Resting between the north and south lanes of I-90 lies an idyllic scene, full of cedar and pine that seem to stretch miles into the sky and views of the mighty Snoqualmie River. On the South Fork of the river, a waterfall known as Franklin Falls flows powerfully into a small pool lined with rocks and boulders below. The falls consist of three total drops, the upper two tiers being located north of the freeway, and the final drop being the location of the beloved Franklin Falls.
Being one of the most popular hikes in the western part of the state, Franklin Falls Trail is heavily trafficked in the summer months and provides a peaceful getaway for beginning and seasoned hikers alike. In summer, the hike is a total of 2 miles long, out and back, and is a relatively easy to moderate hike consisting of little to no switchbacks and subtle inclines. The elevation gain is 400 feet with the highest point being 2,600 feet. While easily accessible in the summer months, the falls prove to be a bit more challenging to reach during the snowy winter season. If you’re up for the challenge, though, you are in for a treat.
From Seattle, head east on I-90 to exit 47, Denny Creek/Tinkham Road. At the top of the exit, a left turn will take you across a ramp over the freeway and lead to a right turn that takes you to the entrance of the forest road (FR-58) leading to the trailhead. During the summer months the road to the trailhead parking lot is open and completely accessible (Northwest Forest Pass required for parking). The main trailhead is closed off during winter due to snow on the roadway. However, you can park at the bottom of FR-58 and hike the road in. There is plenty of space on either side of the road to park a car. No pass is required to park a vehicle here, but do be advised to take all personal belongings and valuables with you when you hit the trail.
Hiking to Franklin Falls
Due to the entrance off of exit 47 being partially closed (during winter), it takes about an additional hour trek to reach the Franklin Falls trailhead. The road is completely paved and mostly flat as you pass by Denny Creek Campground and onward to the beginning of the trail.
While making your way there, songs of the Snoqualmie River float about the air and the trees blanketed in snow seem to be something out of a fairytale. The road eventually leads to a yellow gate that is closed off straight ahead, and to the right there is a sign for the Franklin Falls trailhead.
The 1-mile hike to the falls is well marked and easy to follow. There are many picturesque views along the way as you gradually climb in elevation, including a few overlooks at the river plunging below. About three-quarters up the trail there are views to the left of the infamous red cabin that can be seen posted all over the internet when in reference to Franklin Falls, providing great opportunities for some prefect snowy shots. As the falls become closer the snow quickly turns to an ice rink beneath your feet, so proper gear is essential in the descent to the base of the waterfall.
Winter gear is an important preparation piece for any snowy hike, especially when there is the potential of ice involved or an extended hiking time like Franklin Falls requires when snow is present. As aforementioned, the last stretch of trail can prove to be extremely icy and slippery, so snow spikes (microspikes) are a great piece of gear to have on hand. Hiking poles could also be utilized to help stabilize and keep you from slipping on ice as well as any other piece of gear that adds extra traction to your feet.
While hiking can be an intense workout, layers are an important aspect to keep in mind when traversing a snowy trail. The trail can prove to be especially cold when it is actively snowing, so packing a reliable coat made for snow, sweatshirt or warm piece of clothing as well as long underwear is beneficial. The right shoes are also important with snow boots or regular hiking boots being great choices. These types of boots are easy to add hiking spikes to as well. It is best to opt for something lightweight and waterproof since hiking in the snow can be cause for chilly and tired feet with the extra movement often necessary.
Pack a lot of water and drink periodically while on the trail. It is easy to become dehydrated, even in the snow, and it is always a good idea to have extra water on hand in case of emergencies. Snacks that are high in protein, as well as potassium, are an optimal choice, and packing a full lunch if possible will help to keep your energy up throughout the journey (and may be fun to eat as you enjoy the waterfall). Before heading out be sure to check the Snoqualmie Pass Report to have an idea of weather conditions and requirements for getting over the pass. Having a vehicle with four-wheel drive or having chains on hand is typically recommended.
As the descent begins, the tree cover gives way to views of the powerful waterfall plunging into the pool below. The colder the time of year and the more snow the area has received, the more frozen the waterfall will appear. What is usually brown stone and wildflowers in the summer turns to a white blanket of snow and icicles hanging from every rock. The waterfall itself doesn’t always freeze — though it can! If you’re lucky, you may even catch some of the expert ice climbers who ascend the falls during winter.
As the waterfall hits the pool below, small droplets of water ricochet outward and can feel like small ice cubes pummeling your face, so be sure to stand further back in order to stay warmer and enjoy the beauty longer. The best time to get the most of a trip to the falls is on a sunny January day when the area surrounding the waterfall is more likely to be fully frozen and iced over.
Franklin Falls is a paradise for photographers and nature lovers alike, and is sure to transport anyone from reality to a winter fairytale instantly. Remember to always pack out what you pack in, recreate responsibly, and practice good trail etiquette by respecting others and the landscapes around you.