Last Updated on: 13th January 2023, 10:24 pm
During my trip to Washington State, I got to visit a few Washington State parks, but Palouse Falls State Park took my breath away.
Located on the Palouse River, visiting Palouse Falls was one of the major highlights of my trip.
Here are my favorite things to do in Palouse Falls State Park, plus my best tips for visiting Palouse Falls safely.
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About Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls is a beautiful waterfall in southeastern Washington state located near the small towns of Washtucna and Starbuck.
The upper falls have a drop of twenty feet, but it’s the 200-foot-drop at the lower falls that bring people out from all over the Pacific Northwest to visit Washington’s official state waterfall.
Palouse Falls is part of the Palouse River, which joins the Snake River a few miles downstream near Lyons Ferry State Park.
The falls are one of the only active waterfalls that remain from the Ice Age Floods that swept through Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana over 13,000 years ago.
The Best Things to Do in Palouse Falls State Park & Nearby
While the park is small, at just 94 acres, there are a ton of things to do at Palouse Falls State Park as well as things to do near the park.
While I rarely feel like I get enough time to explore places on my trips (there are so many things to see and do!), I do think you could easily enjoy a full day here.
If you plan to camp, make sure to read my section on camping, since it’s tricky out here.
Campers who stay in the area overnight will be able to explore what there is to do here plus see the best things to do near Palouse Falls.
Explore all of the Viewpoints at Palouse Falls
For those whose main goal is to visit Palouse Falls, you will want to start by experiencing the falls from each of the three Palouse Falls viewpoints.
The lower viewpoint is reachable by a 0.1-mile path and a set of steps from the parking lot.
The second viewpoint is to the right. As you pass between the two viewpoints, you’ll see signs about the falls and the canyon, which we will discuss more below.
The highest viewpoint is the Fryxell Overlook. From here you have panoramic views of Palouse Falls and Palouse River Canyon.
While you can enjoy a view of the falls and the plunge pool from each of these three points, you should try to experience all three while you are here.
They each offer different perspectives and since they are close together, are all worth a stop, even during a quick visit to Palouse Falls.
Practice Your Waterfall Photography
This was my main activity at Palouse Falls because I knew I wanted to get as many good pictures of the falls to share here with all of you.
Travel photography is one of my favorite hobbies (though now it’s not just a hobby – it’s a crucial part of this blog!).
But I will fully admit I didn’t have the time or equipment I would want to take gorgeous long exposure photos of the waterfall.
Because I was using my iPhone, I have the option to turn this feature on for photos that I already took as live photos (HEIC).
This is a good primer on how to do long exposure waterfall pictures if you want to practice your waterfall photography at Palouse Falls.
You can also use this guide for tips on photographing Palouse Falls.
Some of the information in it goes against the rules of the park, but you can cross-reference it with the information here.
For example, it encourages staying past sunset, but the park closes at sunset unless you get a night photography permit.
Good to Know: Technically, drone photography is prohibited.
You are not allowed to practice drone photography at Palouse Falls State Park (or any Washington State Park) without a drone permit.
You can apply for your drone permit using these instructions and you will need to send a $25 application fee along with your Remote Controlled Aircraft Permit request.
As of this time, permit requests should be submitted at least sixty days before your visit to Palouse Falls.
More Washington State Waterfalls: 13 Things to Know Before Visiting Ludlow Falls
Discover the Beauty of the Palouse River Canyon
Before visiting Palouse Falls, I had done my homework about how beautiful the falls would be and what to expect photography-wise.
However, I underestimated how beautiful the basalt canyon walls of the Palouse River Canyon would be, especially when juxtaposed with the verdant green of the grass atop the canyon walls.
This is no small canyon, either, as it is over 1,000 feet deep in places
Learn about the Ice Age Floods
I visited Palouse Falls as part of a day trip from the Tri-Cities focused on learning about the Ice Age Floods that occurred in the area.
We paired Palouse Falls with a visit to Coyote Canyon Mammoth Site in Kennewick and we learned about the coulees and other evidence of the glacial floods from our guide as we drove.
Palouse Falls is part of the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, one of the National Park sites in Washington State.
The very simplified version of the story is that at the end of the last Ice Age, an ice dam blocked a section of Idaho and Montana, creating a glacial lake we call Glacial Lake Missoula.
When the ice age ended, about 13,000 years ago (or potentially 18,000 years ago), the lake was no longer held in place.
