Lewis River 50k – aka Waterfallapalooza

You know those mornings when you wake up before sunrise and drive to the mountains under starry skies, full of excitement and ready for an awesome day outside? That was not Monday.

It was dumping rain, I had 2-3 hours of I5 driving ahead of me (for those that don’t live around here, I5 between Seattle and Portland is painfully boring and often clogged with traffic). I kinda just wanted to stay home and drink tea.

But, I needed to get in a long run. Plus, I was going to check out a new (to me) trail, which always adds some fun. And I rarely regret spending time on my feet outside.

I left Monday after morning rush hour (but still hit tons of traffic) and was at Marble Mountain Sno-Park by 3 pm. I snowshoed up trail 244, which eventually turns into the Worm Flows climbing route up St Helens. I turned around at treeline, for a total of 6-7 miles. While it was a nice wander, I wouldn’t recommend driving all the way down there just for a short snowshoe.

When I got out of my van at the sno-park it was lightly raining. At lower elevations, snow coverage was patchy with lots of standing water and slush. As I ascended the rain turned to wet and heavy snow, and the trail became completely covered in mushy, soft snow. I was grateful for my snowshoes.

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Cascade Concrete falling heavily on the flanks of Mt St Helens

Monday night I planned to camp in my van at the Swift Forest Camp. According to the website, the campground is open with very limited amenities. That was fine with me, I just wanted a place to park while I slept. Unfortunately it turned out that the campground was closed completely.

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Plan B: drive to the Curly Creek Falls trailhead (my starting point the next day) and sleep there. It’s a flat gravel lot with plenty of room for parking. There are also two dispersed campsites on the road to Curly Creek (FS 9039) , but I didn’t see them until I drove out the next day. Both of the dispersed sites appeared to have some nice level spots where you could pitch a tent.

By the time I woke up the next morning it had stopped raining, although the skies were grey and water was dripping from the trees. My plan was to do the entire Lewis River trail, from Curly Creek Falls on the south end to Quartz Creek trailhead at the north end, and then back again. (Thanks to Luke for the trail suggestion.)

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Map courtesy of evergreenmtb.org

Right now is a great time to check out the Lewis River trail. It’s currently snow-free. The rain makes the waterfalls that much more impressive, and as far as I know there aren’t any views obscured by cloudy skies. Last but definitely not least, the road that parallels the Lewis River trail (Forest Road 90) is closed to vehicles until March 31, to protect the local elk populations. I had the entire trail to myself when I was there, which is pretty awesome considering how busy it gets in the summer months. Oh! And also, they just cleared it of blowdowns on Feb 29. So conditions really are just about perfect.

I started with the short out-and-back to Curly Creek and Miller Creek Falls (trail 31A). The first waterfall, cascading through a unique rock arch, is Curly Creek Falls, and the second is Miller Creek Falls.

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Curly Creek Falls
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Miller Creek Falls

After checking out Curly Creek and Miller Creek Falls, I started making my way north along the Lewis River Trail. As I said above, the trail is in great condition, especially for March. Zero blowdowns across the trail. Some bridges are out and/or in disrepair, and therefore the trail is closed to stock, but it’s definitely possible for humans to get by. That said, I did get my feet wet (fully submerged) on a couple creek crossings. If you have longer legs than me, are more sure-footed, or simply go on a less soggy day, you could probably keep your feet dry. To be honest, I didn’t even try – I just waded right through the crossings and was fine.
There are a couple places where the trail is slumping towards the river, but still passable. The trail is also closed for a short section just before Middle  Falls, but there is a signed detour and it adds only a small amount of elevation gain and mileage.

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Bridges not suitable for stock
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An example of one of the creek crossings I waded through, rather than rock-hop. My husband (6’1) likely would’ve been able to keep his feet dry.
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Trail slumping into the river. In this instance, I stayed high, above the wash-out
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Trail closed just before Middle Falls, but there is a clearly signed detour in place.

One of the things I loved about the Lewis River Trail is that you have to work for your views of the really big falls. This is only true when FS 90 is closed. In the summer, Lower, Middle, and Upper Falls can all be reached in 1-2 miles from the Lower Falls TH or the Quartz Creek TH. But right now, with the road closed to protect elk, you have to take the trail at least 10 miles upstream to earn views of the big falls.

The Lewis River Trail ends rather abruptly at the Quartz Creek trailhead. This is where I turned around. Total mileage for the out-and-back, including the aforementioned detour and short spurs to various waterfalls, was ~32 miles and ~3800 ft of elev gain. You can shorten the route by simply turning around earlier, or lengthen the route by continuing up Quartz Creek trail. Once FS 90 opens, you could also leave a car at Quartz Creek trailhead and do a point-to-point from Curly Creek Falls TH to Quartz Creek.

All in all, a great river trail in prime condition!

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There’s a nice little shelter approx 2.5 miles from Curly Creek Falls Trailhead.

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One of the many great things about Lewis River – there’s bull trout in there!
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Pretty little falls that didn’t even warrant a name.
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Views of the Lewis River from a high point along the trail
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Lower Falls
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Miles and miles of this
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Upper Falls
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Unceremonious northern terminus of the trail. There is a small lot (not shown here) where you could leave a car or bike shuttle.

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