Sydney Falls

Pierce County, Washington

Detailed Info

Sydney Falls is the major waterfall of Kotsuck Creek, situated in a deep canyon about a mile due west of Highway 123 in the eastern part of Mount Rainier National Park. The falls begin as Kotsuck Creek sheets out over a broad shelf of bedrock and glides about 50 feet down a rolling ledge. The creek reverts to a nearly level profile in a concave manor, and then immediately spreads out over a broad dome-shaped rock, splitting into two or three channels depending on how much water is present, and plunges then veils an additional 140 feet into a deep canyon, with the falls constricting narrower and narrower as it gets closer to its base. Though not exceptionally deep, the canyon below the falls is constricted enough that it sees a considerable amount of snow accumulate from winter avalanches falling from the cliffs to the south, and often this snow will linger near the bottom of the falls well into the summer months when the rest of the area has melted out entirely.

About 300 linear feet downstream from the base of Sydney Falls is a 40-foot tall lower falls, which unfortunately cannot be seen from either the Owyhigh Lakes Trail or from the off-trail viewpoint where Sydney Falls itself is best viewed. It may be possible to scramble off-trail further downstream to reach a view of this lower fall, but the canyon in the vicinity is still dangerously steep and may be quite hazardous to navigate in hopes of a vista.

History and Naming

Sydney Falls is the Historical name of this waterfall.

Has also been known as:

  • Kotsuck Creek Falls

This waterfall has been more commonly referred to as Kotsuck Creek Falls because no other name has been attached to it in recent years. However dating back to at least 1919, the official Rules and Regulations guide to Mount Rainier National Park published by the Department of the Interior explicitly denotes a Sydney Falls as occurring 9.1 miles from the Ohanapecosh Ranger Station along the East Side trail, and that distance just so happens to be a spot on corrolation to this waterfall. The name Sydney Falls seems to have persisted in these guides published by the Department of the Interior, but never seems to have been adopted elsewhere, for whatever reason. Presumably once the guides were no longer published the name fell into obscurity.

The name Kotsuck is derived from a Chinook Jargon word meaning "middle". Why this name was applied to this particular stream is a bit curious though. Given that where Kotsuck, Chinook and Deer Creeks all converge, Kotsuck Creek is not the middle stream - though it may instead be referring to the fact that Kotsuck Creek is the middle drainage along the northeast east flank of Mount Rainier, with the Ohanapecosh and White Rivers to the south and north respectively (this is purely speculation however).

Photo Tips

Due to the nature of the limited viewing areas, there are very few options in composition. This coupled with the fact that the falls drop into a wide open canyon with extensive avalanche slope growth around the edges results in the falls not being terribly photogenic (this goes double if only viewed from along the trail). The east facing falls receive direct sunlight until late afternoon, so a neutral density filter will help in stopping down exposure time, but otherwise the lighting conditions are fairly even.

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   46.84025, -121.55899
Elevation:   3539 feet
USGS Map:   Chinook Pass 7 1/2"

Sydney Falls is located near Cayuse Pass on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park. From the junction of Highways 410 and 123 at Cayuse Pass, follow Highway 123 south for just under 5 miles to the signed Owyhigh Lakes Trailhead and park in the large pullout on the opposite side of the road. Start down the moderately steep trail, passing Deer Creek Falls in 1/3 of a mile. Stay to the right where the East Side Trail branches left, then cross Deer and Chinook Creeks, and keep left at the next junction where the northern extension of the East Side Trail heads up Chinook Creek. After another mile of moderate climbing the trail pass by the top of Sydney Falls. In order to see the entire falls, go back down the trail to where the falls are first visible through the trees, just before crossing a small gully with a tiny stream flowing down it. Make your way down the slope to where the small stream drops into the canyon, then continue traversing downstream along the rim of the canyon for another hundred feet or so until a window through the trees is revealed at a rather precarious viewpoint right on the edge of the cliff.

View this location in Google Earth

Other Nearby Waterfalls

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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.
Confirmed Icon
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.
Unconfirmed Icon
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.
Unknown Icon
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.
Subterranean Icon
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.
Disqualified Icon
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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