This created glacial floods that ripped through the Columbia River basin in Washington State and Oregon on their way to the Pacific Ocean.
Everything in the flood path would end up being forever changed, as soil and rocks (as well as animal and plant debris) moved westward from Idaho and Montana to land in Washington and Oregon.
In honor of the falls’ significance in this important Washington story, the state officially renamed the park the Palouse Falls State Park Heritage Site.
Park planners said that the new name “provides a clear understanding for visitors before stepping foot in the park that this is a special place.”
The Ice Age Floods Path is not something I was familiar with before my trip to Washington, but I’m glad I signed up for this private tour!
It put the “geologic history” into “History Fangirl.”
Since the tour, I went on was a special event associated with a conference, here are resources to help you learn about the Ice Age Floods during your self-guided Palouse Falls Tour.
First, the park has great interpretive signs that explain a lot of what I learned.
You can also use the National Park Service’s map of the Ice Age flood as well as see the other sites on the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.
Finally, the Ice Age Floods Institute has lots of explainers and pictures to help you understand what you’re seeing at Palouse Falls.
Learn the Palus Tribe’s Palouse Falls Creation Story
The Palus Tribe (sometimes written as the Palouse Tribe) is a group of Indigenous Americans who lived in this area of eastern Washington before European and American settlers came to the area.
They have their own oral history of the region, and you can read how Palouse Falls was created when the Four Giant Brothers went after Big Beaver.
In this telling, Big Beaver created the canyon as he defended himself, which ultimately created the falls.
As bad as the Giant Brothers were, it was Coyote who forced Big Beaver to return, and it is this that caused him to be lost.
Big Beaver’s Heart is the rock near the confluence of the Palouse River and the Snake River at Lyons Ferry State Park.
See the Coyote’s Puppies…AKA the Castle Rock Formation
I have to admit that the rocks near the falls instantly reminded me of Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland (one of the most beautiful castles in the world), so I was not surprised when I learned that the modern name for these rocks is the Castle Rocks.
However, after researching the Palus version of the story, I learned that these rocks were originally referred to as the Coyote’s Puppies.
Whatever you call them, they make for a stunning rock formation.
They are a bit far away to capture easily with my iPhone, but if you have a good telephoto lens, you’ll be able to get some marvelous photos of them.
Note that you are not allowed to go near them or go rock climbing on them. This section of the park has been permanently closed due to accidents by previous parkgoers.
Hence why seeing them is the best thing to do, since you really shouldn’t be close to them.
Go on the Palouse Falls Hike
I’ll be honest: I did two waterfall hikes in Washington state during my nearly two-week trip, but this was not one of them.
Why? Because the signage for those wanting to do the hike includes lots of pictures of stick figures going over the edge and multiple notices that hikers hike at their own risk.
The trail isn’t a long one. It’s only a 0.7 miles out-and-back trail, but All Trails rates it as a challenging hike.
Again, sometimes people just fall off the edge.
All Trails even gives the following advice:
The hike is steep, rocky, and technical. Some sections involve rock scrambling and steep drop-offs so it is not for the faint of heart. Make sure to have proper footwear.
Parts of the state park are now closed for safety, but people are still doing the complete Palouse Falls Hike.
For up-to-date trail conditions, look for the most recent reviews on All Trails.
Good to Know: There’s only one trail here. Sometimes people refer to Palous Falls hiking trails because there used to be access to the bottom of the falls.
This is technically not allowed anymore. However, there are reports of people doing this section since it was closed, so I don’t know if there’s good signage to keep people out.
If you do end up accidentally going down to the falls, then the entire hike ends up being about three miles.
Eat a Delicious Picnic
This was one of my favorite things to do at Palouse Falls!
There are lots of good picnicking spots here, so you should be able to get a table unless the park is very crowded.
The picnic area also has braziers so you can cook a full meal here if you want!
Most are unsheltered picnic tables, but there is one picnic shelter here.
We brought box lunches with sandwiches, cookies, chips, and a drink, but if you’re heading to Palouse Falls via Pasco and this is your first time in the area, you might want to buy your lunch at Pasco’s Country Mercantile.
Good to Know: One tip the park wants people to know is to bring plenty of water and your own drinks out here with you.
We were there in beautiful spring conditions, but summer can get hot and there is not much shade to speak of.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Wildlife
Palouse Falls is a beloved spot for birding and spotting wildlife.
