Harmony Falls

Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument / Gifford Pinchot National Forest / Cougar, Washington, USA

About Harmony Falls


Hiking Distance: at least 2.4 miles round-trip
Suggested Time: about 90 minutes

Date first visited: 2021-06-25
Date last visited: 2021-06-25

Waterfall Latitude: 46.28166
Waterfall Longitude: -122.11681

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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.

Harmony_Falls_072_06252021 - Harmony Falls
Harmony Falls

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.

Harmony_Falls_057_06252021 - Looking down across the rivuleted cascade of Harmony Falls. Notice that the presence of thick vegetation to the top of this photo prevented me from getting this waterfall and Mt St Helens together in a single photo as shown in Plumb's book
Looking down across the rivuleted cascade of Harmony Falls. Notice that the presence of thick vegetation to the top of this photo prevented me from getting this waterfall and Mt St Helens together in a single photo as shown in Plumb’s book

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.

Harmony_Falls_098_06252021 - Within the thick vegetation surrounding the Harmony Falls Trail, I couldn't help but notice sideways trees suggesting something like an avalanche, landslide, or severe winds might have pushed them in this manner
Within the thick vegetation surrounding the Harmony Falls Trail, I couldn’t help but notice sideways trees suggesting something like an avalanche, landslide, or severe winds might have pushed them in this manner

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.

Harmony_Falls_037_06252021 - Looking towards a notable cascade beneath the so-called Norway Peaks from the Harmony Falls Trail
Looking towards a notable cascade beneath the so-called Norway Peaks from the Harmony Falls Trail

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.

Harmony_Falls_046_06252021 - Context of the Harmony Falls Trail and Mt St Helens across the eerie Spirit Lake
Context of the Harmony Falls Trail and Mt St Helens across the eerie Spirit Lake

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.

Harmony_Falls_047_06252021 - Context of the final descent to Harmony Falls and the field of driftwood that I exploited to access the waterfall's plunge pool
Context of the final descent to Harmony Falls and the field of driftwood that I exploited to access the waterfall’s plunge pool

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.

Authorities

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.

Harmony_Falls_106_06252021 - This was the view towards Spirit Lake from the Harmony Viewpoint, which was also the trailhead for the Harmony Trail
Harmony_Falls_001_06252021 - Starting on the steep descent towards Harmony Falls from the Harmony Viewpoint
Harmony_Falls_003_06252021 - Going past this seemingly out-of-place red rock at the start of the Harmony Falls hike
Harmony_Falls_004_06252021 - Unlike the Loowit Falls hike, which was constantly exposed to the sun in a barren landscape, the Harmony Falls hike was very lush
Harmony_Falls_005_06252021 - With all this vegetation along the Harmony Falls hike, I also had to be mindful of poison oak exposure
Harmony_Falls_009_06252021 - One of the switchbacks on the fairly steep descent to Harmony Falls, which I knew I had to ascend on the way out
Harmony_Falls_013_06252021 - Teasing glimpses of Spirit Lake while doing the descent to Harmony Falls
Harmony_Falls_015_06252021 - Looking towards the mouth of Spirit Lake and the Norway Peaks with some cascade beneath them
Harmony_Falls_016_06252021 - Continuing down the lush Harmony Trail, but the exposure to poison oak seemed to be a constant thing on this excursion
Harmony_Falls_017_06252021 - Context of more teasing glimpses of Spirit Lake amid the poison oak and thick vegetation flanking the Harmony Trail
Harmony_Falls_018_06252021 - Some springs trickling down towards the Harmony Trail at around a half-mile from the Harmony Viewpoint
Harmony_Falls_002_iPhone_06252021 - This refreshing spring would turn out to be quite the cold shower to cool off from the hot climb back up from Harmony Falls
Harmony_Falls_021_06252021 - Still more vegetation along the Harmony Trail. You can see why I made a mistake not putting the pant legs back on my hiking pants when I did this hike in late June 2021
Harmony_Falls_027_06252021 - Once I got below the thickly-vegetated part of the Harmony Trail, it then traversed this fairly open field
Harmony_Falls_032_06252021 - Throughout the open field, I was able to get a look at Mt St Helens. I couldn't help but notice that everything in the line-of-sight of the blast zone of the volcano pretty much was barren, which attested to which parts were protected by ridges and which parts were totally exposed to the forces of Nature
Harmony_Falls_034_06252021 - I couldn't help but notice these circular flowers blooming besides the Harmony Trail
Harmony_Falls_038_06252021 - Spirit Lake getting closer as the open part of the trail eventually started to descend once again over a couple of switchbacks
Harmony_Falls_042_06252021 - Context of the Harmony Trail approaching Spirit Lake with views of Mt St Helens
Harmony_Falls_052_06252021 - Finally making it down to what's left of Harmony Falls
Harmony_Falls_059_06252021 - Looking across the brink of the new main section of Harmony Falls from the second switchback
Harmony_Falls_062_06252021 - This was probably the most direct view that I could get of Harmony Falls from the Harmony Trail
Harmony_Falls_065_06252021 - As I hiked towards the end of the Harmony Trail beyond Harmony Falls, I noticed that there was a logjam that provided me a chance to traverse the creek without getting wet
Harmony_Falls_072_06252021 - After getting past the logjam, I managed to get this frontal view of Harmony Falls across its small but inviting plunge pool
Harmony_Falls_077_06252021 - One family managed to get all the way to the shores of Spirit Lake, where they carefully scrambled on the driftwood lining its shores
Harmony_Falls_078_06252021 - This was my view towards Mt St Helens from the driftwood-lined shores of Spirit Lake at the end of the Harmony Trail
Harmony_Falls_089_06252021 - Going back across the open field after having had my fill of Harmony Falls and Spirit Lake
Harmony_Falls_092_06252021 - About to make the hot and steamy climb back into the vegetation to regain the Harmony Falls Trailhead
Harmony_Falls_093_06252021 - Now sweating it out on the uphill hike to regain the Harmony Viewpoint
Harmony_Falls_094_06252021 - Approaching the refreshing spring where I dipped my sweaty head into the cool water for momentary relief before resuming my climb back up to the Harmony Viewpoint
Harmony_Falls_096_06252021 - Still climbing on the Harmony Trail back to the Harmony Viewpoint
Harmony_Falls_102_06252021 - Finally making it back to the Harmony Viewpoint thereby ending my Harmony Falls visit in late June 2021 where I immediately looked forward to the AC in the rental car


Like I did with the Loowit Falls hike, I’ll describe the driving directions for the route that I used to get there from Portland.

From Portland, I drove the I-5 north for about 29 miles to the WA-503 exit towards Woodland/Cougar.

Harmony_Falls_001_iPhone_06252021 - On the Windy Ridge Road, I had to be very mindful of places where the road was sinking during my late June 2021 visit
On the Windy Ridge Road, I had to be very mindful of places where the road was sinking during my late June 2021 visit

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.

Harmony_Falls_105_06252021 - The parking lot for the Harmony Viewpoint, which was also the trailhead for the Harmony Trail
The parking lot for the Harmony Viewpoint, which was also the trailhead for the Harmony Trail

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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Back and forth sweep starting with Mt St Helens and then ending with the rivuleted waterfall as seen from an angle


Sweep starting with Mt St Helens then panning over to the front of Harmony Falls from across its plunge pool


Back and forth sweep of Spirit Lake starting with cascade in the distance and ending with Mt St Helens

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Tagged with: cougar, mt st helens, spirit lake, windy ridge, skamania county, gifford pinchot



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