Wild and turbulent, breathtaking and remote, the Lewis River is a perfect example of the natural beauty found around the Pacific Northwest. Running from the flanks of Mount Adams and passing south of Mount Saint Helens, the Lewis River is one of the crown jewels of nature in Southwest Washington.
Dropping over 7,000 feet in just 95 miles, the cascading river quickly loses elevation in the form of stunning waterfalls and spectacular box canyons. Wild and free the river flows with insane power and beauty before reaching the Swift Reservoir. It is here, between the mountain and the dam, that the true beauty of the Lewis River can be discovered.
The highlights of the Lewis River are the stunning and iconic falls found along the aforementioned stretch of this remote river. Many gain their first true appreciation for this wild section of the river at Lower Lewis Falls. Tumbling down 43 feet in height over a 200-foot-wide cliff, these falls are spectacular and accessible. Like a mini Niagara Falls, Lower Lewis Falls demonstrates the power and strength of the Lewis River, as seen from numerous vantage points from exploring the maze of trails.
To get to the falls, you must first take a somewhat lengthy drive through spectacular forests to this remote stretch of river. From Chehalis, the trip to the trailhead is 117 miles, taking up to two and a half hours, depending on the road conditions. While this may seem like a long trip, the drive is scenic, passing along the south of Mount Saint Helens. The falls are located directly between Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams, placing you right, smack-dab in the middle of the Cascade range.
In the summer months, the Lower Lewis Falls are popular, drawing people from around the Pacific Northwest. Many enjoy the falls by taking a dip in the cool waters and enjoying the natural scenery of the great outdoors. Historically, the Lower Lewis Falls were an excellent place for salmon fishing by the native tribes of the region. During the salmon runs, the returning salmon would work their way up the river to their spawning grounds at the base of the falls. Here, the tribes would gather and fish, collecting and drying enough meat to hopefully last them through the winter months. Today, salmon no longer return to the base of the falls, thanks to dams downstream impending their return. The history is all but lost, only remembered through a few stories from locals and a couple of signs dotting the short trail to Lower Lewis Falls.
Today, the falls and the free stretch of river are home to returning outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Like the salmon many generations ago, today’s visitors to Lewis Falls are instinctually connected to the region. At the falls, you have many options for adventure, depending on your level of comfort and whether you want to mountain bike or hike. Mountain bikers enjoy the Lewis River all year, finding themselves with access to a 28.2 mile out and back, single track trail that passes by the breathtaking falls.
Gaining and losing over 2,500 feet of elevation, this mountain bike trail is one of the most-underrated and beautiful trails in Southwest Washington. What makes this trail so awesome is that it lets you ride through a dense and dark old-growth forest, where you’ll encounter seemingly endless ups and downs. Crossing several creeks and streams, the trail is always changing, shifting between fast and smooth sections to short, technical root-packed sections. This route also makes for an incredible trail run for those hoping to put in some serious miles while training for an ultra.
While 28.2 miles is a bit much to hike, there is a trail from Lower Lewis Falls that leads to Middle and Upper Lewis Falls. The trail is an 8.8 mile out and back hike that weaves along the river, passing stunning waterfalls and even a grove of old-growth cedars and firs. Starting out, you will get an up close and personal view of Lower Lewis Falls. This is the most accessible and most popular falls, but worth the love and attention. After soaking in the wonder of this section, hike upstream for 1.5 miles and gaze upon the beautiful Middle Lewis River Falls.
The falls here are not as huge as the lower falls, but are equally gorgeous, allowing you a glimpse at the volcanic rock under the cascading water. A few miles upstream and you will reach Upper Lewis Falls. Falling 58 feet from a 175-foot-long cliff, the Upper Falls are equally as breathtaking as the Lower Falls. From here, you can continue on a footpath to Taitnapum Falls, where you will also get another incredible view of Upper Lewis Falls.
The majesty of the Lewis Falls area is accessible year round, family-friendly and even pet-friendly, making it a classic and wonderful family adventure. On weekends with good weather, load up a backpack full of snacks and gear and head out to this stretch of the Lewis River. After a snowfall in the winter, the region is silent and stunning, giving you a chance to walk along the river in a full winter wonderland. In the spring, wild flowers blossom along the trail, filling the air with an aroma as pleasant as the views. The fall months transform the area into an autumn paradise, lining the river banks with colorful leaves in every direction. In the summer, this is an ideal place to camp, hike, bike or even just lounge along the shore, occasionally taking a dip.
Just remember that if you do visit the falls, follow the seven Leave No Trace principles. Every summer, hundreds of pairs of shoes, towels, swimsuits and tons of trash are left along the banks for the river. Be responsible, be courteous and make sure that this region is breathtaking for visitors for generations to come.