Bear Creek Falls

Snohomish County, Washington

Detailed Info

Bear Creek Falls is the lowermost of the waterfalls along the North Fork Skykomish River northeast of the town of Index in the Wild Sky area of the North Cascades (not quite within the wilderness itself though). The falls consist of several small punchbowls and plunges where the river constricts through a narrow granite gorge, culminating in three drops totaling 25 feet in height that empty into a huge pool, producing an enormous boiling churn of bubbles. The exact height of each of the three major drops will actually vary considerably depending on how high the river is running. During low water the upper two drops are the tallest, each falling about 8-9 feet, but when the volume of the river climbs up the water basically backs up in the gorge and floods the upper tiers, increasing the height of the lower tier. On our most recent survey it had increased to 17 feet in height, with the two upper tiers split down to about 4 feet each. The volume of the river is quite deceptive when viewing the falls, since the water is all constricted through a canyon 20-30 feet wide at most, yet downstream of the plunge pool it spreads out to almost 200 feet wide, giving the illusion that much of the river just bubbles out of the ground at the falls.

On a note regarding access, the trail which leads down to the falls ends on bare rocks near the top of the gorge, and accessing the best views of the falls will require scrambling downstream on rocks which have some pretty big gaps to surmount, and are polished smooth enough that climbing can be a bit tricky. Be very careful along the edge of the river itself, because slipping in could easily prove fatal considering how violent some of the river's action is.

History and Naming

Bear Creek Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.

Bear Creek Falls does indeed occur on the North Fork Skykomish River. It was named such because Bear Creek empties into the river immediately next to the falls and is the most prominent landmark in the immediate area. The falls were photographed and documented at least as early as 1912. The specific date of discovery is not known, but is likely within a few years of the earliest photographs, if that.

Photo Tips

Bear Creek Falls is very difficult to photograph in entirety due to the twisty shape of the gorge, but sections of the falls and gorge are easy to work with by themselves. During the late summer months there may be some interesting compositions to be had from the middle of the river below the plunge pool (you'll have to get wet, but it won't be more than shin deep at most). The falls are fairly exposed and will see direct sunlight for much of the day due to the lack of surrounding cliffs.

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   47.89237, -121.3814
Elevation:   1450 feet
USGS Map:   Monte Cristo 7 1/2"

Bear Creek Falls is found near the Troublesome Creek Campground northeast of the town of Index along the Index-Galena Road. Due to the washout of the Index-Galena Road in 2006, access to this waterfall requires driving over Jack Pass (which is usually snowbound until mid to late May). Take Highway 2 to the town of Skykomish, and continue east for three-quarters of a mile, then turn north onto Beckler River Road (National Forest Road 65). The Beckler Road climbs 12.6 miles to Jack Pass (turning to gravel at the Raging River bridge after 7 miles). At the pass, a large open gravel pit type area, the main road bends to the left with two other roads splitting off hard left and right (don't take either). Continue downhill to cross the North Fork Skykomish River and meet the North Fork Skykomish Road where pavement is encountered again, 15 miles from Highway 2. Continue straight on the paved road - the upper extension of the Index-Galena Road - for another 2-1/2 miles and watch for a small pullout on the left (downhill) side of the road and park. The rocks of the gorge should be visible through the trees from here. Find an obvious path which leads down to the river at the top of the gorge, then make your way downstream along the smooth rocks to a better view. There is also a second trail a few hundred feet further down the road, but it's nearly impossible to spot from the road due to years of neglect and is much easier to follow when climbing back up from the bottom of the falls.

View this location in Google Earth
Bear Creek Falls is marked with the large icon in the center of the map. Up to ten additional waterfalls (if any) may be marked as well, with links below.

Other Nearby Waterfalls

Additional Waterfalls which occur within 5 miles of Bear Creek Falls
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By The Numbers

The information presented in this table is meant to help identify and clarify the physical aspects of the waterfall for comparative purposes. While we try to ensure this information is as accurate as possible, sometimes it will prove necessary to either estimate or flat out guess at certain characteristics where either enough information isn't readily available, is not known, or we were not able to confirm a given trait upon surveying. This information may be changed at any given time to ensure accuracy.

Total Height

The Total Height listed for the waterfall represents the difference in elevation from the top of the uppermost drop, to the bottom of the lowermost drop of the waterfall, including all stretches of interstitial stream in between. Stream between two tiers of a waterfall is counted in its overall height regardless of whether or not that section of the stream would be legitimately considered a waterfall on its own right, were it to be isolated. Waterfalls with only one drop will of have the height of only the single drop listed here.

Tallest Drop

The Tallest Drop figure represents the height of the largest single drop within a multi-stepped waterfall. Waterfalls with only one drop will have the total height of the waterfall repeated here.

Num of Drops

The Number of Drops in a waterfall is a tally of the total number of distinct drops which make up the waterfall. Stretches of interstitial stream in between two or more distinct drops of a single waterfall are NOT considered to be distinct drops of the waterfall unless the section of stream in question would otherwise qualify as a waterfall were it to be isolated.

Avg Width

The Average Width of the waterfall represents the breadth of the waterfall from bank to bank under typical flow conditions, or if the waterfall has been Cataloged, under the conditions which it was most thoroughly surveyed. Often this number will be approximated because of a lack of approachability to many waterfalls. We often utilize Google Earth to measure the width (where imagery is of sufficient quality and resolution to allow it.

