Hiking at Snoqualmie Falls, WA
By Jim Wright
November 11, 2015
Snoqualmie Falls Hike to the base of the falls
Roundtrip: 1.4 miles, 1 to 1.5 hours
Elevation Gain: About 200 feet
Mobility Scale: Not wheelchair accessible and not recommended for anyone with a walking impairment due to the trail incline and some steps on the wooden boardwalk, but good for those who can climb a few stairs on the boardwalk and can walk uphill for half a mile. Alternately, the hike both down and up the hill can be avoided if the lower parking lot is used. See the Driving Instructions to the Secret Parking Lot at the end of this article.
Those who are Moderate on the above Mobility Scale and over five years old will love this hike. If it is dry, tennis shoes will be fine. But in the Northwest it is always best to be prepared for wet weather and mud, especially if there are any clouds in the sky or the weather forecast is a wet one. Also, if not hiking in the summer, be prepared for cold weather. The view of the waterfall from the base of the falls is worth the trip. To bypass the walk down the trail you can also drive to the bottom then walk the boardwalk to the falls from the parking lot. Also, see the Driving Instructions to the Secret Parking Lot at the end of this article.
- Parking at Snoqualmie Falls is free. Usually it’s easier to find parking in the East Parking lot instead of the smaller West parking lot near the Gift Shop.
- A Secret Parking lot exists at the base of the falls near the river. For a quick visit to the falls use this lot then walk to the boardwalk. See the Driving Instructions to the Secret Parking Lot below.
- When it’s rainy or cold be sure to wear hiking boots for the mud. If dry, tennis shoes are OK. A rain jacket is needed for rain but also for the heavy mist from the falls too.
- The trail is super well maintained and almost anyone can hike it who has a little endurance. Plan on stopping to read the forest educational signs along the way if you have the time.
- Bring you camera with waterproof case or cover. It’s misty when lots of water is coming over the falls. Bring a microfiber cloth to wipe your lens if it gets wet.
- There are restrooms at both the top of the dirt trail near the gift shop and at the bottom of the dirt trail in the adjacent parking lot.
- The uphill walk back from the falls takes a little longer, so plan to be back in the parking lot by 4:00 PM in the winter or late fall while it’s still light outside.
- The Salish Lodge, overlooking the falls, also has a gift shop plus a spa, lounge and restaurant. Nice place to visit or spend the night.
While walking the dog this morning I observed black menacing clouds swirling overhead. Maybe not a good day to go hiking with my autistic son Adam. According to the AccuWeather widget on my cell phone, which correctly displayed my location in Issaquah WA – corporate home to Costco – the chance of rain stood at 75%. But hours later, by 10 AM, it was 55%. With improving odds of staying dry, getting Out-N-About with Adam looked good. Still I worried a bit, not a fan of mud. So I offered Adam some trail choices, mostly short hikes. He picked maybe the shortest trail ever. But it was worth it. We gathered our stuff, jumped into my aging Toyota Highlander and headed for a popular trail at one of the most visited tourist destinations in Washington State, Snoqualmie Falls.
Snoqualmie Falls is 268 feet in height per my google research. That’s about 100 feet more than Niagara Falls. Snoqualmie Falls is also only about 15 minutes away from Issaquah, or 35 minutes from Seattle via I-90. It’s an easy trip locals to drive friends and relatives for a visit whenever they’re in town. Snoqualmie Falls has no shortage of visitors each year, up to 2 million. Visiting the falls provides ample opportunities to spend some quality time outdoors walking around, enjoying the scenery and cool mist from the falls, and taking gorgeous pictures.
A small labyrinth of paved paths surround the two observation decks that overlook the falls and the river down below. Additionally, those in-the-know – or just lucky – come prepared to hike the short dirt trail that descends about 200 vertical feet down to the base of the falls. Both the trail and grounds are well maintained by Puget Sound Energy (PSE) which runs the hydro-electric generation plant at the bottom of the falls.
A breezy mist from the waterfall filled the air today. The droplets swarmed like bees from every direction, making even an umbrella worthless. I was glad I had a microfiber cloth to repeatedly wipe dry my camera lens, but nature seemed to be winning this battle.
After viewing the waterfall and snapping some shots from the observation deck, Adam and I headed to the clearly marked trailhead sign as seen in the picture below. The sign’s simple message doesn’t mean that the trail starts a half mile away. No, it means the trail’s distance to the river is a half mile, and the trail starts a few feet away.
Adam found the trailhead sign on the cement path that leaves the observation deck path and heads back to the parking lot and gift shop, which has the restrooms behind it. I was trying to keep up with his long strides so he pointed out the direction for me to follow. See the trail diagram below. Once the pavement ends and dirt trail begins, veer left heading downhill, otherwise you end up near the parking lot. The distance to the falls and back is about 1.4 miles round-trip. That includes the boardwalk distance along the river too.
Snoqualmie Falls is not a serious hiker’s destination, just fun. Even those slightly prepared will find the hike enjoyable on a dry day. Even the locals – who at this time of year can be spotted by their Seahawk hats and jackets – mostly looked unprepared for anything more than just a pleasant short walk. And luckily, the threat of rain was now low, just 40%. Some scattered warming sunbeams appeared and felt so good and bolstered the beautiful fall colors too. But a cold chill remained in the air, so Adam wore his gloves and of course his sun glasses like every Northwest hiker with a bright and positive outlook, rain or shine.
The entire trail turned out to be wide and easy walking, with some endurance required hiking back uphill. This may be especially true for preschoolers or seniors like myself or those who have difficulty walking. The hike is so short though that it’s not a problem. Adam set a good pace for me in both directions.
