Lower Lewis River Falls

Cougar / Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington, USA

About Lower Lewis River Falls


Hiking Distance: 1/4-mile round-trip
Suggested Time: about 30 minutes

Date first visited: 2021-06-24
Date last visited: 2021-06-24

Waterfall Latitude: 46.15461
Waterfall Longitude: -121.87973

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Lower Lewis River Falls (or just Lower Lewis Falls) was one of Julie’s favorites in the state of Washington.

Her opinion was formed mostly because it was wide with good volume, and it had a proper naturesque location thanks to its location deep in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest between Mt St Helens and Mt Adams.

Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_030_06242021 - Lower Lewis River Falls or Lower Lewis Falls
Lower Lewis River Falls or Lower Lewis Falls

With its healthy, perennial flow, the Lewis River dropped about 43ft over a width of about 200ft making it worth the long drive (and short hike) to witness this waterfall.

It has always been on our bucket list ever since we visited this area back in the Summer of 2009, but we never had the opportunity to finally come here until late June 2021.

Therefore, lots of things regarding the conditions and its access have changed, which we’ll get to shortly.

Lewis River Recreation Area (LRRA)

It used to be that accessing the Lewis River Recreation Area only required a Northwest Pass (they also accepted our Interagency Pass) to park the car.

Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_034_iPhone_06242021 - I suspect one of the infrastructure issues prompting the need for a permit system involves addressing sinking roads like what's shown here
I suspect one of the infrastructure issues prompting the need for a permit system involves addressing sinking roads like what’s shown here

However, with the growing popularity and increasing maintenance required for all infrastructure supporting this area’s recreation, the authorities recently implemented a reservation system.

This meant that we had to go on recreation.gov to purchase a parking permit for the trailhead we planned to park at, and then we’d have to show a printout of the permit for an on-duty ranger to check.

This is in addition to the Northwest Pass (which our Interagency Pass was also good for), which is required for all National Forest areas in the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Washington.

When we visited in late June 2021, there were actually two spots where we were checked.

Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_003_06242021 - Parking at the Lower Lewis River Falls required securing a permit when we visited in late June 2021
Parking at the Lower Lewis River Falls required securing a permit when we visited in late June 2021

The first one was at an access road into the general area, and a second one guarded the spur road leading to both the Lower Lewis River Falls Campground and Day Use Area.

We also witnessed one car in front of us get turned back by the first ranger so they definitely take this restriction seriously.

Experiencing the Lower Lewis River Falls

We took a well-developed 1/8-mile path from the Day Use Parking Lot (see directions below), which led to a series of fenced lookouts peering down at the waterfall.

A similar short trail also led from the campground to the same overlooks.

Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_049_06242021 - Looking down across the brink of the Lower Lewis River Falls with a bright late morning rainbow in its mist
Looking down across the brink of the Lower Lewis River Falls with a bright late morning rainbow in its mist

The lookouts to the far left overlooked the brink of the Lower Lewis Falls while the ones further downstream provided a wide comprehensive view looking back upstream at the falls.

As far as lighting was concerned, we were kind of looking against the late morning sun so I’d imagine that early afternoon would be more optimal on a sunny day.

During our late June 2021 visit, we noticed one family figure out a way down to the Lewis River, and then they waded across to an “island” fronting the wide waterfall.

When I did some investigating to see how they got down there, I found an unsigned (and likely unsanctioned) erosion-prone scrambling path just downstream of the lookout with a rest bench at it.

Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_067_06242021 - Looking down at the rather sketchy rope-aided descent into the Lewis River just downstream of the wide waterfall
Looking down at the rather sketchy rope-aided descent into the Lewis River just downstream of the wide waterfall

Even though the scramble didn’t seem too bad, there were a couple of spots with loose dirt and exposed tree roots by a dropoff that made me wonder how much longer it would be before the tree or the ledge would collapse.

At the bottom of the scramble, someone had set up a rope to help get down and up the slippery wet dropoff, which I’m sure wouldn’t be fore everyone (I decided against doing it).

All told, we spent roughly 45 minutes away from the car, but there were other trails that I considered to extend a visit here if not for a record heat wave that cut short any longer hikes that I wanted to do during our late June 2021 trip.

Additional Options for Extending A Visit

One of the things I considered (even though the permit system wasn’t designed for it) was to have my wife drop me off at the Quartz Creek Trailhead and then park at the Lower Lewis River Falls Day Use Parking Lot.

Quartz_Creek_Trailhead_003_06242021 - For a moment, I contemplated hiking from the Quartz Creek Trailhead (shown here) and then hiking down to the Lower Lewis River Falls, but an unprecedented heat wave during our late June 2021 visit nixed those intentions
For a moment, I contemplated hiking from the Quartz Creek Trailhead (shown here) and then hiking down to the Lower Lewis River Falls, but an unprecedented heat wave during our late June 2021 visit nixed those intentions

That would have allowed me to hike along the Lewis River Trail for roughly 3 miles way-one taking in other waterfalls along the way.