Maximum Width

Maximum Width represents a hypothetical measurement of roughly how wide a waterfall could get during peak streamflow or flood conditions. For smaller waterfalls, this figure will generally not differ much from the Average Width measurement, but for broader waterfalls - especially those that feature a crest that isn't constricted - this figure can at times be consideraby larger. Like the Average Width measurement, this measurement will take into account the difference in width at the top and bottom of the waterfall as much as possible, but will often be made based on the width of the crest of th falls alone.

Pitch

The Pitch of a waterfall is an estimated - often very roughly - measure of the average slope or steepness of a waterfall. The Pitch figure only takes into account sections of stream which are actively falling. Pools or stretches of level stream in between two or more successive drops of the falls will not factor in this figure. As an example, a waterfall which features two truly free-falling leaps separated by several dozen yards of flat stream will have a Pitch of 90 degrees. Similarly, a waterfall with two drops separated by a pool, one with a true free-falling drop, and one with a Horsetail type fall will average the two, so while the Plunging drop has a Pitch of 90 degrees, if the Horsetail drop has a Pitch of 45 degrees, the total Pitch will be roughly 67 degrees.

Run

The Run of a waterfall is a measurement representing the total linear distance on the ground between the top and bottom of a waterfall. This figure is not often easy to establish with a high degree of precision and as such will often be estimated. Waterfalls with a longer Run will usually either be less steep, often cascading type waterfalls, or will feature multiple steps separated by shorter stretches of a more gradual gradient streambed.

Form

The system of classification of waterfall forms we use is a heavily modified derivative of the classifications outlined by Greg Plumb in his "Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest" books. While plumb uses eight distnct forms, we wanted further granularity and opted to break down the hierarchy twofold: first based on the overall pitch of the waterfall, and then based on what shape the fall takes as it makes its descent. There are five primary Categories of falls in this system: Plunge, Horsetail, Steep Cascades, Shallow Cascades, and Rapids. Additional deliniation is then applied depending on characteristics such as the breadth of the falls, whether it splits into two or more channels, whether it falls in multiple successive drops, etc. For more information on our waterfall form classifications, see the Help page.

Watershed

The watershed which a waterfall occurs within, if it is specified, will be based on the ultimate distributary watercourse to the ocean. For example, Washington's Palouse Falls occurs along the Palouse River - which is a tributary to the Snake River, which is itself a tributary to the Columbia River, which ultimately enters the Pacific Ocean, so Palouse Falls would then fall within the Columbia River watershed. Streams which empty directly into the ocean, or into a minor basin which then empties to the ocean will often have this field left blank.

Stream

The name of the watercourse which the waterfall occurs along. If the watercourse is not known to have an officially or colloquially recognized name, this field is left blank.

Avg Volume

The volume of water present in the stream at the location of the waterfall. This is often the most difficult figure to pin down because accurately measuring streamflow is not a simple process. We will rely on USGS data as much as possible, and attempt to take into account seasonal fluctuations in stream levels if possible. There is no guarantee that this figure will be accurate, and in cases where there is no USGS data to use, it may be a very, very rough estimate at best.

Source

If known, the primary source of the watercourse which produces the waterfall will be listed here. This is helpful in determining whether a waterfall may flow more consistently during certain periods of the year - streams which originate in Springs, Lakes, or Glaciers will often flow more consistently throughout the year than those fueled by simply Runoff. The source of the stream may also be either unknown or undetermined.

Flow Consistency

A rough estimation of how many months out of the year the stream which produces the waterfall will actually hold water. The vast majority of waterfalls featured on this website will technically be truly perennial waterfalls (those that flow all year long), but some may see their flow dwindle greatly in the late summer months. This figure will not take into account the winter months when the waterfall may freeze, because in such cases the waterfall will very often be inaccessible. Entries which specify a Flow Consistncy of 12 Months should in general have an acceptable flow at any time of year (but may be better during certain periods - see below).

Best Flow

A general estimate of the best period of the year during which time the falls will be considered at optimal conditions, or flowing at their best. There may be variance within the range specified where the flow will be better or worse, but visiting at any time in the range specified (if available) will generally present the waterfall in its best light.

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Cataloged Icon
Cataloged
Waterfalls which are Cataloged we have visited and surveyed in person. Statistical information should be quite accurate (for the most part), and exact measurements will often be available (information is not guaranteed to always be up to date). Detailed information, directions, and photographs will almost always be available.
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Confirmed
Confirmed Waterfalls are known to exist, should be relatively accurately mapped and geotagged, and the statistical information available will often be dependable. If height information is presented, it may be estimated but should be accurate. Directions will not likely be available.
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Unconfirmed
Unconfirmed Waterfalls are often marked on a published map, but we have yet to confirm the exact location and / or whether or not its stature is significant enough to qualify for listing in the database. Statistical information may be estimated and may be inaccurate. No directions.
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Unknown
Waterfalls marked as Unknown are either suspected to exist based on heresay or a hunch, or we have received unverified information suggesting a waterfall may exist near the location provided but cannot corroborate it in any way. Geodata may not be accurate, the location may not be known at all, and statistical information will be estimated and highly inaccurate.
Inundated Icon
Inundated
Inundated Waterfalls have been submerged beneath lakes or reservoirs, usually a result of impoundment of a river behind a dam, and most often no longer functionally exist (there may be rare exceptions). We maintain records for these features out of historical importance.
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Disqualified
Waterfalls which have been marked as Disqualified do not have the necessary stature or features to qualify as a legitimate waterfall according to our criteria. We will maintain records for entries with this status where the feature is well known and / or may have been historically referred to as a waterfall at some point in time.
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Posted
Posted Waterfalls are known to exist, and we may have a large amount of information associated with them, but are located on private property and are not legally accessible to the general public. Accessing waterfalls with this status should not be attempted without first being explicitly granted permission of the property owner.
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