In normal times, some of the Northwest’s best waterfalls are just a short drive away.
But with the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, those cascading columns of whitewater are out reach.
It turns out Southwest Washington has a nice alternative. The Siouxon Creek Trail features three majestic waterfalls along a fairly flat 8.5-mile round-trip route less than 50 miles from Vancouver.
With Gifford Pinchot National Forest trailheads now open, hikers can reach Siouxon Creek at a perfect time. Its falls are swollen with clear meltwater. The bottoms of its aquamarine-hued pools can be seen in perfect detail.
The Siouxon Creek Trail follows the south bank of the creek dozens of feet above the waterline. The entire route is under a canopy of second-growth cedar and Douglas fir.
Moss and ferns provide a verdant carpet to the forest floor. Primitive campsites are found along the way.
The trail is muddy in the spring, but that small niusance disappears when the rumble of a waterfall gets within earshot.
The first waterfall is 1.5 miles from the trailhead. The trail briefly climbs away from Siouxon Creek before crossing Horseshoe Creek, which blasts out of a flume and tumbles toward Siouxon Creek.
Just a half-mile further is the highlight of the hike. Siouxon Falls blasts against a rock ledge before plunging into an expansive pool at the bottom. The trail offers a perfect view, including a bench at a prime spot.
Siouxon Falls in a good destination for a shorter hike. But those who continue another two miles are in for a treat.
Chinook Falls dives 50 feet straight down into a small pool, pushing a wind hundreds of feet downstream.
To reach those falls, cross Siouxon Creek on a bridge over a narrow gorge, then hike past a flat area of campsites perfect for a mid-hike lunch. Go another quarter mile up Chinook Creek to reach the falls.
Return to the trailhead the way you came, pausing for a second look a Siouxon and Horseshoe Creek falls.
The Columbia River Gorge might have the most majestic waterfalls in the area. But the Siouxon Creek Trail shows Southwest Washington has plenty for those fixing to see some falls.
And with hiking being a perfect socially-distant activity, now is a perfect time to discover some of the area’s less-famous charms.
Allow 90 minutes from downtown Vancouver. The road to the trailhead is paved the whole way, though deep potholes and uneven sections make it mostly suitable for high-clearance vehicles.
From Battle Ground, take Highway 503 (Lewisville Highway) north through Amboy to Chelatchie Prairie. Turn right onto Northeast Healy Road and go 9.2 miles. Turn left onto Calamity Peak Road just after you pass the Gifford Pinchot National Forest boundary sign. After 1.2 miles, turn left onto Forest Road 5701, which has a sign for Siouxon Trail.
After 1 mile, you’ll drive past the lower trailhead for the Siouxon Creek Trail. Continue another 3 miles to the end of the road for the upper trailhead and closer access to the falls.