4 Waterfall Hikes: Where Mountains and Rivers Collide

Like almond butter and dark chocolate, or balsamroot and mountain bike tire tracks, rivers and mountains complement each other, and the results of their couplings are waterfalls. Waterfalls are nature’s money shots. First you hear the trickle or rush or roar from a distance. Then you feel the ground responding to the collision between water and rock as you approach. Finally you come around a bend in the trail and experience the watery explosion with all five senses. And no matter how many waterfalls you’ve seen before, you whisper, “Wow.”

Beginning in Sandpoint and ending near the Canada border, our quest was to find as many Idaho Panhandle waterfalls as we could in a long holiday weekend. Here are some of our favorites.

Grouse Creek Falls

Grouse Creek Valley is 20 miles northeast of Sandpoint on the edge of the Panhandle National Forest. After parking in a pullout off Grouse Creek Road, we hiked a half mile on sometimes rocky and steep trail until the path terminated at a series of overlooks that revealed several broad cascades, each several feet high, and as many large eddying pools below. Grouse Creek is more of a little river than a creek, and the steep rock walls that surround it make it seem even bigger. The several large rock outcroppings make a good place to sit and eat a sandwich as your legs dangle over the rushing water below. This may not be the hike to take small children on due to the rougher trail and lack of guardrails, but adults and older children will feel as if they’ve discovered liquid gold after negotiating the trail and boulders to get as close to the falls as possible.

Snow Creek Falls

By volume and associated din, Snow Creek Falls was the Amazon River of our waterfall adventure. Ten miles north of Naples, Idaho, we drove up the gravel Snow Creek Road and parked near the large roadside sign. The well-maintained trail includes directional signs that ironically proved most helpful when they disappeared at a major crossroads, forcing us to explore both upstream and downstream waterfalls. The payoff is grand: huge, deafening cascades and pools that are easy to access up close. The giant fallen logs across the water make great photo ops, if you can keep the spray off your lens.

Myrtle Creek Falls

If you prefer to view waterfalls from above but don’t need to get too close, check this one out. Adjacent to the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge west of Bonners Ferry, Myrtle Creek tumbles down from the same hills as Snow Creek to the south. The trail to the waterfall is well-maintained, with periodic interpretive signs targeting kids who may or may not be distracted from the incline, which is noticeable, if brief. About a quarter-mile up, an overlook provides a pretty view of the thundering waterfall 200 feet below. That’s where families with young kids should turn around and head back, but I wondered if I could scamper higher and closer to the water source. This was the sole trail we encountered on our road trip that wasn’t dog-friendly, so I hiked alone while my husband and dog napped in the sun at the trailhead. I made my way up an increasingly less-maintained and less-marked trail until arriving at a more level section of the creek above the waterfall. Large boulders and fallen trees crisscross the noisy, rushing creek, and they brought out the wannabe Parkour practitioner in me as I edged as near as I dared to the place where the water disappears over the edge.

Copper Creek Falls

If Snow Creek Falls was our Amazon, Copper Creek Falls was our Nile. Just two miles from the Canada border, we drove on Forest Service road #2517 for a couple of miles and parked at the Copper Falls Trail #20. A short nature trail with signs that identify vegetation along the way crisscrosses the creek and leads to a towering, relatively narrow funnel of water 170 feet high. The trail provides a view near the bottom of the falls. Get as close to the cascade as trail etiquette and your nerves will allow, and the scale of its height will become evident. When it finally shatters on a large, rocky footbed, the water seems to disappear, emerging several yards away as a creek that rushes downhill. //


Janelle McCabe wrote about long-distance running with kids in April.

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