Wallace Falls was a very popular waterfalling excursion as it was well within reach of both Everett and Seattle. It was really a series of three major waterfalls on the Wallace River – Lower, Middle, and Upper – as well as some intermediate cascades along the way. So on just the waterfall scenery alone, it was understandable why this was one of Washington State’s most popular trails, especially on the weekends. Of these waterfalls, the most impressive was the Middle Falls (pictured above), which boasted a 260ft drop followed by some additional cascades said to tumble another 100ft or so. Sometimes this waterfall alone would be referred to as the Wallace Falls though I tended to think of the whole ensemble of waterfalls as such. The first (lower) waterfall contained a few cascades before making a pair of plunges further downstream. The cumulative drop of all the lower tiers (apparently five in all) was said to be 212ft. The last (upper) waterfall was also said to have five drops, but I was only able to spot two of them, which was said to have a cumulative drop of about 100ft (240ft if you count the unseen drops).
In order to get the full experience of most (if not all) of the Wallace Falls, I had to go on a 5.5-mile round trip hike on the Woody Trail Route where about 1100ft of the 1300ft overall elevation gain pertained to the stretch between the Middle and Upper Falls. While most people would stop and turn around at the Middle Falls (a 4.2-mile round trip hike), I found the entire hike to be rewarding as the upper reaches of the trail provided views of the Skykomish River Valley from the top of the Middle Falls (in good weather, of course) in addition to the upper waterfalls. I managed to experience the entire excursion on two separate occasions – once during a rainy day in late May when the Wallace River swelled and the waterfalls were gushing, and another time during late July on a warm and sunny Summer day when the falls exhibited a more graceful character while panoramic vistas opened up before me. Indeed, the differing conditions made for a pretty unique experience each time I’ve done this.From the pretty spacious parking lot at the trailhead, I initially had to walk beneath a clear cut area dominated by high voltage power lines. The buzz from the current racing through the transmission lines overhead was a little unnerving, but it also provided an interesting panorama by a picnic table just before the trail veered back into the forest. Almost immediately back in the forest, the trail had split into the Railroad Grade and the Woody Trail shortly after a sign with some wise words from the English poet William Wordsworth. I kept to the right to continue on the Woody Trail as it initially descended towards the banks of the Wallace River. And shortly after the trail bottomed out, there was a signed junction where a spur trail led to the so-called Small Falls Interpretive Site, which was dry during my latest visit in August.
For much of the next 1.2 miles, the trail gently meandered and climbed amidst a forested canopy where trees seemed to have mossy hairs growing out of their limbs attesting to how moist this area tended to be. I eventually reached a picnic shelter and some more signposts pointing the way to the Lower Wallace Falls spur as well as the continuation of the trail towards the Middle Wallace Falls, and the Greg Ball Trail towards Wallace Lake. In good weather, I was able to catch my first glimpse of the Middle Wallace Falls further upstream from some intermediate cascades that tumbled before me. The spur trail continued descending towards a dead-end beneath the picnic shelter, where the last two plunging drops of the Lower Wallace Falls could be seen (though I was upstream from the very last drop so that one was difficult to see satisfactorily).Next, the trail started to climb for the next quarter-mile before I reached the fenced lookout for the Middle Wallace Falls (roughly a 500ft cumulative elevation gain from the parking lot to this point). This was the vantage point yielding the photo you see at the top of this page. As you can see, it featured the entirety of the Middle Falls with its impressive 260ft plunge as well as some cascades immediately downstream from it. These drops blended in with each other when Wallace Creek was rain swollen during my first visit here, but the distinct sections could clearly be seen when I made my return later in the Summer. Anyways, with no real opportunity to safely get closer to the bottom of this section, this view was the turnaround point for most hikers. Pushing forward from here began the steepest part of the trail as it switchbacked its way towards the top of the Middle Falls, ultimately climbing an additional 800ft when it would eventually reach the Upper Falls.
The trail briefly veered away from the Wallace River as the scenery became more tranquil as I climbed my way up the well-forested terrain with some stepped sections in addition to the switchbacks. Towards the top of the switchbacks, there were a couple of spur trails leading to two separate lookouts near the top of the Middle Wallace Falls. The first one focused just on looking down at the main drop of the Wallace Falls, but the second lookout presented a nice panorama of the Skykomish River Valley as well as a different partial view down at the brink of the Middle Wallace Falls.
The last 3/4-mile stretch of trail beyond continued climbing up more switchbacks in a well-forested setting once again departing from the Wallace River in favor of the temperate rainforest settings. Eventually, the trail veered back towards the Wallace River where there was another fenced overlook peering right at a pair of the drops of the Upper Wallace Falls. In order to see the bottom of this drop (at least without needing to hop the barricade), I had to stand a bit on the fence and look down. While the trail was said to continue past the Upper Falls towards Wallace Lake, this was my turnaround point. Some additional signs here also warned of venturing beyond this point too late in the day or being unprepared for wilderness conditions as the next section was where most hikers would get lost, especially if it got dark.
When all was said and done, it took me around 3 hours each time I’ve done this hike. Back in May 2006 when I first did this hike, I had no trouble with crowds nor finding parking, but that was because it was raining pretty hard and the trail was quite muddy while the Wallace River was raging with a lot of brown from the erosion of the river’s banks. In July 2017 when I next did this hike, I had gotten an early start so I also had no trouble finding parking. That said, when I returned to the trailhead at the conclusion of the hike, the parking lot was completely full and there were many more people on the trail. The morning sun was also shining directly against me for both the Middle and Upper Falls views so I’d imagine the lighting would be better in the afternoon. Of course, that would also mean contending with the limited parking and more people on the trail. So I guess you can’t really have it all on this excursion unless you were willing to stay here all day after an early start.
The Wallace Falls State Park is near Gold Bar. I’ll describe the driving directions from Issaquah since both times I’ve done this hike, I’ve made the drive from there. This route also encompasses the more popular starting points in Seattle as well as Everett).
So coming up from Issaquah, I drove west on the I-90 for a little over 7 miles towards the I-405 north near Bellevue (note this junction was about 5.5 miles east of downtown Seattle along the I-90). I then followed the 405 north for a little over 11 miles towards the exit 23 to merge onto the WA-522 highway. Then, I continued on the 522 northeast for about 14 miles towards the US-2 (Stevens Pass Hwy). Note that this junction between the 522 and the 2 was about 15 miles east of Everett along the US2.
Turning right to go east on US2, it was pretty much surface streets for the remaining 15 miles as it would eventually enter the town of Gold Bar. Following a brown sign pointing the way to Wallace Falls State Park, I then turned left onto 1st Street before turning right onto May Creek Rd less than a half-mile later. Continuing on May Creek Rd, I then encountered a fork at about 3/4-mile. I kept left at this fork to continue the remaining 0.6 miles to the parking lot for the trailhead.
Overall, this drive took me a little less than 75 minutes. While the parking lot was spacious, it filled up quickly (especially on the weekends) so I’d recommend getting an early start. I also had to pay for the Discovery Pass at the electronic kiosk, which costed me $10/car. As far as I knew, they didn’t accept my Interagency Pass (formerly the National Parks Pass) at this park.
Finally for some geographical context, Gold Bar was 29 miles (a little under 45 minutes drive) east of Everett, 46 miles (about an hour drive) northeast of Seattle. Seattle was 173 miles (over 2.5 hours drive) north of Portland, Oregon, 143 miles (about 2.5 hours drive not counting border crossing delays) south of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and 1,137 miles (17 hours drive) north of Los Angeles, California.
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