On a hot Saturday afternoon, my family and I went for a hike at the Lewis River with the payoff of a gorgeous waterfall and a beautiful blue swimming hole. Negatives to this hike are the descent to the swimming hole and on that day, the crowds.
Lower Falls Trail
Rating: Easy if you just want to view the falls; tougher to difficult to get to the swimming hole
Panting stops: 0 (but I did not go down the last bit to the water)
Distance: 3 miles out and back
Elevation changes: 659 feet
From the parking lot, the well-travelled path ascends gently before heading down to the river and the falls. The view of the waterfall is impressive, and the swimming hole just below it looks lovely on a hot day. The swimming hole has stone ledges immersed in a couple of inches of water, allowing those who don’t want to swim to enjoy the water.
To get to the swimming hole, hike further down the path, where you will find a couple of descents to the river. However, I found that the climb down a cliff to get to the swimming hole was too steep. I was mostly worried about getting back up, so I did not try to go down. Instead, my niece and I walked further down the trail and eventually found access to the water down just a slight slope. It was well below the swimming hole, however, with no good way to get back up to it. The water was shallow there and rocky, so bring your swimming shoes.
Also, on that particular day, it was crammed with people, which we found surprising for such a remote area. You had to wait in line to go down to the water, and people were trying to climb up and down at the same narrow spot. It’s steep enough that the climb up involves using tree roots as a ladder. When we left, more people were arriving with rolling coolers, boom boxes, and umbrellas. So, not a quiet retreat from everyday cares. We actually encountered a traffic jam in this remote area when we were leaving.
Later: We found out after we returned home that this particular falls had been featured on the cover of a Portland magazine and in an article about alternatives to the Gorge, since many trails there are closed because of fires and damage from last year’s fires.
How to get there
Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Mount Adams Ranger District
Take Washington 503 north past Cougar. It becomes Lewis River Road and then NF-90. A mile or so before you get to the falls, you will encounter a wash where some cars were getting stuck on their way out. You will turn right off NF-90 into the Lower Falls Recreation Area. After that, you’ll see the entrance to the parking area on your right. On the day we were there, the parking lot was full and people were parked way down the road. We were lucky enough to get a spot in the lot anyway.
Parking and facilities
There is a large parking area by the falls. Nearby there is also a campground. There are also a pit restroom and some picnic tables at the trailhead.