Canyoneering Prospects in the South Cascades

This is a big area whose canyoneering potential is largely unexplored. This is by no way even close to an exhaustive list of possibilities in the area.

East Canyon Creek
East Canyon Creek is a tributary of the Cispus River. The Cispus River has a canyon of its own, but it is only feasible by kayak. The last mile of East Canyon Creek before it joins the river is narrow. There is a waterfall and narrows just before the confluence. No other beta is currently available. Get there by driving state highway 12 to Randle. Go south on forest service road 23 until you cross the Cispus River on a bridge. About two miles beyond there is a gated dirt road that takes off to the left. Park and walk a few hundred yards to a bridge over East Canyon Creek.

Big Creek
Big Creek is a tributary of the Lewis River. There is a big waterfall into a large pool, followed by a slot canyon with more falls. There is an unconfirmed report that the stream goes under ground at one point. Get there by taking state highway 503 east from I-5 until it becomes forest service road 90. Follow road 90 past Swift Reservoir to the parking area for the Big Creek Falls view point.

Cave Falls on Big Creek
Photo: Robert Cobb

Trip Report to Cave Falls on Big Creek

The view of Cave Falls from the official overlook is rather limited, and the overlook is closed because of storm damage. I decided to get a better view by going to the bottom of the falls. This is a bit of work but definitely worth the effort. Take the Speed Trail 31E to the Lewis River. You can ford the river to the trail on the north bank. Instead I hiked the south side of the river for about a mile (some scrambling over boulders) to where Big Creek comes in on the left. Brush is light. Shortly above the confluence a small waterfall is bypassed on the right. Continue upstream climbing over downed trees and hiking in the creek. The water was generally ankle to knee deep and occasionally waste deep. I had a wetsuit in my pack but never used it. A bathing suit worked fine on a hot day.

As you go further upstream the creek becomes more interesting as you hike on bed rock. The stream goes into a cave into which you can easily wade. However the cave ceiling drops quickly, and it's dark. I didn't have a light, so I don't know if you can go all the way through. The cave is easily bypassed by scrambling over huge mossy boulders on the right. Turn a corner and you arrive at the bottom of Cave Falls.

This is a remarkable place. It is a horsetail falls with a huge cave like amphitheater behind it. You can easily walk behind it and continue to where on older, but now dry abandoned channel, heads down stream. Next to the falls there is a pinnacle that is simply immense. Cave Falls has several drops. The topmost one appears to emerge from a cave, but it could be a very narrow slot with overhanging walls. This is not an easy hike. It took me five hours round trip, but it was definitely worth it to see this incredible place.

Ken Leibert


Steel Canyon
Steel Canyon flows into Riffe Lake. There is no available beta. Get there by taking state highway 12 east from I-5 past Morton. Take forest service road 27 to the south shore of the Cowlitz River and Riffe Lake. A good forest service map is needed in order to navigate the maze of logging roads in the area. The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Gifford Pinchot National Forest map is very useful for the entire area.

Copper Canyon
Copper Canyon is an other nearby canyon with no beta. It flows into the Cowlitz River. Get to it as for Steel Canyon. Take forest service road 27 south until it crosses the Cowlitz River. Turn left on to road 2742 and follow it five miles to the lower end of the canyon. Use the above mentioned map.

Twin Falls, Olallie State Park
This very challenging canyon is on the South Fork of the Snolqualmie River in Olallie State Park, which is sometimes referred to as Twin Falls State Park. There are two entrances to the park. To get to the east entrance, take I-90 to exit 38 west. Go south. Immediately after crossing the bridge over the river turn right, and follow the gravel road uphill 0.1 mile to Olallie State Park. There is a five dollar fee to park in the parking lot. Follow the signed trail east 1.5 miles east to the waterfalls. A foot bridge crossing the gorge provides splendid views, and there is a viewing platform for the lower falls. The east entrance provides a shorter hike to the falls. To get there, take I-90 to exit 34. Go south on 468th Ave.SE for 0.6 mile, and turn left onto SE 159th street. Go 0.6 mile to the park entrance, and pay the five dollar fee. An easy trail follows the river upstream to the falls.

This canyon is R rated due to very strong current. It should only be attempted by canyoneers with swift water experience and only in the lower flows of late summer. Despite the name, there are actually four waterfalls. The upper falls is about 45 feet high and consists of two drops separated by a short slot. This is the only one of the falls with no know descent. It looks very challenging and may require a guided rappel. The middle falls is about 30 feet high and has two drops separated by a circulating pothole. It has been descended on the left using a large boulder as an anchor. The current at the bottom tends to draw swimmers into a large alcove on the right from which escape is difficult. Descend as far to the left as possible and this problem can be avoided. The next waterfall (which is unnamed) is directly under the foot bridge and is 10 feet high. This has been jumped from a large log on the right. A short rappel on the left is also feasible. It is another 100 feet to the lip of the lower falls. The current is very strong. You should use a belay while swimming below the bridge in order to prevent yourself from being swept over the lower falls. (A 60 meter rope tied off to a tree upstream of the bridge on canyon right works very well.) Pull yourself onto a spacious ledge to the left of the lowest waterfall. There is no anchoring possibility on this ledge. Don't place a bolt or leave any kind of anchor on this ledge as it is easily seen from every viewing point. Instead we prehang a rope (or if you prefer a webbing anchor) from a large tree about 25 feet above the ledge and remove it when we are done. The lower falls is 135 feet high and easily rappelled on the left side avoiding most of the water.

The Upper Falls

The Upper Falls

View Downstream From Top of Upper Falls

The Footbridge

The Middle Falls

Ten Foot Waterfall Between Lower and Middle Falls
You Can jump Off the Log

The Lower Falls (seen from the viewing platform)