Pattie Discovers the PNW: Palouse Falls State Park

by Patricia Elwing

Palouse Falls Rd, LaCrosse, WA 99143
Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
(509) 646-9218

As many of you know, and I am discovering…Washington State has some remarkable features created by the Ice Age floods. Having camped alongside the beautiful monolith at Steamboat Rock a few times and hiked to the top for amazing canyon views, I was ready to see more of these huge canyons forged by the Ice Age here in eastern Washington. That said, last month my husband and I travelled to Palouse Falls State Park. Less than a 90-minute drive for us, it was perfect for a day trip. Travelling South on Hwy. 231 through Sprague, then west on Hwy. 90 to Hwy. 261, we drove through Ritzville and Washtucna. As you might imagine we saw quite a lot of wheat fields. Then, suddenly an incredible surprise when out of the rolling wheat fields and desert-like off-road entry, we arrived at Palouse Falls State Park. We were greeted by the powerful sound of a mighty waterfall bordered by a medieval castle-looking rock formation all nestled into a majestic basalt canyon. Gaia is amazing!

The Park is open to public with some restrictions, including no camping. Check for updated information before planning your trip. Here are some facts taken from the site.

“The Palouse River runs through a narrow cataract and drops 200 feet to a churning bowl. From there, the current moves swiftly, through a winding gorge of columnar basalt, to its southern end at the mighty Snake River.
All Washingtonians, visitors to the region and Ice Age floods fans should see Palouse Falls State Park at least once in their lifetime.

Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls

Carved more than 13,000 years ago, Palouse Falls is among the last active waterfalls on the Ice Age floods path. This natural wonder was named Washington’s state waterfall in 2014, when the state Legislature passed a bill written by local schoolchildren, who advocated for the designation.

Palouse Falls is an artist’s dream, and many a painter or shutterbug has set up an easel or camera and tripod to capture the falls in the changing light. Others make the trip in all four seasons, when the water is high, low or frozen, because they understand that once is not enough when it comes to seeing Washington’s own state waterfall.”

Have you ever caught sight of a bird flying from ABOVE the bird? It’s a very special sighting and the overlook offers a great place to do so if the birds cooperate. Matt and I are not photographers, but we tried several times to snap a picture from above our winged friends as they flew below us. Alas, we decided to enjoy the show in real time and enjoy the experience in nature. We believe we were watching two very active Red-tailed Hawks, but there are over 147 species that have been sighted in the area. So, Palouse Falls State Park is also a bird watcher’s paradise.

We took several pictures and video and agree, Palouse Falls is a “must see” for visitors and Washingtonians alike. For us, it will likely be an annual trip to see and hike in every season.

Hiking: Palouse Falls Trail is a 1.4 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Starbuck, Washington that features a waterfall and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking and is best used from February until October. The Discover Pass is required for vehicular entrance to this park.

Overlook Viewing: Located in Franklin County, Washington, the State park was established in 1951. It offers three distinct views of the falls. The lower viewpoint provides a direct view; it is reached by a set of steps from the main day-use area adjacent to the parking lot. The second, at the end of a paved interpretive path, tells the story of the secluded canyon. Both the interpretive path and gravel secondary parking area lead to the third and highest viewpoint, the Fryxell Overlook, offering panoramic views of the falls and Palouse River Canyon. ADA accessible.

Picnic: There are several tables available in day-use are which makes this a great place for a picnic. There are plenty of places to sit on the Earth and soak in grounding energy along the trail. You may wish to stop riverside and snack along the way. If so, be sure to honor the LEAVE NO TRACE principles.

We decided to look for restaurants in nearby Colfax, but many were closed on Sundays, so we settled for a pizza to go (not so horrible). HOT TIP: If you continue on Hwy. 261 into Starbuck, check out Rebecca’s Lodge. I have word from a reliable source their restaurant is fantastic, and it is on our itinerary for the next visit.

Patricia “Pattie” Elwing, moved to Washington State in August 2020.  A West Coast woman, her love for travel and discovering new places leads her around the world and now, around the Columbia Basin and surrounding states.  Watch for “Pattie Discovers the PNW” articles in the Huckleberry Press where she will offer fresh reviews and information about places she visits.  If she sparked a bit of the travel bug in you, leave her a comment below.