Switchback Cascades

Kittitas County, Washington

Detailed Info

Rachel Lake is the largest water body on the fantastic alpine environs of Rampart Ridge to the east of Snoqualmie Pass. The lake itself is a fairly popular dayhiking destination, even though the trail isn't quite up to the standards of many other hikes in the Interstate 90 corridor. What most don't realize about the Rachel Lake Trail is there are at least a half-dozen major waterfalls which can be found along the headwall below Rachel Lake as the various forks of Box Canyon Creek cascade down into the valley from the ridgeline.

Switchback Cascades is the first and only waterfall the trail passes along the main stem of Box Canyon Creek as it climbs the headwall of the valley to Rachel Lake. Immediately above the top of the falls the two streams which originate in Rachel and Lila Lakes respectively can be seen converging, and almost immediately the collective water is tossed down a steep slope in a very scenic cascading waterfall with a total drop of 118 feet. The base of the falls essentially marks the base of the valley's headwall and the stream immediately becomes much more placid. On the inverse, as hikers approach the cascades from down the valley, the falls can be seen as an indicator that the trail is about to get considerably steeper and more difficult.

The streams which flow out of Rachel and Lila Lakes are highly dependent on snow melt and precipitation in order to retain a strong flow. However, when these two stream converge (also collecting water from a third tributary further south) and form the Box Canyon Creek proper, the flow is considerably greater and more consistent. However, after the snow pack has melted for the season Box Canyon Creek does see its volume reduced considerably, but the stream does not run dry.

History and Naming

Switchback Cascades is the Unofficial name of this waterfall.

Because this waterfall marks the beginning of the steeper, switchbacking nature of the Rachel Lake Trail, we thought it only fitting to name it after the zig-zagging properties of the route. The reason we chose to dub the falls as "Cascades" instead of "Falls" should be obvious for those who have visited.

Photo Tips

The killer here is the amount of foreshortening levied against the falls when viewed from below. The falls are exceptionally photogenic, but in order to frame the entire chain of cascades in one shot, it's necessary to shoot from the base where it's nearly impossible to convey how tall the falls actually are. The falls face east and will see at least partially direct sun in the first half of the day - best light will be within 3 hours of sunset. Though the falls aren't anywhere near vertical, there can be a pretty heavy amount of spray ejecting from the base due to the last little plunge it makes. Also, take your wide angle lenses to this one, the stream just downstream of the falls is quite scenic as well and will serve as a good lead-in.

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   47.422, -121.31874
Elevation:   3638 feet
USGS Map:   Chikamin Peak 7 1/2"

Take Interstate 90 to the Lake Kachess / Stampede Pass exit, about 10 1/2 miles east of Snoqualmie Pass or 8 1/2 miles west of Easton, and turn north toward Lake Kachess. After 5 1/4 miles the pavement ends and the road makes a sharp bend to the left (Kachess Campground is to the right) and becomes FSR-4930. Follow the often rough (potholes and washboard) gravel road uphill for about one-third of a mile, then bear right at the fork and continue to the Rachel Lake Trailhead about four miles from the end of the pavement. Set out on the Rachel Lake Trail, which begins by climbing moderately and then levels off to a gradual pace. At the 2 3/4 mile mark the trail crosses an unnamed branch of Box Canyon Creek without a bridge, which may be as much as knee deep if there are no logs. The trail becomes considerably steeper at this point, climbing past several waterfalls (see the links below). At about 2.75 miles, very shortly after crossing the major tributary below Alta Basin Falls, the bottom of the falls will come into view. Watch for an unmarked path which branches off to the left and leads to views of the cascades, while the main trail climbs up along side it and provides several up-close but more restricted views along the next several switchbacks.

View this location in Google Earth
Switchback Cascades 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

Additional Waterfalls which occur within 5 miles of Switchback Cascades
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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.


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.

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.


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.



Cataloged Icon
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 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 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
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 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
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
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 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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