Skamania County, Washington
Tribulation Falls is a massive hidden waterfall along Big Creek where it makes its initial leap off the Indian Heaven plateau towards the Lewis River canyon. The falls begin by cascading 56 feet over a shallow incline as the creek spreads out to about one hundred feet in breadth across a shelf of volcanic bedrock. The sliding portion of the falls terminates at a huge amphitheater cliff where the creek pours 221 feet over a convex ledge and splits into several channels - the majority of the volume plunging off an almost undercut lip and then skipping down into a crevice in the cliff, while about one-third of the creek slides sideways to a slightly lower ledge, then veils out over a huge bulbous extension of the cliff in a parallel stream with a small island of trees growing in the middle, the breadth of the falls stretching to as much as 250 feet in all. Pouring into the falls just below the lip of the second tier is a tiny tributary stream that accentuates the scene from certain angles. Below the falls the streambed is choked with boulders the size of large cars which have fallen off the huge cliffs around the falls over the years.
Big Creek isn't exactly a small stream, and while it may not appear to be a huge watercourse where it crosses the Lewis River Road above Big Creek Falls (at least in comparison to nearby Rush Creek), it is big enough to push Tribulation Falls to a truly enormous scale during peak flow. We surveyed the falls in mid-July when historic stream gauge readings suggest the streamflow hovers around 20-40 cubic feet of water per second. Peak flow is typically encountered in May when the volume of water averages nearly five times as high, and has reached nearly ten times that volume at times. With a river-sized stream flowing over this waterfall, we would expect the entire cliff to be covered in a solid sheet of water, making Tribulation Falls one of the largest waterfalls by square-acreage in the state of Washington. Unfortunately accessing the waterfall when the volume is this high would likely prove impossible.
The canyon where the falls are found averages between 400 and 700 feet in depth, and features sheer cliffs of dark brown Andesite surrounded by tall, mature, and in some cases very old growth timber. For all intents and purposes this canyon would be extremely difficult to penetrate without the aid of a trail, and even with an established route down into the canyon the falls are not at all easy to access. The falls can be accessed by two routes - either scrambling down the steep slopes adjacent to the falls and along sheer cliffs, or descending a steep trail to the canyon belo and then bushwhacking upstream with multiple stream fords and log jams to navigate. Neither route is easy or recommended for inexperienced hikers.
History and Naming
Tribulation Falls is the Unofficial name of this waterfall.
This waterfall has had no known documentation over the years, and has not been known to hold any unofficial or colloquial name. We have chosen to name it such considering the extremely difficult journey required to reach its base.
The biggest impediment to photographing this waterfall (other than actually getting there) is either getting close enough, or getting too close. The convention of boulders littering the gorge below the falls makes scrambling up close to the base of the falls extremely difficult from along the streambed, and while scaling down the cliff from above makes it considerably easier to access the base of the falls, it's so huge and so in-your-face that an ultrawide lens is necessary to frame the entire falls in one shot (we're talking 14mm on a full frame body, or 8mm on an APS-C sized sensor here). And when you're that close, spray is most definitely an issue, even at modest flows. When the creek is running full it will likely be essentially impossible to photograph from below. The falls face almost due west and will see even sunlight from mid day to late afternoon, then by early evening the trees along the rim of the canyon will start to cast it into shadow.
Location & Directions
Coordinates: 46.09283, -121.87567 Elevation: 3100 feet
Take Interstate 5 to the town of Woodland, and exit onto Highway 503 heading east. Follow 503 east past the town of Cougar and the Swift Reservoir, then turn south onto Forest Service Road 90 (signed for Carson and Upper Lewis River), just passed the Pine Creek Ranger Station. Follow Road 90 for 4-1/2 miles, then turn right onto Curly Creek Road (again, signed for Carson) and continue another 5 miles to the intersection. Turn left onto Meadow Creek Road (heading right the road becomes Wind River Road), and go 2.7 miles to the end of the pavement at the Lone Butte Sno Park, then bear left onto Forest Service Road 32. Proceed another 2 miles along Road 32 then turn right onto Road 3220 and go another 4.5 miles and watch for an obvious pullout on the left (just under three-quarters of a mile after crossing Big Creek). This marks the start of the extremely steep trail which drops down into the canyon, losing almost 800 feet in under half of a mile. The trail terminates at a nice swimming hole marked by a sign nailed to a tree denoting the creek. In order to reach the falls, it's necessary to scramble up the creek for another half mile. Along the way expect to have to climb over numerous log jams, ford the creek at least a dozen times, and scramble on huge boulders near the base of the falls in order to achieve a good view. This trek is not for the uninitiated.
A considerably shorter route to the falls can be found by backtracking about 600 feet to a small pullout next to a wide open view down into the canyon next to a broad slide chute. From here, descend the steep slope heading slightly downstream until the top of a cliff is encountered. Go left along the cliff to find the upper tier of the falls, and right to find a narrow chute where one can safely descend further down the canyon, and wrap around under the cliff to come out on the meadow slope immediately adjacent to the falls. Though this route is much shorter, it is considerably more hazardous and again not at all recommended for inexperienced hikers.
Other Nearby Waterfalls
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.Close
CatalogedWaterfalls 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.
ConfirmedConfirmed 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.
UnconfirmedUnconfirmed 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.
UnknownWaterfalls 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.
InundatedInundated 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.
SubterraneanThough 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.
DisqualifiedWaterfalls 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.
PostedPosted 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.