Spectacular Palouse Falls is a 4-hour drive from Seattle in Eastern Washington.
Palouse Falls is one of Washington State's most spectacular sights, formed during Ice Age floods 15,000 to 18,000 years ago.
The 198-foot Palouse Falls cascades from a basalt cliff-top into a deep green plunge pool, surrounded by a majestic canyon.
Visitors have a bird's eye view of the falls from overlooks along the canyon rim, but access is prohibited to the base of the falls.
Palouse Falls is in a remote, rural area in Eastern Washington, 2-miles off the highway down a rough, gravel road. There's no visitor center or food vendors at the falls, and limited restaurants in the local area. Accommodation options are few, although there are some B&Bs like the Palouse Falls Inn. The closest large town is Walla Walla, 1 hour south.
The best time to visit is spring or early summer when the water flow is at its strongest. Make sure you bring bottled water, a hat and sunscreen in warmer months, because it can get super hot here, and avoid visiting in the middle of the day. In winter it's possible to see the falls covered in snow and ice.
A discover pass is required to visit Washington State Parks, or you can pay a day use fee at Palouse Falls.
10 best things to do at Palouse Falls
1. See Palouse Falls from designated viewpoints.
The three official viewpoints overlooking Palouse Falls are just steps from the parking lot, and visitors shouldn't venture any further than this. In February 2022, Washington State Parks permanently closed access to the top of the waterfall, canyon walls, and the plunge pool, because many lives have been lost due to loose rocks and steep drop-offs. Warning signs advise visitors to avoid the unauthorized dirt trails around the top of Palouse Falls, and the steep descent down to the base of the falls.
2. Check out the Palouse River Canyon.
Look downstream at the sweeping vistas across the ancient Palouse River Canyon, carved from the Missoula Floods at the end of the last Ice Age.
See incredible rock formations, like these vertical basalt dikes formed from lava flows millions of years ago.
Early settlers referred to this rocky terrain as the scablands, because it was unfit for farming.
Each row of basalt represents a new lava flow, occuring 5 to 20 million years ago! This is millions of years before the Missoula Floods tore through here, and washed away the topsoil to expose this ancient rock.
3. Visit Palouse Falls after the spring snow melt when the water flow is strongest.
The best time to visit Palouse Falls is in spring or early summer when the water flow is at its strongest after the spring snow melt. Palouse Falls slows to a trickle in mid to late summer.
4. Learn about the incredible Ice Age flood that created this waterfall.
The Great Missoula Flood occurred during the last Ice Age, carving out the deep canyons you see today. A broken ice dam upstream on Lake Missoula in Idaho was responsible for a massive flood, possibly the largest in history, causing rivers to permanently re-route and carving new canyons and buttes. Topsoil and rock were stripped away as billions of tons of torrential water raced across Eastern Washington, down to the Columbia River, carrying sediment all the way out to the Pacific Ocean. It's force was so powerful, it was even reputed to have caused earthquakes! The volume of water was so huge, that it stood hundreds of feet above the top of Palouse Falls.
5. Check out famous Castle Rock, at the top of Palouse Falls.
The cathedral like spires of Castle Rock are visible at the top of Palouse Falls. This rock formation is off-limits to visitors, but can be safely viewed from a distance.
6. Enjoy a picnic.
There are numerous picnic tables in the most shaded section of Palouse Falls, just near the parking lot. There are no food vendors, or even a place to buy a bottle of water, so you will need to bring everything.
7. Go wildlife watching.
Golden eagles and Peregrine Falcons can be viewed soaring above the canyon, and yellow bellied marmots are also a common sight in the rocks along the canyon, and have a distinctive, chirpy call.
8. See gorgeous wildflowers in spring.
In spring and summer the rugged landscape is ablaze with fields of wildflowers, including purple lupines, and blazing stars.
9. Go camping at Palouse Falls.
The Palouse Falls campground is located in a shaded area just above the falls near the overlook in Palouse Falls State Park. However, the campground closed in 2020 due to COVID, and there are possibly plans to permanently close the campground.
10. Stay overnight at the nearby township of Walla Walla.
If you'd prefer to stay in a hotel, motel or B&B, the township of Walla Walla is a 1 hour drive south, with dozens of beautiful wineries to explore!