The Cascade mountain range is named for them — hundreds of waterfalls, big and small, that cascade down streams and plunge over cliffs, carrying huge amounts of water from winter rains and melting snow.
A giant roaring falls is a five-senses experience, while gentle cascades down a mountain stream will lull you to a tranquil rest.
Read on for nine kid-friendly hikes to waterfalls in Western Washington that never disappoint.
Safety tips: Waterfalls are beautiful but can be dangerous, especially in spring conditions when there has been lots of rain.
Never venture into the direct stream of a large waterfall, as loose rocks often tumble down with the water. Never climb up waterfalls, and don’t let children jump from high rocks into a waterfall’s pool.
If children wish to wade into a shallow backcountry pool or stream to cool off or look for critters, make sure they’re closely supervised and wearing sturdy shoes that can handle loose, slippery rocks.
Most important, always check conditions of trails and roads before your hike — one of the best resources available is Washington Trails Assocation's trip reports, where you can get the most current conditions.
Franklin Falls, Snoqualmie Pass
Important note: As of May 2017, the road to Franklin Falls remains closed.
Distance: Two miles round trip, 400 feet elevation gain, Northwest Forest Pass required to park.
Conditions: Check current conditions and trip reports at the Washington Trails Association website.
Kids will love: Actual ruts of pioneer-era wagon wheels on this history hike.
Highlights: From the trailhead, this short, easy trail runs alongside the old wagon track that led early settlers over the Cascades to lower Puget Sound. The falls are one mile in, but the whole path is scenic as it hugs the south fork Snoqualmie River. There is a dropoff on one side of the trail as you near the falls, occasionally fenced but sometimes not. Hold tight to little ones.
Your hike in finishes with a short, rocky ascent up to the base of the impressive falls, which spill from the top of a sheer rock face and send a fine mist into the air. Watch safely from the edge of the waterfall’s pool without venturing in; loose rocks sometimes tumble down with the water.
The forest service keeps the Franklin Falls trail well maintained, but on the soggiest of days you may be dodging puddles, so wear waterproof shoes. The rocky path near the falls may be icy in winter and not suitable for small kids.
Directions: From Seattle take I-90 east to exit 47. Turn left (north), cross the overpass then make a right when the road comes to a “T”. After a quarter mile, turn left on Denny Creek Road (FS58). Follow this road 2.5 miles to just past Denny Creek Campground and turn left onto a paved road. Parking is on the left and the trailhead is on the right. Note: This is a popular hike and the lot fills up quickly.
Twin Falls, Snoqualmie Pass
Distance: Three miles round trip, 500 feet elevation gain, Discover Pass required to park.
Info: Olallie State Park
Conditions: Call 360-902-8844 and check conditions and trip reports on the WTA website.
Kids will love: Mossy old-growth forest seldom found so close to home, and an exciting footbridge to cross to see the falls.
Highlights: Twin Falls is one of the most popular family hikes in our region for great reason — the falls are beautiful year-round, fed by North Bend’s astonishing 60 inches of annual rainfall! Kids will love the trail leading to the falls from the get-go, as moss-draped trees flank the south fork Snoqualmie River over a ground filled with nurse logs and spring wildflowers (keep an eye out for early blooms of Trillium). At about .75 miles in is the first viewpoint of the falls; let kids stop to rest on one of the benches and consider this a turn-around spot for younger children. One more mile of trail brings you to the trail’s big payoff, a high footbridge over the river right between the two waterfalls.
Directions: Drive I-90 east to exit 34 and turn right (south) on 468th Ave. S.E. After half a mile, turn left onto S.E. 159th and continue another half mile to the trailhead.
Wallace Falls, North Cascades
Distance: 4.5 miles round trip, 700 feet elevation gain, Discover Pass required to park.
Info: Wallace Falls State Park
Conditions: Check conditions and trip reports at WTA.
Kids will love: Interesting steps, turnpikes and switchbacks, much of them built by high-school students.
Highlights: One of the most stunning waterfalls in Washington state, Wallace Falls is the star attraction of this state park, also home to a family-friendly campground with rentable cabins. Wallace Falls comprises an upper, middle and lower falls, first plunging a dramatic 265 vertical feet into a large amphitheater, then churning and tumbling two more times, sending a cool spray in every direction.
Details: From the parking lot, the path to the falls starts under power lines, complete with electrical popping sounds which may or may not be fascinating to your little ones. On a clear day, the view of Baring Mountain and Mt. Index makes up for the hissing wires overhead. You’ll finish this stretch soon enough, though, and come to a junction in the woods. Take a right on the Woody Trail through a fern-shrouded hemlock forest about 1.75 miles to the lower falls, the last portion consisting mostly of stairs and switchbacks. Traverse more switchbacks to get a better look at the middle falls viewpoint, this hike’s turnaround spot.
