Glacier Falls is the largest and most prominent waterfall in the Monte Cristo area, located about halfway between the Monte Cristo town site and Glacier Basin. The falls are made up of a series of horsetails, plunges and cascades where Glacier Creek flumes down a very odd step of fractured and creviced bedrock. Four tiers of the falls are prominently visible from the Glacier Basin trail, with individual tiers above the main section of the falls accessible on their own. Because the whole series of falls is difficult to see in entirety from any given location it's difficult to say exactly how tall the falls are. We were able to measure the four final drops as standing 256 feet in all, with respective leaps of 104, 42, 52 and 38 feet. It appears there may be 50-60 feet of additional drops in the narrow canyon above the largest tier of the falls, but we did not have enough time to scout this section out on our most recent visit.
The interesting geology which forms the falls also creates a significant drawback to visiting the falls, in that it is both difficult to approach the falls closely or to see the majority of the falls without some kind of obstruction. The upper and largest tier is the most visible and prominent as it veils out in a broad fan-shape, but the subsequent three drops are all narrower and occur in confined slots in the rock which may restrict the visibility of parts of the falls from certain locations.
Glacier Creek drains from several small snow fields and one prominent, though small, glacier on the shoulder of Wilmans Peak, and the basin itself usually does not fully melt out until mid August, which ensures a steady and heavy flow in the creek for the majority of the year. Because the falls are not terribly steep, avalanches in the winter frequently deposit large cones of snow at the base of the falls which may cover it until the early summer months, so it is best to visit from July onward to ensure the falls will be best appreciated.
- Glacier Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.
Glacier Falls is a name that dates back to the late 1890s and was presumably named for Glacier Creek, which in turn was named for the constant presence of snow and ice in Glacier Basin. The Glacier(s) of Glacier Basin were never terribly significant and that name likely stems from the fact that there was permanent ice in the basin rather than true, active glaciers. Glacier Falls was likely discovered in 1889-1890 when the Monte Cristo area was first explored. Joseph Pearsall was the first to explore the mineral deposits in the valley of Seventysix Gulch, so it is possible he may have been the first to stumble across these falls, but its name was probably not applied until several years later.
Take the Mountain Loop Highway to the Barlow Pass trailhead, found just over 30 miles east of Granite Falls or 23 miles south of Darrington. Once parked at the pass, either hike of bike the gated Monte Cristo Road for 4.25 miles to the Monte Cristo town site. As of 2012 one of two bridges spanning the South Fork Sauk River remains out and the river must be crossed on a large log instead (easy for hikers, a little more cumbersome for those with bikes). Once at the town site, lock your bike up on the rack if needed and follow the trail past the cabins, then bear left across a bridge over Seventysix Creek where a sign points to Glacier Basin. The trail climb briefly to Dumas Street, where much of the Monte Cristo town site once stood. Continue gradually up hill, following signs pointing to Glacier Basin where applicable. The falls will come into view about a half of a mile from the bike rack in Monte Cristo, with the best views available starting another quarter of a mile further. Total distance back to the trailhead is about 5.25 miles.