My father turned me into an outdoors person when I was a small child. Nearly every weekend, he took me on some backcountry adventure. The weather had very little bearing on whether we went or not. Now, with a family of my own, I’m always on the lookout for inexpensive year-round, family-friendly adventures. Hikes are a favorite, preferably those that land us at a beach, waterfall, mountaintop view or lush forests.
The Angel Falls loop, which includes Covel Falls, ticks off a few of those requirements. First, besides the cost of gas, the hike is free. This hike includes two spectacular waterfalls and trails that meander through a quintessential Pacific Northwest forest. We decided to do this hike in the spring after the snow melt. Our hope was to see the creek when the water was running high. Rumor has it that in the summer Angel Falls can become a trickle and we were eager to see them at their best.
The Angel Falls trailhead is across from the entrance of Cispus Learning Center near Randle, Washington. To get there from Interstate 5, take exit 68 to Highway 12 then go 48 miles to Randle. Turn right (south) onto Cispus Road. From here it’s 11 miles to Cispus and the way is well marked with Forest Service signs. We parked (for free) in the Cispus parking lot across from the main office. We then checked in at the main office and picked up a trail map.
After studying the map, we discovered there are a few choices for this hike. There is a short, relatively flat trail called Braille Trail. This is a small woodland loop at about 0.6 miles. The next option is to hike to Covel Falls and back (also known as Curtain Falls or Phantom Falls, and on the Cispus map it is referred to as Curtain Falls). This option is a good for hiking with kids as it is only 1.25 miles and Covel Falls is worth the trip alone. The third option is to hike to Covel Falls and then continue on the Angel Falls loop, which is 3.45 miles roundtrip (if you don’t get lost) with a more rigorous and rough trail. We chose the third option.
A Woodland Walk
As a party of six including two children and two teens, we commenced down the trail, which traverses moist woodlands alive with birdsong and the sound of running water. It’s a parental pleasure to watch youth who often seem to have earbuds permanently growing out of their ears, simply listening to the music of the forest. The trail comes in and out of sight of Covel Creek and the vegetation in this area is moss and fern encrusted. On this particular day, the weather forecast called for cloudy skies and a drizzly morning, but we were delighted when the sun came out and illuminated the forest canopy. This section of the hike took longer than anticipated due to frequent photo opportunities. The trail conditions were as to be expected in spring with mud in spots, but we were prepared with waterproof hiking boots and layered waterproof clothing. At times, we found signage to be inadequate, but usually we found the way with the help of the map. Twice we crossed the creek without the benefit of a bridge, and we were once again congratulating ourselves on our sturdy boots. Nothing can ruin a hike like uncomfortable feet.
Covel or Curtain Falls
Finally, we came to a one-rail bridge and began to anticipate the first waterfall. At this point, we really started to feel the elevation gain. The creek was ever present after the bridge and below the water rushed in waterfalls and rapids. We wondered aloud if this was the waterfall, but then came to a fork and took the indicated right-hand path. There is no mistaking Covel Falls when you see it. It is the only waterfall in Washington State that the trail passes directly behind and the waters plunge 75 feet. And while the falls may be a gentle trickle in summer, the power of the spring waterfall was intimidating at first. The safety of the trail behind the falls looked questionable from a distance, but we all passed easily enough and it was a thrill to experience the powerful waters. The spray was enough for the kids to put their hoods up.
Ascent to Angel Falls
For Angel Falls, continue down the trail that passes behind Covel Falls. This is the route we followed that takes the loop in a counterclockwise direction. From here, there is an abrupt 200-foot altitude gain by way of switchbacks. And this is where I kept thinking about turning back. The trail condition was poor, nearly falling away in spots and the climb steep. However, I hiked behind my 12-year-old and he made his way like a mountain goat and hardly broke a sweat. He may in fact have done this stretch with better grace than me. Our 9-year-old would have gladly skipped this part of the hike. At the top, the trail forks, one trail leads up to Burley Mountain, the other leads downhill to Angel Falls.
Angel falls is a 175-foot waterfall that has been known to dry up in times of drought. But on the spring day of our expedition is was a healthy cascade. Everyone took a break to snap pictures, climb rocks and generally complain about the switchbacks.
The Return Journey
Across the creek below Angel Falls, the loop trail continues. We passed through more forests with low spaces that still contained patches of icy snow. The trail came to a fork which was not on our map, nor was the junction marked. We actually wasted some time going down the wrong fork for a while before deciding that it was the wrong direction. It’s at times like this I was glad we were carrying the 10 essentials for survival.
It was, in fact, the left fork that was needed when following the loop counterclockwise, which turned out to be a wonderful stretch of trail and one of the highlights. The hike skirts the base of towering basalt cliffs with overhangs, trickling water and caves. In no time, we were back to Covel Falls and the return trail to Cispus Learning Center for a well-deserved lunch.