Just like Cascade peaks, evergreen conifers, and moss-covered everything, waterfalls are an integral component of the Pacific Northwest landscape. But beyond their trance-inducing natural beauty, waterfalls beckon us to them on a primal level. As a potential source of water and food, the sound of a thundering cascade in the distance is an undeniable siren song for many reasons. Situated between Highway 2 and Interstate 90, along with their respective mountain passes, Bellevue sits in the catbird seat for waterfall lovers.
Some of the most renowned cascades in the state are found along the Snoqualmie and Stevens Passes. And there are flavors to satiate all outdoor appetites—family-friendly, drive-up, hike-in, swimmable, and fishable. Additionally, the variance in appearance provided to each of these falls by the changing seasons means there is no bad time to experience them, and you can expect something different every time you go. Here are just a few highlights.
Stevens Pass (Highway 2)
The hike to Wallace Falls is one that every waterfall lover should covet and any hiker can enjoy. It’s an epic outing that showcases nine distinct waterfalls, punctuated by Lower, Middle, and Upper Falls viewing areas. A Cascadian blend of mature firs, hemlocks, and color-changing maples make this a solid choice for spring, summer, or fall. If you do the whole thing, it’s a 5.6-mile out-and-back with 1,300 feet of elevation gain. But the spectacular forest scenery, along with waterfall upon a waterfall, ensure that no matter how far you go, the outing will have been a worthy one. There’s a picnic area at the Lower Falls, while Middle Falls provides sweeping Olympic Mountain and valley vistas, so either would make a good goal and turnaround point. However, if you’re up for more exercise, the final half-mile of switchbacks leading to the Upper Falls will provide it, along with one more awe-inspiring water drop.
Bridal Veil Falls
Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls are a one-two punch combo capable of giving any visitor a nature-induced standing eight count. At 8.2 miles with 2,000 feet of elevation gain, it’s definitely an endeavor for the heartier hiker. With the clear, turquoise waters of Lake Serene as the trail’s final reward, Bridal Veil more than holds its own as it plunges, slides, and tumbles a total of more than 1,300 feet over an imposing granite wall. This is the good stuff. And as such, this trail is justifiably popular, so plan on arriving early or on a weekday, if possible. If you visit in early summer, you’ll be guaranteed trail snacks—the fruits of the salmonberry bushes along the trail ripen around mid-June.
The interpretive, half-mile trail—with an ADA-accessible option—that leads to Deception Falls is great for everybody. It does, however, fly well below the recreational radar of most hikers, which is a real shame. Because just off of Highway 2, an unassuming little rest area is where this easy but magical trail leaves the road noise behind in very short order, immersing visitors in a shaded canopy of moisture-loving western red cedars and hemlocks. A bridge affords a close-up view of the thundering tumult that reaches its peak during the high waters of spring and early summer. What’s not to love?
Snoqualmie Pass (Interstate 90)
Coal Creek Falls
The casual 2.5-mile round-trip saunter that visits Coal Creek Falls makes for a perfect easy day hike or family-friendly outing. A welcoming mix of deciduous and evergreen trees ensure a representative Northwest forest experience in all seasons. Expect spring berries, summer wildflowers, fall colors, and of course, the 28-foot Coal Creek Falls itself, which is at its most robust in winter. Its location within the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildlife Park, where there are a ton of other trails to enjoy, makes it a choice destination, so get there early.
The 2.6-mile round-trip hike to Twin Falls checks a lot of boxes on a hiker’s wish list. In addition to the seasonal flowers, berries, and foliage that seem to come part and parcel with the hikes in and around Bellevue, this one comes with some very big trees and a number of prime summer swimming holes. On top of that, you’ll lay eyes on three drops, despite the Twin Falls billing. But when it’s all said and done, the main falls will likely be the headliner for this hike. The unique cascade veils delicately like liquid ribbons over rock contours in a way that is utterly transfixing.
The native Snoqualmie Tribe considers this to be the birthplace of humanity. And just about anybody who has witnessed the raw power of the iconic 268-foot drop that is Snoqualmie Falls can understand such inspiration. A 0.7-mile interpretive trail to the bottom of the falls stops at viewpoints that assess the falls from top to bottom, with compelling information detailing the flora, fauna, and native history throughout. The gravel path is wide and welcoming to any level of hiker, though bear in mind what goes down must come back up.
As hiking adventures go, it’s difficult to imagine that it gets any better than a warm and sunny out-and-back to a perfect, plunging 70-foot waterfall. And yes, a summer hike to Franklin Falls is all of those things. But when temperatures head south, the amphitheater that the falls dive into becomes a frozen ice palace. Indeed, come winter this is a 2-mile round-trip traction-device hike or snowshoeing experience that is hard to beat with regard to awe factor.
Denny Creek, Keekwulee Falls & Snowshoe Falls
The Denny Creek area lends itself quite well to both intrepid explorations as well as playful summertime recreation. After a little more than a mile of hiking through an ancient old-growth forest, visitors arrive at a time-honored warm-weather destination, the natural waterslide rocks on Denny Creek. Keekwulee Falls requires more hiking (0.7 mile) and a potential creek crossing when safe to do so. And a half-mile beyond that, the trail gets steeper before arriving at the viewpoint of Snowshoe Falls and the turnaround point for a 6-mile round-trip adventure.
Get Your Gear
In Bellevue, it seems nature awaits around every turn, so it is no surprise that it is equally as easy to find retailers ready to outfit you for your outdoor adventures. Here are just a few places to gear up.
Bellevue Square, 1033 Bellevue Square, Ste. 118
Bellevue Square, 1023 Bellevue Square
The North Face
Bellevue Square, 1001 Bellevue Square
410 116th Ave. NE
Bellevue Square, 245 Bellevue Square
Plan Your Adventure
Ready to hit the trail? Before you go, consider a visit to the Washington Trails Association, where you can find detailed directions to trailheads throughout the region along with recent trail reports describing current conditions.