Hiking the PNW: Otter Falls

Ashley Collier // The Watchdog.

As an avid hiker of high peaks and rocky talus slopes, I rarely plan a hike solely to see a waterfall. I’ve been told a great deal of stories about waterfalls found deep in the mountains surrounding Snoqualmie Pass and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, yet I’ve never personally taken an interest in seeking them out. But my opinion changed drastically when my number one hiking buddy took me to see Otter Falls. In all honesty, I was expecting something similar to Twin Falls or Teneriffe; yet I found that Otter Falls is truly unlike anything I’ve seen before. The water rushes nearly 1,200 feet down a steeply-angled granite slope into the crystal clear Lipsy Lake below. However, from the shore, hikers are only able to see the last 500 feet of the falls. Still, the view makes for a perfect spot to picnic before continuing on to Snoqualmie Lake, or back to the parking lot. Rated a three out of five on the Hiking Waterfalls Washington difficulty scale, the trek makes a perfect day adventure for hikers of all ages and skill levels. For both waterfall connoisseurs and avid day hikers, Otter Falls is a must-see.

The 11-mile round trip hike begins at the Snoqualmie Lake Trailhead, located at the very end of Middle Fork Road. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park in the lot, so be sure to bring your yearly pass or purchase a $5 day pass online, prior to heading out. After gathering your things and locking the car, you’ll begin by crossing a paved bridge over Taylor River, then follow what seems to be the remnants of a long-abandoned logging road into the forest ahead. The trail mainly consists of a mellow walk through second-growth forests, with slight inclines here and there but no major thigh-burners. If the weather is ideal, the rugged peaks of Garfield Mountain and Treen Peak are visible to the east, across the Taylor River, and through the towering evergreens. Various creek and river crossings lie along the trail, which, during early spring, tend to be flooded due to snowmelt in the surrounding elevation. Ensure you take the appropriate precautions by bringing a sturdy waterproof pair of hiking boots, and if you’re planning your trip during peak snowmelt, a trusty walking stick or hiking poles. Nearing the last half-mile, you’ll come across a large cairn to the left of the main trail, marking the turnoff toward Otter Falls. From this point, the rest of the hike consists of a steep, but manageable, boot path through the forest towards Lipsy Lake. As you make the crest, the blaring sound of crashing water begins to materialize into the towering waterfall. Surrounded by forest on one side and with a view of Treen Peak to the south, Otter Falls serves as a picturesque landscape surely to amaze visitors. If you’re eager to add to your summer hiking to-do list, be sure to include Otter Falls.