About Panther Creek Falls
Panther Creek Falls is an attractive convergence of waterfalls where Panther Creek and Big Creek converged.
When viewed from the official lookouts, they appeared to me like at least segments with smaller segments draping in between the larger columns of water (depending on waterflow, of course).
That said, I noticed that there may be more to this 50-75ft waterfall than meets the eye.
For starters, I noticed that there was a lot of relatively new infrastructure (primarily to discourage scrambling), which really limited the ways to view the Panther Creek Falls.
In the past, there was evidence of past usage to suggest that people used to scramble and manage to see more of the entirety of this waterfall.
There was even a lower tier that the new official lookouts don’t let you see very well given the foliage obstructions and re-vegetation zones.
So even though this was one of the more impressive waterfalls to be found in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the sanctioned way to experience it made it seem less impressive than it otherwise could be.
Nevertheless, I still found the experience satisfying and well worth the detour from the Wind River Road to reach.
Hiking to the Upper Viewpoint of Panther Creek Falls
From the spacious pullout or parking area (see directions below), I then hiked back about 200ft in the direction that I drove in from to look for the trail descending to the falls.
Eventually, I reached an easy-to-miss trail that descended into the thick vegetated area, where a spraypainted arrow on the pavement also helped to mark the way.
Once on the descending dirt path, in about 350ft, I encountered a signed trail fork, where the right path went to the Upper Viewpoint, and the left path went to the Bottom of the Falls.
Keeping right to go to the upper viewpoint, the path went for another 400ft while partially going along one of the creeks as it descended to the well-fenced upper lookout.
From this vantage point, I was able to see the convergence of the creeks over the Panther Creek Falls, but the lookout was set far enough back from the dropoffs to conceal some of the waterfall’s view.
I’m sure they did this setback in the name of safety, especially with respect to cliff stability, so I had to be contented with the limited experience.
After having my fill of this spot, I retraced my steps to the signed fork.
Hiking to the Lower Viewpoint of Panther Creek Falls
Now, keeping left at the signed fork, the path continued further downstream away from Panther Creek before making a switchback after maybe 0.2-mile.
Continuing the descent from the hairpin turn, the trail descended even more to some stepped switchbacks until eventually arriving at the lower lookout.
Along the way, I noticed that Panther Creek Falls had additional lower tiers, but I couldn’t get a clean look at it due to a lot of foliage obstructing my line of sight.
Like with the Upper Viewpoint, the Lower Lookout was almost surrounded by fencing and signs prohibiting off-trail scrambling.
So from this vantage point, I was able to see the main face of Panther Creek Falls, but any further exploration (and possibly seeing more of the waterfall) was not possible from the sanctioned lookout.
Overall, I spent around 30 minutes to take in both lookouts, but it was an upside-down hike so the hike back up definitely made me sweaty, especially since we were dealing with the onset of an unprecedented heat wave during our late June 2021 visit.
Panther Creek Falls resides in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Carson 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.
I’ll describe the driving directions using Portland as the starting point to drive to Panther Creek Falls since that was how we’ve done it.
First, we had to drive 41 miles east along the I-84 towards the town of Cascade Locks.
Then, we then crossed the Bridge of the Gods, which was a toll bridge crossing over the Columbia River.
Once we were on the north side of the Columbia River, we then drove 6 miles east on Hwy 14 towards the town of Carson, where we took the roundabout onto the Wind River Road.
Once on the Wind River Road, we continued about 5.5 miles towards Old State Road, where we turned right.
We then immediately turned left to get onto Panther Creek Road, where we drove the remaining 7.4 miles to the Panther Creek Trailhead parking on the right.
Note that the Panther Creek Road was a narrow “single-lane” road (as far as American roads are concerned) with no opportunities to pass unless slower drivers stop at pullouts or wider spaces in the road.
Some of those spaces need to be used anyways to let cars going in the opposite direction to scoot by anyways.
Overall, this drive would take under 90 minutes.
For some geographical context, Carson is about 63 miles (75 minutes drive) northeast of Portland, Oregon, 52 miles (90 minutes drive) southeast of Cougar, and 34 miles (under an hour drive) northwest of Hood River.
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