backpack: Upper Falls Creek
The Upper Falls Creek area has several campsites next to the creek above the super scenic (and extremely popular) Falls Creek Falls waterfall, and makes a great base for exploring less traveled trails in the area.
- day 1 – Falls Creek trailhead to campsite: 3.6 miles, 1,100 ft. gain
- day 2 – Upper Falls Creek day hike:7.3 miles, 540 ft. gain
- day 3 – hike out to Falls Creek trailhead: 3.1 miles, 350 ft. gain, 1,100 ft. loss
- best months: May-June, September-October
- location: SW Washington; nearest towns: Carson
- land management: Gifford Pinchot National Forest: Mount Adams Ranger District
- trail conditions: Falls Creek Trail #152
- hike description: Washington Trails Association
- permits: none
- trailhead pass: none
Day 1 – Falls Creek trailhead to campsite
3.6 miles, 1,100 ft. gain
This trip location was a last minute substitute due to heavy rain forecasted for our original plan. It turned out to be a worthy destination that had a lot to offer. Besides getting to see Falls Creek Falls (an incredible waterfall that plunges 335 ft. in three-tiers), there are several scenic campsites accessed via the upper Falls Creek trail.
I’ve hiked to the waterfall many times on day hikes, but this was my first overnight here, and I was looking forward to exploring more of the Falls Creek trail. Having only been as far as the viewpoints above the waterfall, the trail is 18-miles long, ending near the boundary for Indian Heaven Wilderness.
This area can be very crowded on weekends – especially the lower trail to Falls Creek Falls – and plenty of people make the trek to the upper viewpoints as well. We were hiking in on a Friday morning and planned to setup camp just past the viewpoints at designated sites next to the creek.
It rained on the drive, so we thought this would be a rainy hike in. When we arrived at the trailhead, the rain had stopped and there were less than ten cars in the parking lot.
The hike to Falls Creek Falls is fairly easy, with about 600 ft. gain in just under two miles. Since this area gets extremely crowded on weekends, we decided to check out the waterfall on our hike in.
After half a mile, we crossed Falls Creek on this small suspension bridge over a narrow rocky gorge.
I’m always happy to be out backpacking! (photo courtesy Klara F.)
Falls Creek Falls drops 335 feet in three tiers, but it’s difficult to see all of the waterfall. As you approach the falls, the top two sections are visible from the trail, and the bottom two tiers are visible from the base of the falls, as shown below.
After taking a long break here – and ignoring several begging chipmunks (please don’t feed wildlife!) – we headed back 0.4 miles to the junction with the Upper Falls trail.
A lot of people must get confused at this junction… this trail heads steeply uphill and not to the waterfall, hence the writing on the sign. We took this trail for a short distance to a junction with the Falls Creek Trail and turned right.
The next 1/4 mile is fairly steep, then the trail levels out once it reaches the top.
We stopped at one of the viewpoints accessed via side trails before continuing to camp.
We were the first to arrive at two creekside campsites. We had plenty of space for four tents and a separate camp kitchen area with a fire pit. Not long after we arrived, another couple setup camp in the only other campsite in this area.
The view from camp
After dinner, we hiked back to the second viewpoint. Trapper Creek Wilderness is visible in the distant ridge.
Day 2 – Upper Falls Creek loop
7.3 miles, 540 ft. gain
We had a full day to explore the area, so we did a day hike from camp on trails we hadn’t hiked before. Just after our campsite, the trail leaves the creek and travels through forest before reaching a boggy area and talus slope.
The creek looks more like a pond here, and mosquitoes were swarming a bit but not too bad.
At 1.6 miles, the trail reaches a junction with an old road on the right and a continuation of the Falls Creek Trail on the left. Since the trail led to the other side of a ridge with views, we turned left here to begin a lollipop loop.
We weren’t sure how many viewpoints there were, so at the first large opening with views towards Middle Butte and Mount St. Helens, we stopped for snack break.
The trail rounds the ridge through more forest, then follows the side of the ridge with multiple viewpoints looking to the east and south. Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood were hidden in the clouds but the views of the surround ridges were quite nice.
The trails in this area are popular with mountain bikers, and we saw more of them than we did hikers.
To keep our hike under 8 miles, we turned onto a gravel road for about 500 feet and looked for the next section of trail to the right – which turned out to be an old road that had been out of commission for a very long time.
Since this hike included more elk scat than I think I’d ever seen before, I figured it deserved a photo too. : )
Back to where we started the lollipop loop, we followed the trail for 1.6 miles back to camp. On the second night of our trip, four additional backpackers were camped in the site next to us.
Day 3 – hike out
3.1 miles, 1,100 ft. loss, 350 ft. gain
For the hike out, we avoided the crowds on the Lower Falls Creek Trail by returning on the slightly longer upper loop trail.
The parking lot was full when we reached the trailhead, and quite a few more cars were coming in as we drove out. If you plan on backpacking here, I’d recommend a trip that begins early on a weekday if possible.