Lewis River

Lewis River Drainage 2012

Curly Creek, Lewis River Drainage Curly Creek, Lewis River Drainage
To put the cap on my trip to Oregon, I once again made the side trip to the Lewis River drainage on my way back home. If you recall my post from a year ago, my first visit to this area came with sunny skies. Forecasts for my return visit this year was showers so I was sure to have better conditions for waterfall and stream photography. My first stop was Curly Creek. I’ve been unsatisfied with my standard photo of the falls from its public viewpoint and I know there’s a way down to the base of the falls. My goal was to try and reach it.

My first thought was to hike alongside the margin of the Lewis River from a spot about 0.5 miles upstream. After some consideration on site, I decided to double back to a campground located along Curly Creek and attempt to parallel the hike to its base. Some waypaths existed around the campground and provided a start. There was a nice waterfall located next to the campground that I decided to photograph. The sun appeared just as I set up my gear; so much for those showers!

Curly Creek, Lewis River Drainage Lower Lewis Falls, Lewis River DrainageThere was one bonus that came with the sun- a low mist has hanging over the creek, upstream of the waterfall and it was now backlit thanks to the sunlight. After taking my share of photos, I packed up since I still had a ways to travel to reach the falls. The waypath I used would appear and disappear but the travel wasn’t as ornery as it could be (no devil’s club!). That’s not to say it was easy- I sweated a ton but did make it to the rim of the Lewis River. The final distance was the toughest and the sketchiest. I was so close- but I didn’t feel confident that I could descend safely. The only course of action was to turn back. After all, the waterfall will still be there!

Regrouped and refreshed back at my truck, I headed further up valley to the Lewis River waterfalls (which I never visited last year). On the way to the Lower Lewis Falls trailhead, I spied a few roadside attractions which I made mental notes of; I would try and visit them on my way back to I-5. Lower Lewis Falls is the largest of the three waterfalls on the Lewis River and the easiest to view. After parking, the viewpoint for the falls are a mere 100 yards away atop the high cliff. I didn’t stay long since the views are limited..

Lower Lewis Falls Detail, Lewis River Drainage Lewis River from along the Lewis River TrailMy last stop up valley was the Middle Lewis Falls trailhead. The waterfall isn’t very far (only a 0.5 mile hike upstream), and unlike Lower Lewis Falls, you can get fairly up close to Middle Lewis Falls. The river drops 33 feet and crashes into a broad piece of bedrock literally right next to the trail. It’s quite a powerful scene, especially in springtime when the river level is high. Those high river levels made the waterfall a solid wall of whitewater. Before calling it a day, I made a few stops at some locations that caught my eye while driving in. It was a nice end to a trip that had a rocky start!
Vine Maple and snag, Lewis River Drainage Unnamed Creek, Swift Reservoir Drainage

Lewis River Drainage

Before heading home from my mini-trip to Oregon, I made my first visit to the Lewis River area in the South Cascades of Washington State. Located just southeast of Mount Saint Helens, the Lewis River has a number of waterfalls (including a few that are over 150 feet in height) and forest diversity that has always intrigued me. Prior to my trip I had identified a number of locations to visit knowing full well that I probably wouldn’t be able to get to all of them. The weather forecast was for improving weather and sunshine and it turned out to be even nicer than the forecasts.

That’s great unless you’re trying to photograph waterfalls. There’s nothing you can really do about it except change your plans so that’s what I did. Vanilla leaf is much more common in the forests of the South Cascades and I’ve always wanted to do some macro-type photography of them. Just beyond the Forest Service Rd 90 / Rd 83 junction, I saw a roadside mass of vanilla leaf so I pulled over to check it out. Although it was most shaded by the forest, some of the leaves were being backlit by the morning’s sunshine.

Vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla), Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Vanilla leaf and inside out flower (Vancouveria hexandra), Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Backlit vanilla leaf, Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Washington State
The wind was calm, even with the occasional vehicle zipping by at 50 miles per hour, and this allowed me to keep my ISOs at a lower number. This batch of vanilla leaf still hadn’t bloomed but the leaf patterns were more than enough to keep me interested. After I was satisfied, I packed up and headed to my first and most desired stop: Curly Creek Falls. Before picking up an out of print roadside attraction guidebook, I had never heard of the falls which I find a little surprising considering how cool it is.

The falls are located just a couple miles upstream of the Swift Reservoir, and are the location where Curly Creek joins the Lewis River. What really makes this waterfall special is the natural arch located about halfway down it’s face. It’s a very rare sight and one I’ve been eager to view firsthand. My old guidebook describes a scramble down to the river and waterfall’s edge but I elected to NOT attempt this since the bright sunshine wasn’t going to give me optimal conditions. I opted to view the falls from the official viewpoint located along the opposite bank of the Lewis River. Lighting was tough but I managed to have a brief moment when a cloud blocked the sun.

Curly Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Just up the hill and around the corner from the falls is the McClellan Viewpoint, which provides an unobstructed view of Mount Saint Helens to the northwest. About a quarter-mile to the northeast is Rush Creek and the site of one of those large waterfalls. Accessing the falls requires a bushwhack approach which I attempted but quickly had to turnaround due to a cliff dropoff. I was alone and decided to return some other time when I had a partner with me and better light.

Mount Saint Helens from the McClellan Viewpoint, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Rush Creek, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Moving on, I did stop off where Rush Creek flows underneath Forest Service Road 90. The creek is quite large, almost river-like and quite photogenic upstream of the road. By now, the day was getting long and so I made my next stop my last: Big Creek Falls. At a height of 130 feet, the falls are impressive and easily accessed thanks in large part due to an interpretive loop trail. I actually had the entire place to myself which was great. The upper falls were still in full sun and the spray from the falls was throwing up a nice rainbow (sadly the rainbow could not be photographed due to its position).

Big Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Wide view of Big Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
The waterfall is impressive enough but the forest here has some really big old growth trees. Having done what I could with the falls, I explored the forest. Beyond the interpretive loop trail, another trail follows the canyon rim down towards the Lewis River. Eventually I had to turn back since I still had a 3+ hour drive back to the Seattle area. I barely was able to scratch the surface so I hope to return later this summer once the snowmelt water levels subside a bit.

Huckleberry shrub, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) returning from winter dormancy, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Low Oregon Grape (Mahania nervosa), Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State
Forest scene, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington State

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