Giant Falls is the largest of several significant waterfalls along the North Mowich River in Mount Rainier National Park. The falls is found about 2.5 miles upstream from where the round-the-mountain Wonderland Trail crosses the North Mowich River, and just below the barren valley left in the wake of the retreating North Mowich Glacier. The falls drop through a narrow canyon, squeezed between Division Rock on the north (so named because at one point it likely divided the North Mowich Glacier into two when it extended this far downstream), and a high cliff on the south. As it courses through this canyon it leaps over the falls in several distinct leaps.
The first tier, which lies out of view from the base of the falls due to the shape of the canyon, drops about 55 feet into a pothole, and then immediately drops another 35 feet into a lower pothole. About 100 linear feet of flowing through smaller pothole pools leads the river into the 243-foot tall main part of the falls, which first slides in a narrower column, then veils outward to a breadth of over 80 feet as the river hits a convex ramp, and then finally constricting again near the base into a powerful fire-hose chute that free-falls for the remainder of the descent. The way the river hits the ramp Only the final 243-foot tier of the falls can be seen from its base.
One of the unique stand out features of the falls serves not only as a testament to the power of the falls, but also to the power of its sourcing glacier upstream. For several hundred feet in all directions downstream of the falls, the landscape is coated head to toe in a thin veneer of very fine silt, almost as if a cloud of dust was continually being kicked up in the area. This coat of silt stems from the immense cloud of spray produced by the falls which permeates the area. Because the North Mowich River is naturally a very silt-laden river (due to the intense glaciation taking place just upstream), the violent action of the falls sends droplets of water which contain silt particles all around the area, so when the water evaporates in the sun, the silt is left behind. We have yet to survey another waterfall where this occurs naturally (we have seen it occur as the result of a glacial outburst flood, but as a temporary affliction rather than a permanent quality).
- Giant Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.
The 1925 map of Mount Rainier National Park drawn by Floyd Schmoe does not mark the falls, and interestingly shows the North Mowich Glacier to have two toes as it splits around what would presumably be Division Rock. This suggests that Giant Falls may have been at least partially buried beneath the glacier less than 100 years ago. The 1924 USGS Mt. Rainier 1:125,000 quadrangle similarly shows the glacier extending down the canyon where the falls are found. Given the substantial retreat that glaciers on Mount Rainier have exhibited over the last century, it is certainly possible that Giant Falls was buried beneath ice well into the 20th century. This would also explain why there seems to be so little documentation about it, since the majority of the true exploration of Mount Rainier took place before 1930. The name of the falls was made official by the USGS Board of Geographic Names in 1932, so this suggests it was at least partially visible by 1930 or so.
Giant Falls is located a considerably distance off-trail in the North Mowich River valley in Mount Rainier National Park, a little over halfway between the Wonderland Trail and the toe of the North Mowich Glacier. Accessing the falls is a demanding undertaking which requires highly seasoned route finding ability. We do not recommend attempting to visit this waterfall, and will not be posting specific directions.