Tin Cup Joe Falls

King County, Washington

Detailed Info

Tin Cup Joe Falls is one of Washington's hidden gems. While it's obvious that people have visited the falls before, it remains a surprisingly unknown waterfall considering it's proximity to the Seattle Metro area. The falls, on Cripple Creek's major headwall, are a rare combination of not only significant height and volume, but also a rather unique and complex shape. Cripple Creek drains from a basin harboring eight lakes which provide ample water throughout the year. Horseshoe, Shamrock and Elbow Lakes all drain into one stream, while Hatchet, Derrick, Little Derrick Lakes, Lake Caroline and a small unnamed pond all drain into a second channel. The USGS Snoqualmie Lake quadrangle incorrectly shows these two streams merging about half of a mile downstream from Little Derrick Lake. Instead they flow parallel to one another until they reach the steepest portion of the valley's headwall, where both streams encounter steep cliffs and plunge side-by-side for hundreds of feet.

The Horseshoe-Shamrock-Elbow outlet corkscrews down a horsetail-type fall for 229 feet and then slides steeply down a bedrock incline for another 149 feet. The outlet of the other five lakes stairsteps 363 feet down a four-stepped fall, with the upper drop spreading out to over 100 feet in width and falling 185 feet, followed by three narrower drops back-to-back-to-back without pools between which make up the remaining portion. At the base of the main part of the falls, the two streams merge - with part of one splitting off again - and drop over a final 85-foot horsetailing fall, which again plunges side-by-side, though one half of this tier only persists during high water.

At peak flow an immense volume of water can barrel down the mountainside over these falls. While the fork of Cripple Creek which starts in Lake Caroline is longer and drains from much more standing water, the fork from Horseshoe Lake also features the catchment basin on the northeast side of Preacher Mountain, which retains snow well into the summer and ensures a heavy flow from a much smaller basin. At nearly any time of year a consistent volume of water can be seen pouring down this set of falls.

Lastly, we should stress that the measurements we took on our most recent survey of this waterfall reflect only the visible portion of the falls. It is very likely, given the nature of the stream and the ubiquitous granite bedrock in the area, that there are even further falls and cascades extending above what can be seen from the base of the falls. Accessing these hypothetical portions of the falls may prove considerably more difficult, however.

History and Naming

Tin Cup Joe Falls is the Historical name of this waterfall.

Has also been known as:

  • Cripple Creek Falls

The origin of the name Tin Cup Joe is not known with any specificity, but Cripple Creek was at one time was known as Tin Cup Joe Creek, and it follows that the falls were either named after the creek, or the person for whom the creek was named. Either way, the name is of colloquial origin and has been in use, albeit obscurely, for some time.

Photo Tips

This a harder waterfall to photograph - mainly because there are so many trees blocking the easiest vantages to reach. For shooting from the base of the upper tiers an ultra wide lens will be extremely handy. From the base of the main part of the falls a more standard zoom range is fine, but if you want to try and frame both segments in one shot an ultra wide lens will again be useful. During high water the spray can be quite heavy, particularly in front of the lower tier and at the base of the uppermost tier of the left segment of the main part of the falls. The falls face east-northeast and see direct sunlight in the morning hours while becoming shaded in the later afternoon by the high ridge to the north of the creek.

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   47.51284, -121.48932
Elevation:   2460 feet
USGS Map:   Snoqualmie Lake 7 1/2"

Exit Interstate 90 at Edgewick Road, east of North Bend, turn north and proceed about one-half mile and turn right onto Dorothy Lake Road (also signed as SE Middle Fork Road) which eventually turns into Middle Fork Road #56. Follow this oft-bumpy and pothole-ridden road for 11 miles to the Middle Fork Trailhead. From here two options are presented. Those with lower clearance vehicles who do not want to risk the legendary water bars along the upper stretch of FSR #56 will want to park at the trailhead here and set out on the Middle Fork Trail, bearing left after crossing the river and hiking east for 4 miles to the Cripple Creek bridge. For a shorter hike, continue along the Middle Fork Road for another mile to the Taylor River, cross and then bear hard right where the main road proceeds straight to the Taylor River Trailhead. The Middle Fork Road then climbs and runs another 6 miles to the Dingford Creek Trailhead at the end of the road. From here, find the Middle Fork Trail heading down hill for 1/3 of a mile to the bridge over the river, and then bear right after the bridge and continue another mile to the Cripple Creek bridge. From the crossing of Cripple Creek an old fisherman's path climbs up the right side (when looking upstream) of the creek and heads toward Derrick Lake. The boot path is not maintained but is generally passable and in many places is very obvious. Recently there have been several huge swaths of blowdowns which have covered 200-300 foot wide sections of the route with fallen trees. If the trail is lost, keep the creek in sight on the left and just work upstream. Shortly before Tin Cup Joe Falls comes into view, about three-quarters of a mile from the Middle Fork Trail, a large log can be seen spanning Cripple Creek and neighboring Wild Dare Falls can be glimpsed through the trees opposite. Continue another 300 feet to the bottom of the lower tier of the falls. To access the base of the main part of the falls, climb the rocky chute to the right of the lower tier and scramble up a bedrock gully. This isn't very difficult at all, but if there is water flowing down the right channel of the lowest tier of the falls it can be too dangerous to get close to the base of the main part of the falls via this route. The second option is to find the continuation of the trail on the opposite side of Cripple Creek (cross via the previously mentioned log) and follow it steeply up to the upper tiers of the left segment of the falls.

View this location in Google Earth
Tin Cup Joe 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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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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