Paradise Falls

Skamania County, Washington

Detailed Info

Paradise Falls is a spectacular broad, sheer plunge type waterfall along Clearwater Creek found just outside of the area in which the trees were killed during the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. The falls plunge 126 feet in a broad sheet of water, streching on average about 55 feet in width, over an amphitheater cliff of andesite which displays some poorly formed columnar jointing. Though few instances of waterfall measurements by the USGS seem to appear on their 7-1/2" topographic maps, Paradise Falls seems to have been one of the few; the 1998 Smith Creek Butte quadrangle indicating the falls as dropping 133 feet in contrast to our measurement of 126 feet. It's possible that since the USGS's measurement was taken, the streambed above the falls had been scoured further to bedrock which may have reduced the height of the falls slightly since 1980. Immediately upstream of the falls the creek flows along a remarkably smooth, calm pool along a bedrock shelf which lends some evidence that the stream has likely been scoured out considerably during the last 30 years.

Though it is situated well outside of the blast zone, in which all of the trees were knocked over and killed, there are several dead snags around Paradise Falls which were likely suffocated due to the thick ash and noxious gasses released during the 1980 eruption. Upstream of the falls and down, Clearwater Creek is lined with thick growths of Alder thickets which suggest that during and after the eruption there were sizeable mudflows which scoured the valley and ripped clean the older growth along the stream. Above and to the left of the falls thick layers of volcanic ash and breccias can be seen exposed along the rim of the cliff, signaling that the area has repeatedly been coated by eruptions in the past. Likewise, several stretches of the descent down into the canyon pass through forest floor littered with crumbly dirt which has almost certainly been intermixed with ash from the eruption.

Though the journey into Paradise Falls is not terribly lengthy, it is a trek of considerable difficulty, and not one at all recommended for any but the most hearty of bushwhackers. The descent to the base of the falls is very steep, crumbly, and can offer potential situations where hikers could encounter cliffs if the correct route down is not identified. Please consider this before attempting to visit the falls.

History and Naming

Paradise Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.

Photo Tips

Though Paradise Falls is situated in a wide-open amphitheater, and features a broad exposure to the southwest which allows for bright, high contrast light, it is a remarkably scenic and photogenic waterfall as well. The falls look very nice in the bright sunlight in the early to mid afternoon, however morning light with the sun shining down over the top of the falls would likewise function for more artistic options. Spray is a considerable issue near the base of the falls, as are the slick rocks in the stream should you choose to use the ripples below the falls as foreground subjects. The falls face southeast and will be fully illuminated from mid-day until perhaps an hour before sunset.

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   46.23328, -122.01036
Elevation:   2084 feet
USGS Map:   Smith Creek Butte 7 1/2"

Paradise Falls is accessed from National Forest Road 25 south of Elk Pass and east of Mount St. Helens National Monument. Road 25 is seasonal and may open anywhere from late May to early July depending on the lingering winter snowpack. Take FR 25 either 31.2 miles south of Randle, or 12.7 miles north from the Pine Creek Ranger Station (near the junction with FR 90), and turn west onto an un-numbered gravel road (shown on the 1998 Spencer Butte 7 1/2" quadrangle as Spur 540 - there was no post marking the number upon our visit). Follow this road, which was in pretty good condition at least visit, to its end in 2 miles - keeping straight at all junctions. At the end of the road, a remarkably nice trail heads straight into the woods and descends gently for half of a mile to intersect former Road 2568 - note a boot nailed to a tree marking the intersection of the trail. Bear left on the old road for several hundred feet, then head right into the woods looking for animal or boot paths which lead down toward the canyon. The slope quickly becomes very steep and crumbly, but there are gullies which allow access to the bottom safely (it may require scrambling along the rim of the canyon to find the correct one). A fairly well-traveled animal path may be evident. Once at creek level, some 400 vertical feet below the road, head upstream to where the falls can be seen. You may need to either ford Clearwater Creek or cross on a log in order to get to the very base of the falls (fording is not advised during the spring, as the creek is rather large).

View this location in Google Earth
Paradise 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

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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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Key

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.
Confirmed Icon
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.
Unconfirmed Icon
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.
Unknown Icon
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.
Subterranean Icon
Subterranean
Though not common, some waterfalls can be found entirely underground within cave systems. Access to subterranean waterfalls can vary from easy via developed walkways to requiring a high level of extremely technical spelunking skill, including familiarity with ropework and a distinct lack of claustrophobia.
Disqualified Icon
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.
Posted Icon
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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