We saw several marmots before we even got off the bus, and one watched us eat our entire picnic lunch!
As for bird lovers, you can check out the up-to-date bird sightings on eBird.
Notable birds seen recently include Red-tailed Hawks and Canadian Geese. However, I’m not a bird expert, so check the list if you know your stuff.
There are some dangerous animals to be on the lookout for.
Steer clear of any cougars, coyotes, or rattlesnakes you happen to see. All have been spotted from the trails recently.
It’s unlikely you’d run into these in the parking lot, but always keep your eyes and ears open whenever you’re out in nature.
Good to Know: If someone in your group gets a rattlesnake bite, join the Facebook Group National Snakebite Support.
They can help you communicate your needs with the local hospital since not all healthcare facilities are up-to-date on snakebite protocols.
Take a Palouse Falls State Park Sign Selfie
Our bus dropped us off in the parking lot, but I do what I always try to do at state and national parks and walked back to get an entrance sign selfie.
I know these are kitschy, but I love them! They only take a few minutes and make going through my park photos even more fun.
The entrance sign is located on Palouse Falls Road.
Head Nearby to Lyons Ferry State Park
If you’re looking for things to do near Palouse Falls State Park, the rest of this list highlights the best activities in the area.
We paired our trip to Palouse Falls with a stop at Lyons Ferry State Park, where we saw Canadian geese playing on the park lawn, appreciated the majesty of the butte rising above the shore, and were wowed by the Lyons Ferry Bridge, which crosses the Snake River at its confluence with the Palouse.
The park is named after the Lyons Ferry that operated here from the 1860s through the 1960s.
Even though the bridge has replaced the ferry, the bridge kept the Lyons Ferry name!
For those who want to kayak the Palouse River, this is the best place to start.
The river forms a pool here which is good for paddling. You can explore the extensive shoreline, while avid paddlers can go all the way to the Starbuck / Lyons Ferry Marina KOA.
I can’t find much information about kayaking the Palouse River Canyon except for this decades-old account, but it does mention leaving from Lyons Ferry State Park.
Check with local kayaking companies before attempting anything, and do not try to get close to the falls as the water becomes very dangerous.
Keep Chasing Waterfalls at Little Palouse Falls
Located in Franklin County, Little Palouse Falls is a small waterfall that is different than the Upper Palouse Falls. Rather it’s a separate waterfall that is seven miles upriver from Palouse Falls, closer to Washtucna.
There is another waterfall that’s near Little Palouse Falls called Gildersleeve Falls.
We did not visit either of these, but you can work on a full Washington waterfall itinerary if you piece together all three falls!
Play “I Spy” with the Fish at Little Goose Lock and Dam
I love visiting dams, and the Little Goose Dam is pretty cool! It crosses the Snake River, and has a visitor center, recreation amenities, and fish viewing rooms!
You can camp here in primitive camping sites (including RV camping), use the picnic tables, hike, and fish.
Visit the US Army Corps of Engineers for more information about planning your visit to the Little Goose Lock and Dam.
Make Like a Pontist and Admire the Snake River Bridges
This part of Washington has some beautiful and historic bridges to admire! I’ve already mentioned the Lyons Ferry Bridge, but there’s also the Joso High Bridge and the Snake River Railroad Bridge.
If you love photographing bridges, especially older ones, all three of these make great subjects and are located close to Lyons Ferry State Park.
We saw all three during our visit, but I think Lyons Ferry Bridge was my favorite.
Dig Even Deeper into Ice Age Flood History at Dry Falls
Dry Falls is not another waterfall – but it used to be!
Located two and a half hours from Palouse Falls, these sites make a good day trip for those who are prepared to spend some time driving between the two.
The 3.5-mile cataract is another important stop on the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.
Plan your trip to Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park via the Dry Falls Visitors Center.
Get Closer to Nature by Camping Near Palouse Falls
There is no camping at Palouse Falls State Park. The park is currently just a day-use park.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t camp nearby!
This would allow you to be at the park first thing in the morning, or stay until the park closes and night. It would also mean you could visit the park multiple days in a row.
I already mentioned that Little Goose Dam has campsites available.
There are also campsites available at the Lyons Ferry Marina KOA.
These campsites have options for full hook-up RV sites, tent spaces for tent camping, and cabins.
