Olympic Peninsula Waterfalls: Hear the Roar, Feel the Spray
by Audrey Fraggalosch
There’s a magical allure to waterfalls—the spray, the roar, the awe-inspiring beauty of nature. The prospect of seeing not just ONE but a MULTITUDE of waterfalls on the Olympic Peninsula, was all I needed to plan a spring road trip. Convincing a friend to share some waterfall magic was easy.
We set off on a partially sunny morning in mid-April. I was still visualizing “Magic Beauty in Green Nature” when the first raindrops hit the windshield on Highway #104. The Olympic Peninsula is wet. Wet enough to grow a magnificent mossy rainforest and wet enough to feed a fabulous wealth of waterfalls. February snow melting into beautiful spring run-off creates quite a show! We’re stoked to see the rushing falls—rain or shine. Our three Shetland Sheepdogs in the backseat are equally stoked (a.k.a. barking) to be on a road trip, especially since we promised walks in the woods.
The Olympic Peninsula is BIG and the waterfall trail itself is diverse and expansive, stretching from the Hood Canal to the farthest northwest point at Neah Bay down to the Quinault Rain Forest."
We planned ahead with the help of the Olympic Peninsula Waterfall Trail brochure. It describes more than 20 spectacular sites to visit and includes a valuable map you can view, download and print. Check out https://olympicpeninsula.org/drive-the-loop/waterfalls.
The Olympic Peninsula is BIG and the waterfall trail itself is diverse and expansive, stretching from the Hood Canal to the farthest northwest point at Neah Bay down to the Quinault Rain Forest. You’ll encounter everything from tumbling falls easily accessible by car or a short hike, to cascading gems that require a little more effort. There are also water-filled backcountry adventures in Olympic National Park. It’s impossible to see all 25 waterfalls in one day, so plan ahead. Repeat visits are encouraged, some trails are dog friendly, but trails within the National Park are not.
Today, we’re checking out some waterfalls along the Hood Canal as they’re easily accessible and dog-friendly. If you’re coming from Seattle, this area offers some of the closest waterfalls to explore. As we cross the Hood Canal Bridge, the panoramic view across this natural fjord is breathtaking. The sky is opening up into magnificent blue. Bye bye rain—hello rainbow!
Our first stop is Ludlow Falls (pictured above), near the resort community of Port Ludlow. It’s a short walk from the parking lot through the lovely native plant garden and along the easy trail to the falls. The dogs are straining on their leashes, already hearing and smelling the falls. Also known as “low falls” by locals, these delightful two-tier falls don’t disappoint in the spring when they are rushing and gushing.
Our next stop, just past Quilcene, is Rocky Brook Falls. It’s one of the largest (229 ft) and most easily accessible falls on the Hood Canal. Rocky Brook Falls is a little tricky to find as there is no marker on the road, so follow the directions carefully or you will drive past the small parking area after the bridge, just like I did.
It’s a short, beautiful walk through the moss-draped woods along the creek. You can hear these falls all along the trail and then suddenly you’re right in front of them. Wow…waterfall!! Standing less than a 100 feet away from this huge, high cascading waterfall is totally awe-inspiring. It’s equally thrilling to feel the spray on your cheeks and hear the roar in your ears. This is definitely the “Magic Beauty in Green Nature” experience I was hoping for.
We stay for almost an hour mesmerized by the water music, the sheer vitality and energy of the falls and the vibrating green of the forest. It’s glowing green! Even the rocks are moss-draped and little ferns are trying to grow through the cracks. Fiddlehead ferns and magenta salmon berry flowers are just opening up. The dogs share our excitement as do a couple of other waterfall chasers.
While there are many, many options for you to consider, there are four popular waterfalls on the Olympic Peninsula that should be on your 'must see' list. Beaver, Murhut, Sol Duc and Marymere Falls are all fabulous but require additional driving on Hwy 101 and Forest Service Roads. We’re not sure we can top Rocky Brook Falls today so we decide to visit Finnriver Farm & Cidery in nearby Chimacum.
We take the beautiful back way (Center Road) from Quilcene to Chimacum. For a taste of life on the land, Finnriver is legendary. Their Cider Garden is open daily, noon-9 pm, year round. We sample delicious and unique ciders, grab a quick bite and purchase a little hard cider to take home. (Note to self, come back in summer for their Orchard Tour & Tasting). Just a hop, skip, and jump away is the Chimacum Corner Farmstand. Don’t miss this local gem with its amazing selection of organic greens and veggies from 20 local farms and an assortment of fresh baked treats including goat cheese brownies. I couldn’t resist a bag of freshly picked arugula and a chocolate-cashew cookie. With so many delectable options, good luck choosing!
On the leisurely ferry ride back across Puget Sound, we babble about our wonderful waterfall-inspired day while enjoying the view of Mount Baker to the north and Mount Rainier and the Seattle skyline to the south. It’s hard to believe this is just a day-trip away from Seattle. I’m already thinking about coming back here for a longer weekend getaway to see the signature Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park and do the unforgettable hike to Marymere Falls near Lake Crescent.
The Quinault Rainforest Loop contains the highest concentration of viewable waterfalls reasonably close to roadside and on short trails and seems totally worth the long drive. With plenty of amazing lodging choices available-from historic lodges to luxurious bed and breakfasts to rustic cabins and camping-it will be fun to plan for some more waterfall magic. https://olympicpeninsula.org/lodging/
I can’t wait to hear the roar and feel the spray again!