The Northwest has an abundance of water and mountainous terrain. It’s natural that these would combine to create some of the most scenic waterfalls in the US. This listing represents the best of these, and attempts also to include a variety of styles and experiences, everything from waterfalls you can walk behind to a waterfall that you have to wade through a slot canyon to view. It’s perhaps a bit foolhardy to attempt a list such as this, so be sure to chime in and let us know what waterfalls you deem the best in the Northwest.
The name “Toketee” implies that there is a magnificent gracefulness in which the water plunges into to the deep turquoise pool below. Toketee is the Chinook word for graceful and there is something iconic about
the columnar basalt that creates two tiers of this waterfall from the North Umpqua River. A short hike, less than three-quarters of a mile, is relatively easy with several stairs that lead to an overlook deck for viewing.
The river is regulated due to a powerhouse downstream, allowing for a consistent, steady flow of the falls year-round. The trailhead is located off of Highway 138 near Roseburg via Forest Road #34.
Photo by Bala Sivakumar CC BY 2.0 License
You’d be hard-pressed to find a waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge that isn’t impressive, but there are a few gems that standout. A dense forest of lavish greenery and old-growth trees lines the trail to Elowah Falls, which is roughly a two-mile hike, round-trip. The trailhead can be found in the John B. Yeon State Park entrance. Follow signage for trail #400 that runs east. Just past the junction to McCord Creek Falls, the trail begins to descend into the McCord Creek gorge to the bottom of Elowah Falls. Coming around the corner into the waterfall’s grotto, the waterfall literally leaps from the cliff into the amphitheater below.
The Deschutes National Forest boasts some of the most exquisite scenery in the Northwest. Tumalo Falls, just 12 miles west of Bend, is a shining example of the beauty central Oregon has to offer. The silky, 97 foot waterfall plummets into a wide canyon that puts on a spectacular show of seasonal color spring through autumn. A short, quarter-mile hike will take you to an overlook above the falls but there are multiple other trails and waterfalls in the vicinity so plan for some time to explore.
More Information (US Forest Service)
7Lower Lewis River Falls
Lower Lewis River Falls features a very impressive, wide cascade that delicately cascades down a wall about 200 feet across and is the most dramatic of several falls along this section of river. Easily accessible and mainly flat, the trail leading to the Lower Lewis River Falls is lined with old-growth fir, cedar, and wildflowers. From Cougar, Washington, drive east on Highway 503 for 20 miles. Turn left on Road 9039 and follow this road for three-quarters of a mile to the parking area located on the south bank of the river. Cross the bridge to reach the trailhead.
A smooth ribbon of water at the end of a moss and fern-laden slot canyon that requires those who want to see this waterfall to wade through numbingly cold northwest water — what’s not to love? Oneonta Falls belongs on the list of best waterfalls, not only because it is a beautiful waterfall, or because the world within its slot canyon can feel like its own world, but also because of the adventure required to see it. The “trail” itself requires that you hike upstream because the creek is the trail.
To access the trailhead, take I-84 to exit #35/Ainsworth and travel west on the Historic Columbia River Highway for approximately two miles. East of the Oneonta Tunnel, on the left, you’ll find the Oneonta Gorge.
Said to be the most photographed waterfall in the Pacific Northwest, Punchbowl Falls is a popular stop along Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge. Its unique shape, depicting a ladle being dipped into a punch bowl, and clear, pristine water make it a favorite destination among many. The hike to the falls is relatively short. The path is well-groomed and meanders through abundant green forest flora. While swimming in the turquoise pool is common, jumping or diving from the cliff above is prohibited due to varying levels of water.
Situated within the dry terraced canyon lands of eastern Washington, the thunderous Palouse Falls drops 198 feet into a terraced canyon. It is said to be the only waterfall left along a thousands-year old flood path and is Washington’s official state waterfall. A quarter-mile, ADA accessible trail makes viewing easy for families with young children and those with mobility impairments. Additional trails for those seeking some adventure are readily available.
More Information (Washington State Parks)
3South Falls – Silver Falls State Park
Silver Falls State Park is an amazing place, where a moderate loop hike takes hikers past ten waterfalls. The jewel of the park is South Falls, which leaps from a rocky overhang and falls into a pool 177′ below. While most waterfalls cling to a rocky cliff, South Falls is pretty unique in that once it begins to drop, it falls completely free — the rock face actually pulls away, allowing the trail to pass behind the falls and offering an interesting view from behind a waterfall. While this is a pretty unique feature as far as waterfalls go, it’s somewhat common in the park. There are actually several waterfalls that allow you to walk behind them.
To reach Silver Falls State Park, check out the Silver Falls hike here.
A tour of Northwest waterfalls would not be complete without a visit to the stunning Snoqualmie Falls located less than 30 miles from Seattle. Much like our number one pick, Snoqualmie Falls is a popular visit for tourists and Twin Peaks (a popular crime drama in the early 90’s set in a small logging town near the falls) fans alike. The 1.4 mile hike is family-friendly and a good route for beginners. Once you make the 250 foot decent down the trail, you will find yourself at a viewpoint enveloped in a cloud of mist with an unequivocal glimpse of what makes this one of Washington states most popular scenic attractions.
Of course Multnomah Falls had to appear on the list. I know it’s completely obvious and predictable (and overcrowded), but it has to be on the list of best waterfalls…and I’m going to go even further and proclaim it the best waterfall in the northwest. First, it’s the second-tallest year-round waterfall in the US, with an awe-inspiring vertical multi-plunge drop of 620′. It’s also an iconic waterfall — the composition created by the two tiers of falling water, with the arching Benson Footbridge floating between lush greenery is instantly recognizable. Along with other recognizable features like Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, and Crater Lake, Multnomah Falls is part of a group of standout features that help define the Northwest.
Getting to Multnomah Falls is easy, just drive I-84 east from Portland to exit 31 (a left exit off of the freeway). There is a large parking area — once parked, just follow the path under the freeway to the falls and lodge.