The Nisqually Valley is an amazing and wonderful place, and Mt. Rainier is arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth. Sometimes it is hard to wonder why we’d ever venture out of the valley for more beauty, but sometimes a short day trip can have spectacular results. Cathedral Falls, located in the Cowlitz Valley – is just such one of these places.
Mt. Rainier has waterfalls galore. But Catheral Falls is spectacular. It feels like you could be in Costa Rica or in Western Africa, but with huckleberry bushes and pine and cedar trees surrounding you. What’s more, the drive to Cathedral Falls is only about 1.5 hours from Ashford, and about 45 minutes if you are staying in Packwood or Morton – which happens often to folks who don’t make reservations on busy summer weekends. The hike is easy, and you get to traverse behind the waterfalls on the trail! Family friendly, and dogs are welcome. Read on for the details!
To get there, you’ll need to head towards Riffe Lake. From the Ashford Visitor’s Center, head west 6 miles to Elbe, and take a left on Hwy 7 to Morton. Once in Morton, take a left on Hwy 12. Head east for about 8 miles, and take a right on Kosmos Road, and take your next main left on to Champion Haul Road. Follow this road along Riffe Lake and over the bridge, and continue following the road to the right onto a dirt road. Follow this for a bit less than a mile, and take a left on another dirt road. This road has a gate that should be open, posting that it is privately owned by a timber company, but publicly accessible. Rules and regulations are posted. Carry on, and the dirt road will take you into Gifford Pinchot National Forest! You’re almost there.
Drive for about 4.5 miles, keeping on the main dirt road and curving uphill and to the left. Just when you’ve thought your lost your way, you’ll see the cars parked at the trail-head. Unload your kids, dogs, snacks and packs, and hit the trail! The path is wide, well-maintained, and obstacle free. The shady forest is cool and sweet smelling, huckleberry bushes are everywhere, and wildflowers liven the trail in late spring/early summer.
After about a mile, you’re there! And it will take your breath away. The falls launch 248 feet above, pummeling over an overhang high above, and creating a sheet of water that visitors can walk behind, or marvel at from various viewpoints to either side/front of the falls. The trail takes all hikers behind the falls, and aside from a spactacular vantage point, visitors can linger in the cavernous hollow in the rocks that gave Cathedral Falls its appropriate name. At the bottom of the falls, the water has pounded the rock into a gentle swoop that loops the water around in a semi-circle before continuing it on its way.
The falls are most spectacular when the falls are running when the water is at its highest, from early May to mid-June, or after a heavy rain in the fall. The falls will lose most of their power by late-June, but a trickle should continue through the year. This is a great hike for a rainy day – hikers are protected by the tall cedars and pine trees, and hikers can continue their hike after the falls if they are interested in exploring further.
A wonderful family outing awaits at Cathedral Falls – enjoy!