Palouse Falls

  01 02 03 04 05 06  

 What:  This park is physically contiguous with Lyons State Park. Hiking, site seeing, picnic, get out on those country roads. Glacial floods formed a series of waterfalls along the Palouse River before it entered the Snake River. Palouse Falls, with a height of 198 feet, is the only one that remains today and is most spectacular in the spring and early summer. At the heart of a rock-rimmed amphitheater, the Palouse River takes a precipitous, plunge into a deep green pool, creating one of the most spectacular natural sights in the state. When the sun strikes spray at the base of the falls, a rainbow can often be seen. The falls itself is breathtaking, but its beauty is enhanced by the surrounding rock formations. Just above the lip of the falls, a serrated rib of basalt spires mimics the turrets of the medieval castle, with defenses manned by stalwart seagulls. From the falls the river continues down the narrow gorge that it has carved over time, enroute to the Snake River which is 6 miles hence. The walls of the river channel are sheer columnar basalt, layered in 100-foot-thick lava flows, separated by narrow shelves clad in dried grass and brush. Several of these shelves show faint trails. A steep trail that once led from the park down a narrow rock cleft to the base of the falls has been closed because of danger from rockfall and rattlesnakes, but the rangers do not mind if you want to take the responsibility onto yourself. They can't afford the insurance to take the responsibility themselves. We ran smack straight into a diamond back rattlesnake on our way down the cliff crevasse and had to climb out as there was not room to go around it. Luckily it climbed out. That was the first time I have seen a snake there, but they are there so go slow. Even the immature rattlesnakes can have venom. I have not seen any rock fall danger, but again, just go slow.

Origin: The Palouse River used to flow all the way into the Pasco Basin of South Central Washington. Much of the discharge of the great Missoula floods went from Spokane through Cheney to the Palouse River, but that river's ancestral valley could not accomodate the Missoula floods, which therefore jumped the divide and rushed south to the Snake River. This cut three deep coulees across the divide: Palouse, Davin, and Devil's. These three coulees started as 3 waterfalls on the north rim of the canyon of the Snake River. With each Missoula flood, the waterfalls migrated by erosion of the falls ledge, upstream until the current day coulees were formed. This is how the Palouse River became a tributary of the Snake River and how the falls can exist in the middle of a desert.

A dirt road/trail north from the parking lot follows the gorge, descends abruptly down a wall to the railroad, track, then heads to the river's edge, which it follows to the top of the falls. A second beaten-out trail heads south from the parking lot, where again a short, steep descent to the railroad tracks is required. Several hundred yards south on the tracks, a steep path leads to a shelf between the lava layers. This shelf can be followed south for about .5 mile to a wide bench, or the trek can be abandoned if one is nervous about traversing its narrower spots. None of the impromptu trails in the park are maintained, and they are not casual undertakings. Above the parking lot, tent camping is permitted on a small tree-shaded lawn with picnic tables and fire braziers. A companion picnic area with tables and a shelter lies on the opposite side of the road. Uphill from the picnic area, an overlook perches at the canyon rim, with views to the falls. The park has overnight camping with standard hours, and is day-use only from the end of September to the end of March. The park is 83 acres with 8,750 feet of freshwater shore-line on the Palouse River. There are 10 primitive campsites, 10 picnic sites, picnic shelter, hiking trails, vault toilets, observation shelter, and a historical display. More details.

Another incredible variation on experiencing this Palouse river is to go 6 miles south to Lyon's Ferry and paddle a kayak or canoe from the northern cruder boat launch up the river watching out for the poison oak and the rattlesnakes and the multiple rapids. The poison oak looks like a stick with red/green leaves sticking out of the top in spring. The rattlesnakes buzz like a large insect. For the rapids, you need two 20 foot ropes per boat attached to bow and stern. These allow you to walk the shoreline yanking on the rear rope to propel the boat and tug on the front rope to keep the boat parallel to you. This is called tracking. We were not able to make it all the way (2 1/2 rapids), but with patience/stamina you could pass all the 5 rapids and paddle into the arena of the waterfall and then descend all the rapids back down in one day. The third rapid had so many large rocks in it we felt we could not paddle down it and would have to track it. The other 2 rapids were fun and easy to paddle down. Be cautious of the effect of wind on your paddling when in a canyon that might channel its strength against you. The paddle is runnable with flows from 400 to 2000 cubic feet per second. Check today's flow. I saw a mountain lion or cougar climb down the cliff to chase cattle and Canadian geese whose proper name is the Canada Geese. This is a great paddle for the scenery, great fishing, tree size sagebrush, tall reeds/grasses, and the history of Marmes site, the Palouse Indian tribes and the wildlife. Redwing blackbirds, hawks, seagulls, coots, mallards, and coyote. Marmes is one site near the emptying of the Palouse River into the Snake. In Kennewick near the Boat race site another important similar very controversial nearly full skeleton was found to be about 9,000 years old. Below is a picture of Kennewick man's skull featuring thin, elongated top skull differing from the more round native types. A Cascade spear point was found lodged in this man's hip, and the man lived from 6 months to 24 months after the injury.
Click here for larger image versionKennewick man's skull, click for larger versioncascspea.gif (3099 bytes)Cascade spear points

