Cascading Rocky Brook Falls is lacey and serene before the rain season hits.

A fall sunset over Hood Canal adds to the season's color.

Hwy 101 hugs the Hood Canal coastline making for a perfect fall roadtrip.

Sunrise accentuates the vivid colors of fall on the Skokomish River.

Fall Roadtrip: DO go chasing waterfalls

by Zach Hansen

This year, the change from summer to fall was incredible. A cold shock snapped the trees like glow sticks, and the vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows were richer than I have ever remembered. The contrast of the bright maples and alders against the cedars and firs seems like an unusual pairing, but it is a sure mark of fall and a reminder of our nickname, The Evergreen State.

The leaves have since fallen, and we can feel a familiar coldness—that sharp chill that fogs your breath in the morning and is burned away by the sun in the afternoon. Dressing in layers and donning our raincoats is as much as an embrace of fall as a way to keep warm, and that is something all Western Washington locals can agree with.

Dropping 240 feet, Rocky Brook Falls fills a deep pool at the bottom and drains into a shimmering path of boulders and polished logs before it disappears into the forest."

The rain will soon follow, flushing lakes, hillsides, and tributaries with unpredictable downpours. Fortunately, the rain brings life to an unusual phenomena—waterfalls. In the Olympic National Park, getting in some areas 170 inches of rain per year, waterfall adventuring is a favorite hobby for many. Joining a friend who loves photography, I experienced a waterfall tour along Hood Canal, a large fjord edged against the base of the Olympic Mountains.

Rocky Brook Falls

Rain gear is required—or at least highly recommended—at the base of Rocky Brook Falls after a rainstorm.

Driving south on along Hood Canal, we exited onto Dosewallips Road and then turned quickly into a small parking lot. We stopped and got out of the car. Heavy rain drops fell from maple branches and the ground was littered in red and gold leaves. The moss on the maple’s bark sparkled with dew, the overhanging sword ferns brushed moisture into our pants and we were drawn into the woods by a far off noise—the distant fall of a river.

We have found Rocky Brook Falls, one of the many waterfalls cascading down the Olympic slopes. Dropping 240 feet, the water fills a deep pool at the bottom and drains into a shimmering path of boulders and polished logs before it disappears into the forest. The waterfall is sourced from a tributary that also feeds a small hydroelectric dam—the falls run throughout most of the year. Experts label Rocky Brook as a ‘tiered horsetail’ waterfall due to the water’s continuous contact with the rock slope, giving it a misty, fanlike appearance. It is an awesome sight any time of the year but fall and spring are perfect for the contrasting photos from every angle to capture the sheer size and energy of the powerful natural force.

Our Home Base in Lilliwaup

A firepit lights the evening sky overlooking Hood Canal. Photo ©Harley Lever.

No self respecting campfire would be complete without a marshmallow roast.

Kayaks wait patiently on the shore for visitors to paddle out and explore first-hand the wonders of Hood Canal. Photo ©Harley Lever.

This time of year evening sets earlier and earlier, so we headed to our Hood Canal waterfront home base in Lilliwaup, a small grouping of homes and shops in series of a coves on Hwy 101. It’s just about 30 minutes from the Rocky Brook waterfall. The drive along Hood Canal was lovely—Hwy 101 snakes along the shoreline and we caught the sunset flash across the surface of Hood Canal. 

Plenty of waterfront gems, historic and modern, along Hood Canal’s shores have been converted into all-inclusive and unique nightly rentals. The smaller intimate cottages clinging to the oyster beds are perfect for romantic getaways. Larger homes, some sleeping up to 12 or 18, are perfect for extended family reunions. Our home for the night was a spacious modern two-bedroom farmhouse overlooking the beach.

Although the waterfront home is complete with kayaks and a fire pit, it was enough to enjoy our coffee on the wrap-around deck overlooking Lilliwaup Bay. The owners use the beach in front to raise a supply of Hood Canal oysters just for their guests. Can’t get much fresher than that!

Two-tiered Hamma Hamma Falls

The next morning we started on to see the Skokomish River from the High Steel Bridge then ventured up to Hamma Hamma Falls. Hamma Hamma Road turns from pavement to gravel, but it is wide and well graded. The drive traces Hamma Hamma River and massive, moss covered boulders are parked along the outside edges of the cliff. We stopped in several places along the way to see the river, so keep an eye out for easy trails leading from the road. Seeing the waterfall, however, is enough reward for the 20 minute uphill drive.

A “tiered plunge” waterfall, Hamma Hamma Falls is loud, immense, and breathtaking. Seeing two drops and two pools, onlookers are perched above the falls on a spanning concrete bridge. The positioning of the bridge puts viewers eye level with the tops of tall weathered fir trees, so it feels like you are floating. We said “wow” to ourselves one last time, turned the car around, and headed south to the Skokomish, another river feeding into Hood Canal. (Photos of Hamma Hamma Falls and Skokomish River by ©George Stenberg).

Hungry For Oysters

Freshly shucked oysters on Hood Canal attract visitors from around the world.

Digging in to some delectible oysters accompanied by a piping hot bowl of seafood chowder.

A bucket of oysters is being skillfully prepared at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon.

It was afternoon and we were both hungry. Fortunately for us,  Hama Hama’s Oyster Saloon is on the way. If you can see the watershed, why not check out the oysters that grow from it?! The Saloon overlooks the beaches of a  busy and popular fifth generation family oyster farm. Adjacent is the Hamma Hamma river, which is fed by Hamma Hamma Falls. Oysters, clams, crab cakes, beer, and wine—the meal was delicious, and the staff were fun as well as knowledgeable of the area and of the shellfish.

Rushing Rivers means Flyfishing!

Fly fishermen have not done a good job of keeping this area a secret.

Hip waders are not required when the salmon are willing to cross the road you're driving on.

With the falling of rain and rising of rivers, the runs of salmon returning is an added benefit of a fall trip around the fjord. This opportunity isn’t missed by the avid fly fishermen, who, by wading out into the “Skok,” will search for the best eddies of the river. The abundance of salmon in the Skokomish is impressive, and popular fishing beaches are easily accessible from the HWY 101. We didn’t bring our fishing rods, but we found some people who did.  When the river is high its entertaining to see the salmon actually cross the local roadways.

Before winter takes hold, get out and explore Hood Canal and the Olympic National Forest. Enjoy the beauties of fall time, and don’t be afraid of a little chill—having the spectacular views to yourself are well worth it and after all, we have to wear our favorite jacket every once in a while!