Otter Falls

King County, Washington

Detailed Info

Otter Creek heads in a modest basin along the ridge running between Dog Mountain and Cascade Mountain which divides the Taylor River drainage from that of the Miller River and Lennox Creek. In a little over one linear mile the drainage loses just over 3,600 feet in elevation, with only about 1,600 feet of that accounting for the change between the high point along the ridge and the lower end of the uppermost part of the catchment basin along the ridgeline. Below this point Otter Creek begins to conglomerate from numerous tiny rivulets percolating out of broad talus fields, and as it gains more and more volume the creek begins to cut a wider and wider channel through the sub-alpine growth in the basin.

Beginning at about the 3,600 foot mark, the creek has formed a constant waterslide which sheets down the narrow, solid bedrock gully carved into the mountainside, and then at about the 2,900 foot level it breaks out into a huge, broad channel of solid granite where the water begins sheeting out in wide, pulsating flows. For the next 1,200 vertical feet, all the way down the mountainside to tiny little Lipsy Lake (itself really a glorified puddle), the bulk of Otter Falls is formed. Because of the lower angle of descent (alternating between 40 and 60 degrees for the most part), and the density of the forest downstream of Lipsy Lake and along the Snoqualmie Lake Trail, only the final 502-feet of the falls can be easily seen - though windows through the trees offer views of parts of the upper stretches in some places.

Part of what makes Otter Falls so difficult to pin down with any sort of certainty is there is no clear cut point where the creek transitions from simply a cascading stream into a sliding waterfall. It could be argued that this takes place around the 3,600 foot mark where the creek begins to slide down the solid bedrock, but since travel into the upper basin appears exceedingly difficult due to thick brush, it may be quite hard to verify whether this is the case or not. The circa 2,900 foot level is the most visually apparent high point of the falls since this is where many of the streams which come together out of the vegetated basin and into the granite channel, so this is the point we have opted to consider the top of the falls until more detailed surveying can confirm whether it should or should not be moved further upstream.

Otter Creek additionally exhibits a phenomena which we like to refer to as "the Yosemite Effect" - essentially the propensity of the drainage to expend its groundwater at a much faster rate due to the significant amount of bedrock and a lack of deep soil covering the majority of the basin. Heavy winter snow falls in the area and the falls flow consistently throughout the winter months, roaring to life during the freshet between late April and late June, but once the snow has fully melted from the basin Otter Creek dries out completely and will not return to life until the winter rains begin the following fall. This is in direct contrast to the neighboring drainages of Anderson Creek and Big Creek, both of which flow all year. In low snow years, Otter Falls has been known to dry out entirely by the end of May when it usually is flowing at its peak.

History and Naming

Otter Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.

Has also been known as:

  • Otter Slide Falls

Otter Falls has been known by its current name for decades, likely dating back to when the Taylor River Road was first built back in the 1930s. The falls are often referred to as Otter Slide Falls because it isn't viewed as a true waterfall by some people, rather a long waterslide of sorts (and this isn't necessarily an untrue sentiment).

Photo Tips

Otter Falls has no issues with unwanted shading thanks to the huge expanse of granite the falls drop down. The southerly facing will also see the falls exposed to bright, even light throughout the majority of the day, and in fact this is a very good thing because Otter Falls is one of those rare waterfalls which doesn't move a ton of water but looks much, much more interesting when exposed at a faster shutter speed. Though there isn't a ton of variation compositionally, there is plenty of room to move around along the shore of Lipsy Lake for different angles on the falls - the most start difference being the opportunity to shoot the falls head-on instead of from an angle where the trail ends at the small beach. Unfortunately there do not appear to be even partially clear views of the upper sections of the falls any longer (not that it would be worth a shot for anything other than documentary purposes).

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   47.59224, -121.46749
Elevation:   2930 feet
USGS Map:   Snoqualmie Lake 7 1/2"

Otter Falls is found along the Snoqualmie Lake Trail in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie area near North Bend. Exit Interstate 90 at Edgewick Road east of North Bend, turn north past the Truck Stop, then turn right onto Dorothy Lake Road, which becomes Taylor River Road, and then ultimately the forest service maintained Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road #56. Follow the Middle Fork Road - which turns to gravel at the Mailbox Peak trailhead at the 2.9 mile mark, and becomes notoriously bumpy thereafter for much of the year - for 12 miles to the bridge over the Taylor River. Just past the bridge stay straight where a sign points to the Snoqualmie Lake Trail and go another half-mile to the end of the road at the trailhead. Hike the former logging road turned trail, crossing Marten Creek at the 2.7 mile mark on a footbridge, then Anderson Creek at 3.2 miles where a ford is necessary (water may be shin deep in the spring if rock-hopping isn't possible), and finally Otter Creek at the four mile mark, also via an unbridged crossing where getting your feet wet might be necessary. About 300 feet beyond Otter Creek, look for carins along the trail, and a tree with "Otter Falls" carved in its trunk marking the trail which climbs up the small hill to the left and leads to the shore of Lipsy Lake at the base of the falls several hundred feet further.

View this location in Google Earth

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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.
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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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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.
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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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