Snoqualmie Falls

King County, Washington

Detailed Info

Snoqualmie Falls is among the largest and most significant waterfalls in the United States. Situated along the Snoqualmie River in the town of Snoqualmie, the falls plunge a sheer 268 feet in a huge amphitheater carved in ancient volcanic bedrock. The natural volume of the Snoqualmie River, coupled with the great height of the falls makes it one of the most powerful waterfalls in North America. However, that power was too tempting a prospect for intrepid engineers, and in July of 1899 the Snoqualmie Falls Hydroelectric plant went online - the first hydroelectric facility in the world to be built entirely underground. In 1910 a second powerhouse (this one above ground) was constructed downstream of the falls, which was greatly expanded again in the late 1950s.

Because of the hydroelectric diversions, the falls do not regularly flow with the force of the full volume of the river. However in the spring when the snow in the Cascade Mountains is melting at full bore, and in the early winter months when heavy rain frequents the Northwest, the river often swells to impressive proportions and it is temporarily restored to its natural splendor. During such periods, spray from the falls swirls around in the amphitheater so fervently that it can rise well above the top of the falls, and even be blinding at times (for visitors standing along the viewpoints that is).

In 2015 a massive overhaul of the hydroelectric facilities at the falls was completed, which greatly increased both the power output of the hydro stations, but also increased the maximum capacity of the diversion of the river as well. The FERC licence for the project stipulated that a minimum release of 100 cubic feet per second pass over the falls during daylight hours, at on certain holidays (Labor Day weekend, for example) it increase to 200 cfs - this is actually an increase from the previous minimum release requirement. The penstocks now have a total capacity of 3,620 cfs, which is great enough that essentially the entire volume of the river will be drawn off - save for the minimum required release - for eight months out of the year, based on the Daily Mean flow statistics maintained by the USGS. This is also greatly increased from the previous diversion capacity. However, because the Snoqualmie River does frequently surpass this volume in the Spring and early Winter months, it can still be seen running at impressively high levels.

Because it's situated so close to the Puget Sound metropolitan area, Snoqualmie Falls is among the most popular tourist destinations in the state of Washington; receiving an average of over 1.5 million visitors each year. This has certainly been bolstered by the falls' appearance in the opening credits of the show Twin Peaks, which aired from 1990-1991 - most of the show was filmed in Roselyn, Washington, but many exterior and environmental shots were filmed around Snoqualmie and North Bend.

History and Naming

Snoqualmie Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.

Snoqualmie is the English translation and spelling of the Salish "sah-KOH-koh" or "Sdob-dwahibbluh", meaning Moon. The falls were first seen by non-native Washington Hall in 1848 and became a well known tourist destination by 1865. The hydroelectric facility was installed beneath the falls in 1899 and continues operation today, and the Snoqualmie Falls Lodge (now the Salish Lodge) was opened in 1919 after the Sunset Highway was constructed.

Photo Tips

When the river runs high in the winter, the mist from the falls will reach the canyon rim and it will get your camera lens wet, theres really no avoiding it. Bring a tall tripod to get above the railings along the viewing areas. The falls are usually lit well, but shade can overtake the falls in the afternoon in the winter.

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   47.54174, -121.83808
Elevation:   395 feet
USGS Map:   Snoqualmie 7 1/2"

Snoqualmie Falls is located immediately west of the city of Snoqualmie along the Interstate 90 corridor. Exit Interstate 90 at the Snoqualmie Parkway exit, turning north (uphill) and proceed approximately 4 miles to Highway 202, then head left to the falls in another 1/2 mile. Accessible trails lead from the spacious parking areas on either side of the highway to extensive viewpoints along the gorge rim. Additionally, a trail to the base of the falls leads to a newly constructed boardwalk which overlooks the falls from the base.

View this location in Google Earth
Snoqualmie 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.

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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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