of 1.2 miles (or at least 2.4 miles round-trip) according to my GPS logs.
When I did this trail in late June 2021, there was a lot of vegetation on the trail including poison oak, which attested to how much moisture draining towards the waterfall was present.
Some of the vegetation (including trees) seemed to have been bent sideways making me wonder if there might have been an avalanche or some severe winds caused by the pyroclastic flow that fateful day over 40 years ago.
Even though I made my hike on a hot day (right at the onset of an unprecedented heat wave in the Pacific Northwest), I made the mistake of unzipping the legs of my hiking pants and managed to get poison oak exposure on my shins.
The thick vegetation persisted for roughly the first 3/4-mile of the hike, but within that stretch, there was a small, springfed waterfall where I was able to dip my head into for a real refreshing “shower” to cool off.
When the vegetation opened up and the descent became less steep, I was able to look in the distance to the southwest towards Mt St Helens.
Since I did the Loowit Falls hike prior to doing the Harmony Falls hike, I was able to spot the tall waterfall from here.
Looking towards the north, I was able to spot a fairly sizable cascade draining the snowmelt from the so-called Norway Peaks to the mouth of Spirit Lake.
I didn’t have a map identifying that waterfall by name, but it was definitely noteworthy in my mind.
Finally at around 1.2 miles, the trail made a couple of switchbacks.
On the first of those switchbacks, I managed to get sweeping views across Spirit Lake, but on the second of those switchbacks, I was pretty much standing next to the main section of the cascading Harmony Falls.
Beyond Harmony Falls, the trail continued its descent towards the shore of Spirit Lake where the path disappeared and pretty much became a do-at-your-own-risk scramble on the driftwood.
However, I did spot one logjam that allowed me to carefully traverse Harmony Creek and onto a debris basin directly opposite the small, inviting plunge pool of Harmony Falls.
Once I had my fill of Harmony Falls, I quickly learned that hiking back up to the trailhead was the hardest part of this excursion.
It took me 40 really sweaty minutes without stops to do that while it only took me 30 minutes with many photo stops on the way down.
Harmony Falls resides in the Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument, which is within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Cougar 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.
From Portland, I drove the I-5 north for about 29 miles to the WA-503 exit towards Woodland/Cougar.
I then headed east on the WA-503, which became the Lewis River Road en route to Cougar, and I followed this road for about 47 miles.
Near the headwaters of the Swift Reservoir, I then kept left to go onto the NFD-25 Road, and I took this road for the next 25 miles.
Note that the NFD-25 Road seemed to have a slot of surprise dips as I suspect that many parts of the road were sinking so you may have to slow down to avoid catching air on some of those dips (I’m not kidding!).
Eventually, the NFD25 Road intersected with the well-signed NF-90 Road (Windy Ridge Road) on the left, and I took this road for roughly 13 miles to the Harmony Viewpoint Parking Lot on the right.
Note that the Windy Ridge Viewpoint Parking Lot is at the end of the Windy Ridge Road in another 2.7 miles.
Overall, this drive took me about 3 hours.
Note that I could have also taken the I-84 east to the Wind River Road via Cascade Locks and Carson from Portland, but that 127-mile drive would take about 3.5 hours plus require a toll to cross the Bridge of the Gods.
As for geographical context, Cougar is about 54 miles (about 90 minutes drive) northwest of Carson, 58 miles (over an hour drive) northeast of Portland, Oregon, and 172 miles (3 hours drive) south of Seattle.
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