Sites have a picnic table and most also have a fire pit.
They even have a Conestoga Covered Wagon you can rent if you want to feel close to nature but don’t want to set up a tent site.
You can make reservations for campsites on their website.
Make a More Ambitious Itinerary and Tackle the Entire Palouse Scenic Byway
Because of the Ice Age Floods, the topography of Eastern Washington is beautiful and complex. If you’d like to see more of it, you can head out on the Palouse Scenic Byway.
Most of the region known as the Palouse is not near Palouse Falls State Park, so be prepared to spend some time on the road as you travel from place to place.
Highlights of the Palouse Scenic Byway include the towns of Pullman and Colfax as well as many off-the-beaten-path stops in Whitman County.
You can see sample itineraries here.
Things to Know Before Visiting Palouse Falls + Tips
Use these Palouse Falls tips to make planning a trip to Palouse Falls a breeze!
Palouse Falls versus the Palouse
Palouse Falls is not really in the region of Washington known as “The Palouse.” This is located further east near the Idaho Border.
While the Palouse Scenic Byway includes the falls, you’ll be forgiven for being confused. You are not visiting the Palouse if you only visit Palouse Falls.
Yeah, I don’t get it either.
How to Get to Palouse Falls State Park
The best (and only) way to get to Palouse Falls State Park is to drive or hire a driver. The park is easy to find and well-marked on Google Maps:
Address: Palouse Falls Rd, LaCrosse, WA 99143
Drive Times from Nearby Towns and Cities:
From Starbuck: 22 min
From Washtucna: 24 min
From Walla Walla: 1 hr and 5 min
From Kennewick: 1 hr and 18 min
From Pasco: 1 hr and 13 min
From Richland: 1 hr and 22 min
From Spokane: 1 hr and 49 min
From Seattle: 4 hrs
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Park Entry Fees
You can use the automated pay station to buy a $10 one-day pass or a $30 annual Washington State Parks Discover Pass.
There is a parking lot that is near the short walk to the waterfall.
On the weekends during the high season, you can expect the parking area to fill up quickly. When this happens, cars end up lining up outside the park to get in and find a space.
I mentioned the picnic areas and waterfall viewpoints already, but there are also clean restrooms that feature pit toilets.
These provide hand sanitizer, but no handwashing stations with running water.
Drinking water is available from April through October.
Visiting Palouse Falls State Park with Kids, Toddlers, and Babies
I visited the park with a group of adults, but I’ve done enough national and state parks with a toddler to get an idea of what the pros and cons are.
This would be a great place to visit with kids, even babies and toddlers if you don’t plan on doing the hike.
Families can enjoy the picnic areas and the viewpoints since they have fencing in place for safety. Just keep in mind that you don’t want to be leaning on the fencing or have kids climbing over it!
There’s no fence on the side of the cliffs for the hike, so I would avoid taking children there.
Visiting Palouse Falls State Park with Dogs
You can bring leashed dogs here. Do not let them go off-leash and avoid taking them past the fenced areas.
I have read reports that there are grass awns, which can be fatal for dogs.
Between the grass awns and the potential for rattlesnake encounters, I’d probably keep my dog leashed and walking around the parking lot to stretch as opposed to on the trail.
When is the Best Time to Visit Palouse Falls
Something I didn’t realize before visiting this part of Washington State is that it’s a dry desert! Yes, tumbleweeds and all!
The falls are their heaviest from April through July, but the further you get into summer, the higher the desert heat gets!
We visited in mid-April and the weather was windy but beautiful, and the weekday afternoon crowds were very small!
What to Wear to Visit Palouse Falls
I wore a dress because I wasn’t going to do the hike, and I had an event to go to once we got back to Kennewick.
I was happy to have my packable down jacket with me. It’s been to seventeen national parks and tons of state parks in the past year.
I just keep it in my daypack so that I can always add layers when parks are windy or cold.
If you are planning to do the hike, make sure you bring good shoes that won’t slip!
However, if you will only be getting out to see Palouse Falls, eat a picnic, and enjoy the marmots, you don’t have to worry about your wardrobe beyond having some extra layers handy!
Accessibility at Palouse Falls State Park
The park’s website lists it as ADA-Compliant with the following ADA amenities:
- 0.1-mile walking path
- Picnic area
Data & Connectivity at Palouse Falls State Park
There is no data or phone service available at the park. Download the area in your Google Maps app before you lose signal on your way to the park.