Directions: From Everett, take US 2 east for 28 miles into the small town of Gold Bar. Turn left onto First street, the signed turnoff for Wallace Falls State Park (it is just before milepost 28.) At a four-way stop, turn right onto May Creek Road and drive 1.5 miles to Wallace Falls State Park.
Boulder River, North Cascades
Distance: Up to 8.5 miles round trip, 700 feet elevation gain, no pass required to park.
Conditions: Check current conditions and trip reports at WTA.
Kids will love: Log bridges crossing small streams, wading in the chilly river, climbing rocks and staying cool on a hot day!
Highlights: If towering, moss-draped trees and pounding waterfalls are your thing, you’ll love this trail because it has plenty of both, gained with very little effort. Winding through one of the few remaining low-elevation, old-growth forests in the Cascades, the lush, seven-mile out-and-back hike passes sword ferns, cedars, and several cliffside waterfalls that plunge into the trail’s namesake river. From the start your ears are filled with the sound of flowing, gurgling water, and this trail hugs beautiful Boulder River most of the way to the trail’s eventual dead end.
Details: The first waterfall, Boulder Falls, is not visible from the main trail. A mile in you’ll enter Boulder Creek Wilderness. At 1.25 miles is the trail’s highlight, Feature Show Falls, a massive twin curtain waterfall that streams down a moss-laden cliff wall. Take a seat on the provided bench and gawk. Just beyond, hike (carefully) down to the river for a perfect lunch spot. Kids will love wading in the river here (on a hot day) and climbing the rocks. For a short hike, turn around here. Otherwise continue through the mossy, verdant wonderland to the trail’s end, have a break on the river bank, and come back the way you came.
Directions: Check current conditions and the best current route at WTA's website and trip reports.
Murhut Falls, Olympic National Forest
Distance: 1.6 miles round trip, 300 feet elevation gain, Northwest Forest Pass required to park.
Conditions: Find current conditions at WTA.
Kids will love: Blooming wild rhododendrons tucked among the ferns.
Highlights: Short and sweet, this trail delivers its reward — an enchanting 130-foot tiered waterfall — in just under a mile of easy walking, likely in solitude. Although the hike is not well known, it is well maintained, and the ascent is gentle enough for small children as the trail is a converted logging road.
Use caution and hold small hands in the final ascent to the falls as the trail gets narrow and there’s a drop-off to one side. This fern-fringed forest is pretty any time of year, but late spring offers a special enticement – blooming pink Pacific Rhododendrons.
Directions: From Quilcene, drive south on US-101 to milepost 310, and turn right (west) onto the Duckabush Road. Drive 6.3 miles to a fork, and veer right another 1.3 miles to the trailhead.
Marymere Falls, Olympic National Forest
Distance: 2 miles round trip, 200 feet elevation gain, no pass required to park.
Conditions Check conditions and trip reports at WTA.
Kids will love: Steps and bridges fashioned from old-growth logs.
Highlights: The Marymere Falls Nature Trail is well trodden by families in search of the 90-foot cascading falls that drop from a notch in a high, sheer cliff. Set off from the parking lot of the Storm King Ranger Station on a paved portion of trail that passes under US-101, then forks off to the left aside a gentle stream through mossy old-growth woods. Be sure to look up – these trees are giants!
You’ll soon come to another trail junction; take a right and cross Barnes Creek on a sturdy bridge built by volunteers with the Washington Trails Association. From here it’s a quick 200-foot climb to the narrow, fern-laden ravine. Falls Creek plunges out of the cliff into a moss-ringed pool near the trail. Take stairs to the right of the falls for a fantastic view near the upper portion.
Directions: Take US-101 west from Port Angeles 20 miles to milepost 228, turning right onto a road signed “Lake Crescent Lodge and Marymere Falls.” Drive 0.2 miles to a stop sign, turn right and park.
Bridal Veil Falls, North Cascades
Distance: 4.4 miles round trip, 850 feet elevation gain, Northwest Forest Pass required to park.
Info: Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, Snohomish County
Conditions: Check current conditions and trip reports at WTA.
Kids will love: Feeling the spray and hearing the roar of the plunging falls
Highlights: The popular hike to this draping cataract waterfall kind of resembles a tiered bridal veil, hence its name. Pack rain jackets even if the sky is blue — you’ll need them below the falls where the air is thick with a refreshing, misty spray. It’s like a natural water park.
Details: The trail to Bridal Veil Falls is also the trail to Lake Serene, the body of water from which the lovely falls are fed. For nearly two miles the path is a gentle old logging road bed flanked by mossy mixed forest of conifers, maple and alder. You’ll cross a few gentle streams on rock steps, so the family should wear waterproof boots (we bring along extra socks too, just in case). Once the path rises from the road bed, a fork in the trail emerges. Hikers bound for the lake go left, but you’ll go right. Over the next .5 miles to the falls, you’ll climb up fairly steep switchbacks and cedar stair steps to reach the base of the falls and the first viewing platform. More stair steps take you to the higher viewing platform and a refreshing shower. Once you’ve soaked up the scenery, turn around and return the way you came. Note: Keep kids close when venturing near the falls and remind them of safety rules.
