Upper Stevens Creek Falls
Pierce County, Washington
At the head of Stevens Canyon, there are two large waterfalls; Upper Stevens Creek Falls, and Fairy Falls. Fairy Falls is the taller and much more famous of the two, though is difficult to reach. Upper Stevens Creek Falls is by far the superior waterfall, even though its two-thirds as tall as Fairy Falls. However, and very much to my surprise, even though it is sublimely easy to view this waterfall, I have never heard mention, nor ever seen a (good) picture of this waterfall until I made a serious attempt on it. Even more shocking is that this is easily one of the best waterfalls in the state. Let me run that by you again. This, one of the best waterfalls in Washington State, located within spitting distance of a tourist-magnet trail, is virtually unknown to the world. I can think of two defining factors for this misfortune. One, the trails in the Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park are lined with "Do not trample the meadows" signs (for good reason, of course), and Two, even though the falls can be viewed literally 200 linear feet off a major trail, they cannot be heard at all unless you are standing at the edge of the canyon in which they are situated. There are faint paths along the canyon rim, evidence that I am not the only one to have ever looked down upon this waterfall, but it is almost startling to me that the National Park Service hasn't built so much as a spur path to a point where the falls are plainly visible. Unfortunately, like most of the great waterfalls of the Northwest, there is a downside to this one as well. Even though the easily accessed views of the falls are quite impressive, they do not justly illustrate the magnitude of this waterfall. Significant off trail travel is necessary to view this waterfall properly, and due to the fragile nature of the area, I will not post directions to said viewpoints. Needless to say the easy-to-reach viewpoints aren't ideal, but they do well in a pinch. In addition to the sub-par viewpoints, the 375-foot falls thunder into a narrow, barren canyon, where snow often lingers due to the lack of exposure. Despite these small shortcomings, it's difficult not to consider this one of the great waterfalls in the northwest.
History and Naming
Upper Stevens Creek Falls is the Unofficial name of this waterfall.
Has also been known as:
- Upper Stevens Falls
Logic would dictate that this waterfall was known just as well as Fairy Falls was when Mount Rainier was being explored in the early 20th century, why it escaped being named is a mystery (though there are reports that a Granite Falls was named approximately 3 1/2 miles from Paradise and that mileage could conceivably be worked out to fit this location).
The falls face southeast, and are best lit in the morning and early afternoon. Later in the afternoon, the lower part of the falls will be shaded by the sharp canyon walls. Unfortunately a perspective directly in front of the falls requires extensive off-trail travel, which is neither recommended (both to preserve the fragile vegetation in the area) and as a matter of safety) nor encouraged.
Location & Directions
Coordinates: 46.79722, -121.70748 Elevation: 5818 feet USGS Map: Mount Rainier East 7 1/2"
Located in the Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park. Because of the often-crowded nature of the Paradise parking lots, this waterfall is best accessed as follows. Once in Mount Rainier National Park, follow Highway 706 to the Paradise Road, and drive to the large parking area at the Paradise Lodge. Do not park here, but instead begin following the one-way Paradise Valley Road, which leaves Paradise. At the bottom of the first hill, you'll cross the Paradise River, and immediately after is a large parking area on the right. Park here. Follow the 4th Crossing Trail, across the street from the parking area, uphill for 1/3 of a mile, to the Skyline Trail. Turn right, and proceed another 8/10 of a mile to the Paradise Glacier Trail. Head right again, and proceed about 1/3 of a mile to a small tarn immediately to the right of the trail. At this point, the falls are in the canyon over the small rise to the right of the trail. Best views are had from a small saddle, about 600 feet south of the tarn, approximately 200 feet off the main trail. BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL where you walk. Stay on snow or rocks so as not to trample the fragile plant life in the area. It is possible to avoid the delicate areas, so please don't contribute to the already rampant damage in the area. The falls can also be distantly seen from the Stevens Canyon Road at The Bench (the sharp hairpin turn east of the Snow Lake trailhead).View this location in Google Earth Upper Stevens Creek 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
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.