Frequently Asked Questions about Palouse Falls State Park
Here are the questions people ask the most about the park and the waterfall.
What town is near Palouse Falls?
The park is technically listed as being located in LaCrosse, Washington.
Starbuck and Washtucna are the two nearest towns.
How long is the Palouse Falls hike?
The Palouse Falls hike is 0.7 miles out-and-back, or 3 miles if you go to the base of the falls (which is prohibited).
Can You Go on a Guided Tour of Palouse Falls State Park?
I haven’t found any companies that run regular Palouse Falls tours, but you can reach out to Robin from Inquisitours to create a private Palouse Falls tours
How much does it cost to go to Palouse Falls?
The entrance fees at Palouse Falls State Park are $10 for the day or you can buy a $30 annual pass.
Can you see Palouse Falls without hiking?
Yes, you can see Palouse Falls without hiking via a 0.1-mile walk down a path with some steps.
Is Palouse Falls worth the drive?
I think so! This waterfall reminded me of Iceland or Ireland more than anywhere else I’ve seen in the US!
What is the height of Palouse Falls?
While the height varies based on water flow, Palouse Falls is about 200 feet tall.
What are the best times to visit Palouse Falls?
The best time to visit Palouse Falls is from April through July, though it gets hot in July.
Is Palouse Falls a good place to camp?
No, camping at Palouse Falls is not allowed. They may open their campsites up again in the future.
What time does the last shuttle bus leave?
There are no public shuttles or buses to Palouse Falls State Park.
Can you kayak over Palouse Falls?
No, do not try to kayak over Palouse Falls.
So no, unless you are a professional, seasoned kayaker who has done lots of smaller waterfall runs, do not kayak over Palouse Falls.
Can you kayak the Palouse River at Palouse Falls State Park?
Yes, you can kayak the Palouse River.
Put in at Lyons Ferry State Park and paddle up the Palouse River Canyon into Palouse Falls State Park.
Stay away from the plunge pool and don’t attempt this at all if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Washington State Resources
5 Things to Bring to Palouse Falls State Park
A Packable Down Jacket – everyone in our family has one. They’re light and easy to keep in your backpack or car, but they’re warm enough to make a huge difference if the weather turns cold.
A Lightweight but Durable Backpack – My Venture Pal 40L Lightweight Packable Daypack was a steal for the price. It’s survived 17 national parks as well as trips to Mexico and El Salvador!
It won’t last forever, but it has more than proved its worth so far.
A Pair of Binoculars for parks where I’m going to be looking for wildlife. I use these binoculars, and my husband has a separate pair.
A Portable Charging Bank in case my phone dies. Having a portable charger for your phone is crucial.
This is a safety issue as my offline maps may be the only way to navigate in the park where there’s no cell phone data available, as well as the convenience of being able to use my cell phone camera.
I relied on this heavily during my time in Washington, as cell phone coverage at Palouse Falls and on the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsula was terrible. We lost signal for long periods.
A Basic First Aid Kit to handle minor issues while you are out. Don’t let a hot spot on your foot turn into a blister, or leave a small cut open to the elements.
I keep a small first aid kit in my backpack at all times when we are on the road.
Where to Stay
I visited Palouse Falls State Park from Kennewick.
I stayed at the Hampton Inn by Hilton Kennewick at Southridge. If you are planning on spending time in the Tri-Cities, I highly recommend it!
The hotel was super comfy, bright, and clean. There were lots of little conveniences, like a hotel store, that made my time here easy.
I didn’t realize the Hampton Inn had gotten so nice, so I was very satisfied staying here while I enjoyed the Tri-Cities. I will gladly stay there again on my next visit to the area.
If you stay in the Tri-Cities, you are about eighty minutes away from Palouse Falls.
If you want to stay closer but don’t want to camp, the closest hotels to Palouse Falls State Park are in Dayton, Washington, which is about 45 minutes away.
You have two choices, both of which have great reviews:
The Weinhard Hotel is a pet-friendly, historic, boutique hotel in downtown Dayton. This is the more upscale option of the two.
It has romantic flourishes and is popular with couples. Amenities include a backyard fire pit, four-poster beds, and Victorian touches throughout.
If you want a more traditional hotel, the Best Western Plus Dayton is praised for being comfortable and clean with updated touches.
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