Great Falls is one of a handful of waterfalls which was documented by a 1906 expedition (perhaps The Mountaineers) into the Goat Rocks. I have been aware of this waterfall for several years, but had no idea to the specifics of its location. I had assumed it lay along Conrad Creek because other waterfalls documented during the same expedition had proven to be located along Conrad Creek. In June of 2007 I went backpacking in the area and while scouting the larger of the two marked waterfalls along the Meade Fork, the appearance of this waterfall struck a chord with me. When I got home and compared it to the historic pictures on my hard drive, it became apparent that I had found Great Falls. The falls stand about 320 feet tall, living up to its name quite well, as the Meade Fork plunges into a spectacular canyon carved out of stratified volcanic ash. The first leap of 120 feet is free falling, followed by a sliding tier and finishing off with a pair of horsetails of about 75 feet each. The whole waterfall can be easily seen from the south rim of the canyon, but accessing the canyon itself requires a long hike where staying overnight is recommended, as well as steep scrambling around the cliffs at the headwall. This is a location one should only visit if they possess years of off-trail travel experience. Goat Falls occurs about 100 feet upstream from Great Falls.
- Great Falls is the Historical name of this waterfall.
- Known Alternate Names: Great Falls of the Tieton, Upper Meade Falls
Great Falls was discovered and named in 1906 by a party exploring the headwaters of the South Fork Tieton River. The group actually ascended what is now known as Conrad Creek (it is the larger of the two streams feeding from the Goat Rocks), which was then presumed to be the Tieton. Whether the group thought the Meade Fork to be the main drainage of the river is unknown, but the falls were originally named Great Falls of the Tieton, so there was clearly emphasis placed on both this stream and this waterfall for its size and grandeur. The falls were photographed by S.C. Smith during the expedition.
Great Falls are located in the Gilbert Basin area on the east side of Gilbert Peak in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Accessing the falls requires an overnight outing (2 nights is suggested). Easiest access to the falls is via the South Fork Tieton Trail via Surprise Lake, then following the rough waytrail climbing to Gilbert Basin (roughly 9 miles from the trailhead). The falls are found where the Meade Fork plunges off the edge of the Gilbert Basin plateau. Viewing the falls from below requires descending along the south side of the canyon for about 1/4 mile.