Giant Falls

Pierce County, Washington

Detailed Info

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).

History and Naming

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.

Photo Tips

Giant Falls isn't so much a photogenic waterfall as it is a big powerful waterfall, so we don't know that there would be much in the way of a draw for serious photographers here. That said, there are two big concerns with the falls; the spray is absolutely insane, and because the spray is crazy, the fact that the cliff on the south side of the falls shields it from quite a bit of direct sunlight means it's quite hard to get good light on the falls itself if it isn't overcast.

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   46.90286, -121.85273
Elevation:   4435 feet
USGS Map:   Mowich Lake 7 1/2"

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.

View this location in Google Earth
Giant 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 Giant 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



Cataloged Icon
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.
Confirmed Icon
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.
Unconfirmed Icon
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.
Unknown Icon
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 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.
Disqualified Icon
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.
Posted Icon
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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