Palouse Falls appears like magic. The drive into Palouse Falls State Park crosses a broad grassy plain where you would never expect to find a waterfall. At the end of the dusty road, the land opens up to reveal a beautiful scene. A 180-foot waterfall plunges from the basalt wall of a gouged-out canyon. A short, 0.15-mile round trip walk explores a clifftop viewpoint with great perspectives of Palouse Falls and the canyon framing the Palouse River. A picnic area and small campground are also available by the trailhead.
Located in Eastern Washington, near the town of Connell, Palouse Falls State Park is home to the state’s official waterfall. The only road into the park, Palouse Falls Road, ends at a parking area by the waterfall.
Walk west on a trail down a flight of steps to the canyon rim. The railing extending to the left and right provides clifftop safety. Walk in both directions for views of Palouse Falls and looks down the Palouse River as it weaves its way toward the Snake River. Sheer cliffs of columnar basalt on the opposite side of the canyon add even more drama to the scene.
Just up the river from the viewpoint, Palouse Fall makes a thundering single drop into a round, raucous plunge pool. The height of the waterfall and pool change with fluctuations in the flow of the Palouse River, keeping the drop around 180 feet. See more water spilling over the waterfall during the wetter months from November to April.
Rainbows can hover in front of the waterfall when the sun is out and the waterfall is exhaling massive amounts of water droplets. Around sunset, the canyon is bathed in golden light (for extra beautiful waterfall photographs).
Geology of Palouse Falls State Park
A sign by the trailhead explains the Palouse Falls is part of a grand ‘floodscape’ carved by the Missoula Floods.
Raging Ice Age floodwaters carved spectacular features throughout Eastern Washington, creating unique landscapes. … As floodwaters rushed across Eastern Washington, they followed existing rivers and streams until they overwhelmed them. They then found their own way toward the ocean, going over or around large obstacles and carving new routes wherever they could.
The basalt cliffs around Palouse Falls were formed by volcanic eruptions many millions of years ago. The Ice Age Missoula Floods spread across Eastern Washington (and down the Columbia River Gorge) about 13,000 to 15,000 years ago, carving out the canyon where the Palouse River now flows.
Getting closer to Palouse Falls
Paths from the parking area lead to the brink of Palouse Falls and other perspectives of the waterfall. These trails are not maintained and their use is discouraged. A sign near the parking area warns:
Travel beyond this point is on unmarked, potentially hazardous trails. Users assume all risk associated with travel beyond this point. Rescue costs will be at the expense of the injured party.
Bad falls and deaths happen far too frequently, so exercise appropriate caution. Washington State Parks are in the process of generating a trail plan to create safer access to more of Palouse Falls State Park’s 105 acres.
Camping at Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls State Park has a parking area-adjacent campground with 11 numbered tent sites. RVs and trailers are not allowed to park overnight in the parking area, so this campground is for tent camping only. The campsites are considered “primitive” and require short walk-ins of around ten yards from the parking spaces to the area where the campsites are clustered. One of the sites is ADA accessible.
Each campsite has a picnic table, a fire ring, and grassy plots for tents. The campground has a vault toilet. Drinking water is available from April through October, but the spigots run dry in the colder months.
Eight people are allowed per campsite, but the sites are really designed for groups half that size with one or two tents. Multiple nights are allowed. Check-in time is 2:30 p.m. and check-out time is by 1 p.m. The cost for each site, including parking for one vehicle, is $12. Additional vehicles can be added for $10 (prices as of 2018). Reservations are not accepted, so these sites are first-come first-served.
Dogs appear to be welcome in Palouse Falls State Park. A Day Use Fee of $10 per vehicle is charged to visit the park. Washington State Parks annual Discover Pass can also be used.
To get to the trailhead: From Walla Walla (1 hour 15 minutes), drive north on Washington 125. After 2.4 miles, turn left onto Harvey Shaw Road. Drive 15.8 miles and cross Washington 124, where the road changes its name to Lyons Ferry Road. Drive north for another 26 miles and turn left onto Washington 261. Travel 6.3 miles and turn right onto Palouse Falls Road, following signs for Palouse Falls State Park. Drive 2.3 miles up this rough dirt road to the parking area by the viewpoint and campground.
From Spokane (1 hour 45 minutes), travel southwest on Interstate 90 for 60 miles. In Ritzville, take exit 221 for Washington 261. Turn left at the end of the ramp and travel south on Washington 261 for 33.4 miles to an intersection where there road ahead becomes Washington 260. Turn left to stay on Washington 261. Drive another 8.7 to an intersection with Palouse Falls Road and turn left, following signs for Palouse Falls State Park. Drive 2.3 miles up this rough dirt road to the parking area by the viewpoint and campground.
From The Dalles, Oregon (3 hours 15 minutes) — which is 75 miles east of Portland — travel east on Interstate 84 for 95 miles to exit 179 for Interstate 82. Go northwest on Interstate 82, following signs for Umatilla. Cross the Columbia River into Washington. After 30 miles on Interstate 82, take exit 113 onto Route 395 North toward Kennewick. Drive through the city for 7 miles and make your way onto Interstate 182, heading east toward Walla Walla. In just 1.5 miles, turn right and go around the ramp to travel northbound on Route 395. Drive 32 miles to the exit for the town of Connell. At the end of the offramp, turn right onto Washington 260. Drive 24 miles to Washington 261 and turn right. Take Washington 261 for 8.7 miles and turn left onto Palouse Falls Road, following signs for Palouse Falls State Park. Drive 2.3 miles up this rough dirt road to the parking area by the viewpoint and campground.
Trailhead address: Palouse Falls Road, LaCrosse, WA 99143
Trailhead coordinates: 46.6637, -118.2275 (46° 39′ 49.3″N 118° 13′ 39″W)