About Lower Lewis River Falls
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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