Tin Cup Joe Falls is one of Washington's hidden gems. While it's obvious that people have visited the falls before, it remains a surprisingly unknown waterfall considering it's proximity to the Seattle Metro area. The falls, on Cripple Creek's major headwall, are a rare combination of not only significant height and volume, but also a rather unique and complex shape. Cripple Creek drains from a basin harboring eight lakes which provide ample water throughout the year. Horseshoe, Shamrock and Elbow Lakes all drain into one stream, while Hatchet, Derrick, Little Derrick Lakes, Lake Caroline and a small unnamed pond all drain into a second channel. The USGS Snoqualmie Lake quadrangle incorrectly shows these two streams merging about half of a mile downstream from Little Derrick Lake. Instead they flow parallel to one another until they reach the steepest portion of the valley's headwall, where both streams encounter steep cliffs and plunge side-by-side for hundreds of feet.
The Horseshoe-Shamrock-Elbow outlet corkscrews down a horsetail-type fall for 229 feet and then slides steeply down a bedrock incline for another 149 feet. The outlet of the other five lakes stairsteps 363 feet down a four-stepped fall, with the upper drop spreading out to over 100 feet in width and falling 185 feet, followed by three narrower drops back-to-back-to-back without pools between which make up the remaining portion. At the base of the main part of the falls, the two streams merge - with part of one splitting off again - and drop over a final 85-foot horsetailing fall, which again plunges side-by-side, though one half of this tier only persists during high water.
At peak flow an immense volume of water can barrel down the mountainside over these falls. While the fork of Cripple Creek which starts in Lake Caroline is longer and drains from much more standing water, the fork from Horseshoe Lake also features the catchment basin on the northeast side of Preacher Mountain, which retains snow well into the summer and ensures a heavy flow from a much smaller basin. At nearly any time of year a consistent volume of water can be seen pouring down this set of falls.
Lastly, we should stress that the measurements we took on our most recent survey of this waterfall reflect only the visible portion of the falls. It is very likely, given the nature of the stream and the ubiquitous granite bedrock in the area, that there are even further falls and cascades extending above what can be seen from the base of the falls. Accessing these hypothetical portions of the falls may prove considerably more difficult, however.
- Tin Cup Joe Falls is the Historical name of this waterfall.
- Known Alternate Names: Cripple Creek Falls
The origin of the name Tin Cup Joe is not known with any specificity, but Cripple Creek was at one time was known as Tin Cup Joe Creek, and it follows that the falls were either named after the creek, or the person for whom the creek was named. Either way, the name is of colloquial origin and has been in use, albeit obscurely, for some time.
Exit Interstate 90 at Edgewick Road, east of North Bend, turn north and proceed about one-half mile and turn right onto Dorothy Lake Road (also signed as SE Middle Fork Road) which eventually turns into Middle Fork Road #56. Follow this oft-bumpy and pothole-ridden road for 11 miles to the Middle Fork Trailhead. From here two options are presented. Those with lower clearance vehicles who do not want to risk the legendary water bars along the upper stretch of FSR #56 will want to park at the trailhead here and set out on the Middle Fork Trail, bearing left after crossing the river and hiking east for 4 miles to the Cripple Creek bridge. For a shorter hike, continue along the Middle Fork Road for another mile to the Taylor River, cross and then bear hard right where the main road proceeds straight to the Taylor River Trailhead. The Middle Fork Road then climbs and runs another 6 miles to the Dingford Creek Trailhead at the end of the road. From here, find the Middle Fork Trail heading down hill for 1/3 of a mile to the bridge over the river, and then bear right after the bridge and continue another mile to the Cripple Creek bridge. From the crossing of Cripple Creek an old fisherman's path climbs up the right side (when looking upstream) of the creek and heads toward Derrick Lake. The boot path is not maintained but is generally passable and in many places is very obvious. Recently there have been several huge swaths of blowdowns which have covered 200-300 foot wide sections of the route with fallen trees. If the trail is lost, keep the creek in sight on the left and just work upstream. Shortly before Tin Cup Joe Falls comes into view, about three-quarters of a mile from the Middle Fork Trail, a large log can be seen spanning Cripple Creek and neighboring Wild Dare Falls can be glimpsed through the trees opposite. Continue another 300 feet to the bottom of the lower tier of the falls. To access the base of the main part of the falls, climb the rocky chute to the right of the lower tier and scramble up a bedrock gully. This isn't very difficult at all, but if there is water flowing down the right channel of the lowest tier of the falls it can be too dangerous to get close to the base of the main part of the falls via this route. The second option is to find the continuation of the trail on the opposite side of Cripple Creek (cross via the previously mentioned log) and follow it steeply up to the upper tiers of the left segment of the falls.