According to my surveyed map on Gaia GPS, the named waterfalls on this hike included Taitnapum Falls, Upper Lewis River Falls, Middle Lewis River Falls, Lower Copper Creek Falls, Upper Copper Creek Falls, and the Lower Lewis River Falls.

I’m sure there are other ways to do longer hikes in the area, but this at least gives you an idea of what’s possible.

Authorities

Lower Lewis River Falls resides in the Lewis River Recreation Area, which itself is part of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Cougar in Cowlitz 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.

Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_008_06242021 - Julie and Tahia starting on the short trail headed for the Lower Lewis River Falls
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_010_06242021 - Julie and Tahia continuing on the well-forested trail leading to the Lower Lewis River Falls
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_011_06242021 - As well-maintained the Lower Lewis River Falls was, there were still the odd fallen tree we had to get past
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_016_06242021 - Our first look at the Lower Lewis River Falls
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_017_06242021 - Context of the fencing around the Lower Lewis River Falls
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_022_06242021 - Broad look down at the impressive Lower Lewis River Falls
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_028_06242021 - Long exposure look at the attractive Lower Lewis River Falls
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_033_06242021 - Context of Julie and Tahia enjoying the Lower Lewis River Falls while sitting on a rest bench
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_037_06242021 - Side view of the Lower Lewis River Falls as I headed towards its brink
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_043_06242021 - As I got closer to the brink of Lower Lewis River Falls, I started noticing a rainbow in its mist
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_053_06242021 - When I noticed some people down in the Lewis River in front of the Lower Lewis River Falls, I started to wonder how they got down there
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_059_06242021 - Portrait view of the Lower Lewis River Falls
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_062_06242021 - Looking down at the start of the steep scrambling path leading down to the banks of the Lewis River
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_063_06242021 - Continuing down the steep and erosion-prone use-trail headed into the Lewis River
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_064_06242021 - Clinging to the ledges as I was getting closer to the bottom of the scramble into the Lewis River
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_065_06242021 - This was the rope that someone had set up to get into the Lewis River
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_070_06242021 - When I headed back up, I couldn't help but notice this eroded part of the 'trail' where I wondered how much longer it had before the tree might fall and take the ledge with it
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_074_06242021 - Looking back at the family that made it to the 'island' fronting the Lower Lewis River Falls
Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_006_iPhone_06242021 - Last look back at the Lower Lewis River Falls using the iPhone which did a better job equalizing the contrast given the harsh late morning sun


We drove to (and from) the Lower Lewis River Falls using Portland, Oregon as the base.

So I’ll just describe these routes in this section even though there are many other ways to drive here.

Driving from Portland to the Lewis River Recreation Area via Cougar

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

Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_002_iPhone_06242021 - One of the surprise sections of sinking forest service road on the way to the Lower Lewis River Falls
One of the surprise sections of sinking forest service road on the way to the Lower Lewis River Falls

We then took the Lewis River Road, which became the NF-90 and eventually FS-90 after Cougar, and followed this route for about 62 miles to the Lewis River Recreation Area (LRRA).

Overall, this drive would take at least 2 hours, but we really had to be mindful of suddenly sinking sections of road as we got onto the FS-90.

This seemed to be a problem afflicting the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, especially east of Mt St Helens, as we hadn’t really seen much of this problem elsewhere in our visits.

Driving from Portland to the Lewis River Recreation Area via Carson

From Portland, we would drive east on the I-84 for about 42 miles towards the exit 44 for the US-30 near Cascade Locks/Stevenson.

Lower_Lewis_River_Falls_002_06242021 - Looking across the day use parking area for the Lower Lewis River Falls
Looking across the day use parking area for the Lower Lewis River Falls

We’d then turn right onto the Bridge of the Gods, where there was a toll to cross the Columbia River into the state of Washington.

Next, we’d head east on the WA-14 for about 6 miles before going north on the Wind River Highway for the next 40 miles or so.

Eventually, this road intersected with the NF-90 near Cougar, and then we’d follow the NF-90/FS-90 all the way to the Lewis River Recreation Area.

This drive would also take at least 2 hours depending on the courtesy of slower drivers.

Panther_Creek_Falls_001_iPhone_06242021 - We noticed lots of logging trucks on the Wind River Highway between Carson and Cougar, and often times we have to be patient with them since they tend to move slower given the huge haul of lumber
We noticed lots of logging trucks on the Wind River Highway between Carson and Cougar, and often times we have to be patient with them since they tend to move slower given the huge haul of lumber

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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Sweep covering the Lower Lewis River Falls from a couple of different viewing spots


Checking out the Lower Lewis River Falls with rainbow from near its brink

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Tagged with: lewis river, gifford pinchot, reservations, cowlitz county, cougar



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