By Whitney Carter
Getting to Palouse Falls was quite an adventure. I had planned out the whole day: I got snacks, filled up my car with gas the night before, bundled up, packed extra gloves and socks and got ready to grab my adventure buddy at 12:30. What I did not count on was the snow. Overnight, Spokane got a decent dusting of snow; it did not stop throughout the morning.
I sat on my overstuffed couch and looked out my large glass window and watched the fat, fluffy, flakes fall, considering what my plans should be. I’m from the Westside of Washington, which if you do not know means if we even hear that there is a possibility of snow, the entire city shuts down. Needless to say, I haven’t got the most snow-driving experience. However, I remembered that I got snow tires on my car and decided I would go for it.
I nosed my way out of my driveway and tried not to slip all over the place. I drove to my friend’s place and picked her up. We started on our way out of town. While we were driving, I talked to my friend about Palouse Falls and about the interview I had earlier in the week.
I talked to Anna Roth who is a Hiking Content Coordinator from the Washington Trail Association to get some background information on the area and to see if there were any special things to consider before I decided to take this journey.
“There are lots of trails that were created by people [not trail officials],” Roth said. “but those are closed. You cannot hike to the base of the falls.”
Roth admitted that she had never hiked it herself, but also impressed upon me that there was not actual trail to the base of the falls and that it was ridiculously unsafe to try. That, of course, would not stop my adventurous friend Madison from trying.
We made our way out of town, driving precariously along side streets to avoid traffic from the three-day weekend, and finally hit the freeway, which was thankfully clear. The temperature got warmer and warmer the closer we got to the falls. Something I was thankful for because from my research, I knew that there were many windy roads in our future as we got closer to the falls.
The freeway takes you as far as Ritzville where you get off to start the real journey. I should have been aware of the difference when I entered “Palouse Falls State Park” into my phone’s GPS and it told me that I would be travelling along some roads that weren’t exactly what one would call “paved” or “maintained.”
Before we reached the warmer weather, when I say warm, think 40 degrees not 70, we drove on some completely empty roads surrounded on both sides with piled high snow and eerie fog. I stopped once for an ominous picture of the road ahead. Sometimes I could see only a couple dozen feet ahead of me in the fog.
We drove beyond the snow and passed a few small towns. Small is possibly and overstatement for a few of these. Washtucna for example, looked like the remains of dreamy little town, but the only living things we saw was the herd of wild turkeys we encountered on our way into the town. Most of the buildings were boarded up, but there was a bar that looked open and a town museum was open by appointment.
I did not know how long we would be spending at the falls. Because we left later, I knew we would be dealing with dusk if we got there around three like my GPS was telling me. Additionally, a missed turn to the entrance of the park took us another 30 minutes out of our way down a seemingly empty road where we encountered a “border collie xing” sign.
Once we finally entered the park, we were bombarded with the “fee area” and “discover pass required” signs, a reminder that purchasing a pass is needed. There was a spot to purchase one there, as there usually is at state parks. Discover passes cost $10 for a day pass or $30 for an annual one. I recently purchased an annual pass and it pays for itself in only three visits. However, over some federal holiday weekends, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day for example, some state parks have free admission, which is something to keep in mind while planning your trip.
We drove down this muddy, messy, slippery dirt road and, once again, I was immensely grateful for the warmer weather at the falls. This lead us to a gravel parking lot with a handful of cars and a shack for an outhouse near some campgrounds. I’m not much of a camper, but when I have gone it’s been in the summer or at least warm weather, so it was astonishing to me that people were camping here.
We got out of the car, stretched our legs after the two hour car ride, slipped into our warm gloves, boots and sweatshirts and prepared to explore. We did not need too many additional layers. The weather was warm enough that a sweatshirt was fine.
I knew that the falls would be a different experience in the winter. Pullman resident Emily Wittuhn had visited in the summer and described her favorite part as hiking to the edge of the falls.
“When you are around the back side, you get to see the river just before it crashes down the falls,” Wittuhn said. “The unsuspecting calm right before the raging falls is beautiful to me. The sound of the falls is also incredibly beautiful and impressing to me.”
We also noted how loud the falls were, but found that many of the trails were closed. I knew that beforehand thanks to the Washington Trails Association website, something you definitely want to take a look at before heading out.
The falls were absolutely breathtaking. We spent about an hour exploring the cliffs and taking pictures of the falls. It was muddy, but totally worth it. As we turned to make our trip home, hoping to get beyond some of the windier roads before it got dark, we mused on the splendor and power of the falls and the fact that we are so lucky to live in an area where something so beautiful is less than a day’s drive away.