Fairy Falls had for decades been commonly thought of as the tallest waterfall in the State of Washington, and by virtue of word of mouth, one of the more commonly named falls in various "tallest of" lists in reference books and encyclopedias. Generally when waterfalls make appearances in such lists they are thought of as significant. In Fairy's case, this could be argued, but we would refrain from calling it noteworthy at this point simply because of its significantly reduced stature over the last century.
Most, if not all references to Fairy Falls have claimed a height of 700 feet, with some very early sources suggesting a height of 1,000 feet (which were clearly overzealous ballpark estimates). Poorly researched sources have even suggested the falls drop the aforementioned 700 feet in a single, shear leap. Topographic maps led us to doubt whether the falls were actually anywhere close to 700 feet tall, however with recently published LIDAR-based terrain renderings available through Google Earth, it has becomes clear that the falls are actually pretty close to that height. The LIDAR data - which is usually exceptionally accurate - suggests the falls to be about 680 feet tall and consist of six steps, with leaps of about 240, 95, 15, 20, 170 and 110 feet respectively, with the remaining height made up in between the various drops.
Much of the reason Fairy Falls had become so well known, yet so poorly documented, is that it used to be a much more significant waterfall than it currently is. The Paradise Glacier formerly fed into two forks of Stevens Creek above timberline, one of which produces Upper Stevens Creek Falls and the other Fairy Falls. As the Paradise Glacier retreated, the drainage of Fairy Falls was cut off from the glacial melt by a height of land, and the only permanent ice feeding into the falls became the much smaller Williwakas Glacier - itself a finger of the Paradise Glacier. Both the Williwakas and the lower lobe of the Paradise Glacier have vanished entirely now, so Fairy Falls relies entirely on the annual snowfall to sustain its flow. By late summer, the falls are nothing more than a trickle, and in drought years may dry out entirely.
- Fairy Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.
It is not known where the name of the falls originated from, but the falls have been known as such since the inception of the park. Several well known photographers had photographed the falls around the turn of the 19th century, including Asahel Curtis and Darius Kinsey. Shown in one of the Curtis photos are two women clad in what appear to be Sunday dresses, so accessing the falls is (or was) obviously possible by those willing to put in the effort.
Fairy Falls are located at the upper headwall of Stevens Canyon within Mount Rainier National Park. The best views are from a pullout at a sharp hairpin bend along SR 706 known as The Bench, located about 3 miles east of the turn off to Paradise, or about 6 miles west of Box Canyon. Views can also be had from a stretch of road from The Bench to just east of Sunbeam Creek. A small portion of the falls can be seen from the Skyline Trail as it climbs along Mazama Ridge as well. Access to the base of the falls would require a rough and very brushy scramble of about 2 miles up Stevens Creek from the highway.