Total Ascent: 900ft
Highest Point: 1360ft
Total Distance: 4 miles
Location: N 47° 26.7420, W 121° 42.1800
Required Permit: Discover Pass
The high tide of the holidays finally began to recede with the New Year. We’ve been so awash with friends, family, and holiday traditions that we wanted to keep it short and simple this week. With bigger adventures on the close horizon, we settled on exploring the Twin Falls Natural Area, a short hike just off the interstate - famed, according to Mr. Manning, for being the “toddler-friendliest” path in the I-90 corridor. We loaded up and headed out for some independent verification.
The path starts off very gently, hugging the banks of the South Fork Snoqualmie River for just under a mile before becoming starting a series of ups and downs. The popular trail had seen a lot of use and the few inches of snow had been steadily compacted over many days, making the path slick at times. The water splashed merrily beneath snow-covered pines and alders as we edged toward the falls. Undergrowth was mostly ensconced in layers of snow, but an occasional sword fern or salal leaf would peek out at us as we skirted by. At the top of the first major set of switch backs, benches await, inviting a pause to view the falls tumbling in the distance.
Eventually you’ll reach the path down to the lower falls; it is a short 104 steps down to a the observation deck to take in the stunning cascade and look up at the fairly new 80’ bridge spanning the river. Beyond the bridge, the trail winds up to an overlook of the upper falls before ushing onward. Since we’d only gone about two miles, we decided to continue and connect up with the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, the same trail we hiked a portion of last week on our way to Cedar Butte. Most of our discussion revolved around the Iron Horse Trail and how that played a part in the area. Just to settle the matter, especially as it turns out I was right and Jer was absolutely and totally wrong: the John Wayne Pioneer Trail runs about 300 miles through Washington and Idaho while Iron Horse State Park encompasses a smaller, more developed stretch of the trail.
Much of this landscape has changed since old US10 was the primary thoroughfare for Snoqualmie Pass. The Twin Falls Recreation Area was the first of four parcels that now comprise Olallie State Park, acquired by the Parks Department in 1950 as plans were finalized for early phases of present day I-90. What was a short pullout and trail to the falls overlook on US10 became isolated with the advent of the new freeway. Despite the successful efforts to preserve the land as parkland, access to the falls nonetheless languished. Then, in the early eighties, the Weeks Falls Hydroelectric Project just upriver from Twin Falls was brought online. This was followed swiftly by a project for Twin Falls, which entailed a number of compensating measures culminating with the rebuilding of the trail in late 1989, as well as the helicopter-assisted bridge construction. All of these hydropower workings are underground or underwater, hidden from view, though the project does have an impact on the grandeur of the falls when water levels drop in the summer, robbing of the river of a chunk of water it would otherwise be sending over the brink.
The trail was nice and easy and the variation in elevation a pleasant change from the singularly uphill battles that typify many excursions. The falls were better than expected in their wintry glory and the snow lent an ethereal air to certain stretches of trail. Despite the chill and snow, we met dozens of other folks on this popular trail, including the promised toddlers, though not a soul past the falls. Expect some company on this little walk in the woods. Getting there is straightforward enough, take Exit 34 off I-90 and take a right. Follow 468th Ave until just before the steel truss bridge where a tiny brown sign reading “Twin Falls” directs you to take a left on 159th St. Follow this for about a half a mile to the trailhead. - Nathan
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