In 1968, Ronald Fryxell discovered skeletal remains of ancient humans at the Washington State University's Marmes Rock Shelter. The site is one mile up the Palouse river from the Lyons Ferry park. The bones of Marmes Man are among the oldest documented remains ever found in the western hemisphere, carbon-dated to be 10,000 years old. The site has been designated as a heritage site by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. Kennewick man had a cascade spearpoint embedded in his hip bone where the bone had healed around it for 6 to 24 months before his death. It was flooded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when the reservoir of Lower Monumental Dam was raised.

The Kennewick skeleton is exceeded in age in this state only by the 10,000-to 11,000-year-old bone fragments from the Marmes rock shelter site on the Snake River. The Kennewick specimen is unusual in its completeness, its height, and the fact there is an inch-wide stone spearhead embedded in the man's pelvis - some of the strongest evidence ever seen of human conflict that far in the past.

"You can almost see the guy trying to dodge it, or arching his back to duck and getting nailed anyway," Chatters said.

During his life, the man survived the spear thrust, a slash to the chest that resulted in his left arm being partly withered, a chipped right elbow and a chipped scapula. He finally succumbed to an infection at about age 50, the anthropologist said. The skull and pelvis have damage typical of a life-ending infection.

"He was a tough, tough guy," Chatters marveled. "He's telling me so many things it's unbelievable."

More, and pictographs/petroglyphs.

The Palouse Indians were the first inhabitants to settle in the area; 400 Indian graves were uncovered and removed to a new location when the area was inundated. It is believed that this area was once the tribal burial grounds for the Palouse Indian Tribe. Of all the tribes locally, the Palouse were the most independent in the sense that they fought the whites at every opportunity. The Appaloosa horse got its name from "a Palouse horse" being pronounced fast by Indians as the horse's climbing ability was bred here by Palouse & NezPerce tribes. Appaloosa Museum.

The Lewis and Clark expedition passed the Lyon's Ferry park along the Snake River. The name Lyons Ferry is associated with the ferry in use in this area for 108 years and operated many of those years by Dan Lyons. The ferry served as a crossing of the Snake River for the Mullan Road constructed in 1858. Settlers and the Army used the ferry as access to the Palouse country. The ferry was one of the few latter day ferries propelled by river current. The ferry is currently berthed in the park.

Facilities at Lyon's Ferry

50 standard campsites (no hookups), 21 picnic sites, 6 picnic shelters, 2 primitive sites, trailer dump station, bathhouse in day use area, 2 comfort stations (1 in campground and 1 in boat launch area), 2 launch ramps, 428 feet of unguarded beach, 2 residences, storage shed, shop.

Activities at Lyon's Ferry and nearby:

Boating, camping, fishing, hiking, picnicking, swimming, air tour of the whole Palouse Canyon with Dustin Boyd's Seaplane Tours telephone: 509-7807444.


 Where:  Use a map on this one as it is well marked with state signs. At the site there is a cyclone fence to keep kids from falling, so walk around to the right away from the falls until you see a gate blocking the trail down which is a crevasse in the cliffside.Even though a sign might say otherwise, the rangers don't mind you climbing the fence as long as you are responsible for yourself. The trail might look scary but is very safe if you are careful. Follow the trail any direction you please. Topological Map

 Cautions:  The trails going down the the falls are fun, but don't play around as a fall would be fatal. We brought a rope for the last scree section, but even kids seem to generally be safe and enjoying this.

 List:  Bring your own drinks.Email Us