Directions: From Everett, take US 2 east for 28 miles to the small town of Gold Bar, then continue 7 miles more. Just before the highway crosses over the Skykomish River, take a right onto Mt. Index Road. After .4 miles on this road, take a right onto a side road signed “Lake Serene Trail.” The parking area is just ahead.
Carter Falls, Mount Rainier National Park
Distance: 7 miles round trip, 900 feet elevation gain, National Park entrance fee required.
Info: Mount Rainier National Park.
Kids will love: The cool footbridge that spans a milky, glacially fed river.
Highlights: Most of this trail is wide and flat through a pristine old-growth forest. Marvel at the girth of the ancient Douglas fir and cedar trees here. Hold onto kids’ small hands when crossing the cool footbridge over the Nisqually River, and remind them to look up while midspan on the bridge for a spectacular view of “the mountain.”
Details: There are two beautiful waterfalls on this kid-friendly hike, Carter Falls and Madcap Falls, the latter just a short distance beyond the former and worth the extra steps.
Begin on the famous Wonderland Trail heading east. In summer months you may encounter backpackers hiking the entire 93-mile trek that circumnavigates Mt. Rainier, a journey that takes about 10 days. This family-friendly stretch of the Wonderland starts flat and wide, first alongside the Paradise Road then pulling away into quiet wilderness along the Nisqually River. At about 2 miles, you’ll come back to the road and the Cougar Rock Campground when the trails turns sharply east to cross the wide floodplain of the Nisqually River. After crossing the Nisqually River on the log bridge, the trail hugs the Paradise River for about one mile through the emerald moss-cloaked forest to Carter Falls. After you’ve had your fill at the viewpoint, walk on beyond these falls another 150 feet to see Madcap Falls.
Tip: For a shorter version of this hike (2.2 miles round trip, 500 feet gain) you can skip the first stretch and pick up the trail at Cougar Rock Campground — the trail is accessed from the Paradise Road via a paved pullout 100 yards below the campground.
Directions: Longmire at Mt. Rainier is about two hours from Seattle. Take I-5 south to Tacoma, then drive east on SR 7 to Elbe. From there, continue on SR 706 through Ashford to the Nisqually Entrance to the park where the National Park entrance fee must be paid. After entering the park, continue on Paradise Road heading east 6.5 miles to the Longmire Museum and the National Park Inn. Park in the large parking lot behind the inn. The trailhead is on the north end of the lot, signed for the Wonderland Trail. You want to head east on the Wonderland Trail.
Myrtle Falls, Mount Rainier National Park
Distance: One mile round trip, 100 feet elevation gain, National Park entrance fee required.
Kids will love: Whistling marmots, wildflowers of every color in the crayon box, clear views of real glaciers.
Highlights: If you do this hike in summer, when it's at its best, chubby, frolicking marmots and elaborate fields of wildflowers will captivate your attention for the short jaunt to this postcard-perfect waterfall, fed by water from melting snow off the volcano’s slopes and the Nisqually Glacier. Relatively flat and on stroller-friendly pavement, it’s one of only a handful of barrier-free trails to waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest.
The path to Myrtle Falls begins on the northeast edge of Paradise Inn, and is actually the first stretch of the uber-popular Skyline Trail. By summer, the open meadows flanking the trail are bursting with beauties like avalanche lilies, lupine, valerian, magenta paintbrush, and pasqueflower. Amble along the half mile to the falls, taking in the scenery and pausing for close looks at the many wildflowers. On a clear day, the mountain’s glaciers look so close you feel you might be able to reach out and touch them. Soon the trail crosses a sturdy footbridge directly above the silky cascade of Myrtle Falls. Stay on the trail bridge to look directly down onto the falls, or find the spur trail nearby that takes you down for a closer look.
Pavement ends just past the waterfall, so if you don’t have a stroller and want more of a hike just continue on the Skyline Trail (5.5 miles round trip, 1700 feet elevation gain) as it climbs to a high overlook of Paradise Valley and provides great views of the volcanoes to the south (St. Helens, Adams and Hood), plus a bonus tumbling cascade – Sluiskin Falls.
Tip: The trail to Myrtle Falls is usually accessible by July, like all of the flower trails departing from the Paradise Visitors Center. This winter’s extremely low snowpack is likely to open this area to hikers much sooner, and you can monitor conditions at this webcam or Mount Rainier National Park’s website.
Directions: The Paradise Visitor Center and its surrounding trailheads are about 2.5 hours from Seattle. Take I-5 south to Tacoma, then drive east on SR 7 to Elbe. From there, continue on SR 706 through Ashford to the Nisqually Entrance to the park, where you must pay the entrance fee. After entering the park, continue on Paradise Road heading east all the way to the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center and the Paradise Inn. The trailhead is located on the north side of the upper parking lot, next to the visitor center.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in March 2014 and updated in May 2017.