I’ve been visiting Snoqualmie Falls since I was a little girl. It was (and still is) one of my mom’s go-to activities for out-of-town guests. The drive is beautiful and not too long (it’s just 32 minutes from Seattle with no traffic). Plus, the falls are breathtaking year-round.
Fluctuating with the seasons, the view is always a little different. During the summer’s heat, the falls can shrink to as small as 50-feet wide. But visit after heavy rain or snowmelt and the water can span up to 150-feet across the rocky cliff.
This is an excellent place to visit for hikers of all skill levels, including children. But fair warning, it’s an extremely popular destination. More than 1.5 million visitors come to view the falls each year. If you’re looking to avoid the crowd, weekday mornings are your best bet.
Snoqualmie Falls Lower Parking Lot
Depending on the skill and stamina level of your tiny human, hiking from the upper observation decks may be more than they (and you) can handle. In 2014, the Snoqualmie Falls Facebook Page announced the opening of a lower parking area known as the ‘Snoqualmie Lower Falls Parking Lot.’
The lower parking area features three bus stalls and 41 car stalls. It offers a kayak and canoe launching area, forested wildlife habitat, historic interpretive displays, a beautiful picnic area, public restrooms, and the star attraction — easy access to the Snoqualmie Falls riverside boardwalk and observation platform.
Snoqualmie Falls Boardwalk
From the lower parking lot, head down the wide gravel path. It’s only a small downhill grade and well-marked by a sign that reads ‘Falls Viewing Point’ at the edge of the parking lot. It will take you past a few historical signs and displays of old equipment like huge turbines that chronicle the falls’ history.
Just before the boardwalk’s entrance, huge tubes run down the side of the mountain and into the water. Above, at the top of the rim, rests the control room. Fun fact, the original hydroelectric plant was first turned on by Dorothy Baker at just 18-months-old on July 31, 1899.
The plant is the Pacific Northwest’s oldest hydropower facility and home to the world’s first hydroelectric plant built completely underground. Dorothy was the daughter of William Baker, the son of Charles H. Baker. The father-son pair built the plant to harness the amazing potential of the surging river.
The boardwalk is extremely well-maintained. It stretches roughly 0.3 miles long and is mostly flat, with the exception of a few flights of stairs. It’s bordered on one side by a moss-covered old-growth forest and the other by the roaring river.
The boardwalk ends at an observation platform. From here, you can see the falls hitting the water below and the massive cliffs that rise up from the spray. There’s a door on the mountainside of the platform that leads to the rocks and river beneath the falls, but I’ve never seen it unlocked.
Hiking from the Upper Observation Deck
The most popular place to view the falls is from the upper observation deck (aka the ‘Falls Viewpoint’). In large part, this is due to the ease of access.
The upper observation deck at Snoqualmie Falls is wheelchair accessible and parking is free to those with a handicap sticker. All others will need to pay $5 at the on-site pay stations.
From the upper observation deck, follow the path behind the gift shop and visitor’s center. The path will descend roughly 250 feet over 0.4 miles. Along the path, you’ll see interpretive plaques that highlight the native wildlife and their Snoqualmie names. A few of the highlighted wildlife include:
- Bigleaf Maples
- Douglas Fir
- Western Redcedar
- Western Hemlock
The path emerges from the dense tree canopy and follows a gravel path down a steep slope to the river. The entirety of this steep descent can prove challenging on the return trip. Small children will likely want to be carried, making a child carrier ideal.
At the base of the hillside, the path intersects with the boardwalk.
Visiting Snoqualmie Falls in Bad Weather
If the day you planned your trip to Snoqualmie Falls ends up being foggy or rainy — take heart. Your trip doesn’t have to be canceled or ruined.
The first time I visited the falls with my daughter, the mist hung heavy to the hillsides. And I remember being SO disappointed pulling into the lower parking lot. But the day turned out fabulously — thanks in large part to being prepared with appropriate gear.
That’s the thing. If you and your child are dressed for the elements, the times are few and far between that Mother Nature will send you scurrying for home.
Grabbing a Treat Post-Hike
To hike with kids is to know that snacks or ‘treats’ play a major role in the success of your adventure. The dining room at Salish Lodge is an exceptionally unique experience, albeit expensive. In particular, brunch at the lodge is exquisite.
It includes a prix fixe menu option, though the tastier items (hello Chicken & Funnel Cake) may entice you to order off the regular menu. Plus, a thoughtful kids’ menu will be appreciated by parents.
Those looking for something a little less pricey, though equally as fun, will enjoy the five-minute drive to Historic Snoqualmie. In addition to being home to the Northwest Railway Museum Train Station & Depot, you’ll find several locally-owned and operated restaurants. They range from small cafes and breweries to upscale dining rooms.