Most adults and kids that we passed on the trail wore tennis shoes or casual hiking shoes. I personally favor high-top waterproof hiking boots for all hikes should it suddenly get wet. High-top boots help me protect against spraining my ankle and help when treading through water or mud. Adam and I actually saw two women today in high heels on this dirt trail, struggling with their balance going down the hill! They hung onto each other for support doing some sort of tippy-toe dance, which did not appear to be going too well. God help them on their way back up! The path in the picture below looks level, but it’s actually downhill.
After 15 minutes walking downhill the trail reaches the river and there’s a choice: go left or go right?
We went left (southeast) towards the hydroelectric plant where the boardwalk to the base of the waterfall begins. . The giant green pipes that divert water from the falls to turn the generators can’t be missed. Alternately, if you’re adventurous and wish to hike along the river or swim (in the summer) or paddle a Kayak, the river can be reached by going to the right at the sign.
And here’s where that local secret I mentioned above gets revealed. Going to the right at the sign, instead of left to the boardwalk, will NOT get you directly to the falls. However, you’ll immediately see a parking lot and a restroom! Just a 100 feet or so away. Now the restroom is very, make that VERY, important, I know, but the parking lot! What’s that doing here? This lot is worth mentioning because that means many people who cannot walk down the trail have an alternate and easier option to get to the boardwalk that runs along the river to a great view of the falls. There are some stairs on the boardwalk, so it is not real wheelchair friendly, but it’s otherwise flat.
How to get to this lot is not obvious if driving. No signs point the way. Be sure to see the section below called: Driving Instructions to Secret Parking Lot at Base of Snoqualmie Falls, WA. Any quick trip to the falls is totally worth it! Free parking too! So, sometime just escape the upper parking lot crowds and skip both the downhill hike and uphill trek back to your car, just direct your vehicle to the secret parking lot then stroll down the boardwalk. But of course you’ll miss out on some healthy exercise and trail scenery. Guilt trip, I know! Remember to stay dry with a raincoat if lots of water is coming over the falls and the mist is heavy, or it’s raining or snowing. Being prepared is always better than not.
The boardwalk ends when Snoqualmie Falls comes into view. One couple handed Adam their cell phone and asked him to take a picture.
After hiking back up the trail to head home or visit the gift shop, it might be a good time to stop by the Salish Lodge to get one last view of the area and relax a bit before heading home There’s also a gift shop to explore there too. Should you already have reservations for the spa, dinner or spending the night, I’m jealous. Whatever your plans, have fun!
Driving Instructions to Snoqualmie Falls, WA
If you are using a Navigation System the Salish Lodge overlooking Snoqualmie Falls can be used: 6501 Railroad Ave, Snoqualmie WA 98065.
Reaching the amazing Snoqualmie Falls area in the City of Snoqualmie, WA, is an easy drive from Seattle. From the Seahawks’ football stadium (CenturyLink Field) drive east 25 miles on I-90 to Exit 25 (Hwy 18). A 70 mph speed limit starts just pass the City of Issaquah at the 20 mile marker, so if you avoid rush hour traffic your drive time to Exit 25 will be under 30 minutes. At the Exit 25 off ramp’s stop sign, turn left (north) onto Hwy 18 also called the Snoqualmie Parkway. When this road ends turn left onto Hwy 202 which is Railroad Ave. You’ll be there in 45 minutes if driving from Seattle.
Alternately, if coming from north of Snoqualmie like from the City of Redmond, City of Sammamish, or Fall City, use Highway 202 and drive south.
On Highway 202 you will know you are at the falls when you see the Pedestrian Bridge over the highway. There are two free lots. See the picture below. Both parking lot entrances are a few feet north of the Pedestrian Bridge. The larger lot is likely your best option on busy days. That’s the lot on your right when coming from Highway 18 and driving north on Highway 202. If you are visiting or staying at the Salish Lodge that overlooks the falls, there is some limited parking there too. And as a side note, I know the spa, lounge, hotel and dinning at the Salish Lodge are wonderful!
Once parked in the big lot, you must take the Pedestrian Bridge over Hwy 202 to Snoqualmie Falls. The distance from this parking lot to the observation decks is approximately 200 feet and is wheelchair accessible.
Adam stopped on the Pedestrian Bridge on his way to the falls and looked back for a quick wave. Nothing but the wonders of nature awaited us on the other side of the footbridge! But there’s one local secret still to be shared. See the next section. And be sure to read the Out-N-About with Adam section above.
Driving Instructions to Secret Parking Lot at Base of Snoqualmie Falls
How can you get to the Secret Parking Lot at the base of the falls? First, see the Driving Instructions above to Snoqualmie Falls to get close. Once on Hwy 202 you have an alternate option that I’ll try to explain here. However, if you have a Navigation System you can use the address: 37540 SE Fish Hatchery Rd, Fall City WA 98024.
If you are driving north towards the falls on Railroad Ave (from Snoqualmie Parkway), just keep driving past the Salish Lodge and past the entries to the Snoqualmie Falls main parking lots by the pedestrian footbridge. Keep driving another mile north to 372nd Ave SE, then turn left (west). See the sign below which is on the east side of the road. Note that Railroad Ave becomes the SE Fall City Snoqualmie Road.
If coming from Fall City on the SE Fall City Snoqualmie Road, you’ll be looking for 372nd Ave SE about a mile before reaching the falls, then turn right (west). Look for the same street sign as shown below.
Once on 372nd Ave SE, keep driving for another mile and veering to the left and over the bridge (with the Dead End sign) onto SE Fish Hatchery Road.
Keep driving on SE Fish Hatchery Road until you reach the parking lot. Head towards the restroom at the far end of the lot. From there the Snoqualmie Falls Hydroelectric plant can be seen, which is where the boardwalk to the falls begins. See the Out-N-About with Adam section above for more details about the boardwalk.