Amid a towering forest of fir and cedar near Cougar, WA, a lost waterfall drops roughly five hundred feet into an immense amphitheater. Aptly named Cave Falls, it’s one of the most mysterious of the Pacific Northwest. Though only a half mile from Big Creek Falls and Forest Service Road 90, which passes above, viewing it, even in pieces, is difficult.
While the Forest Service has decided to stop maintenance, there is a trail from the highway to viewing platforms for Big Creek Falls that then continues a half mile down the canyon rim. The trail passes wooden-fenced overlooks that may have once offered glimpses of Cave Falls. Now though, while pieces might be visible with especially high water, foliage prevents any meaningful view.
The only real way to peek at portions of it is via hazardous off-trail travel. Though not even the view from a helicopter or drone would provide a comprehensive look at the falls in its entirety (thanks to its twists and turns), it is possible to get a general sense by scrambling.
At the top, it drops in four or five cascading tiers before entering an eighty foot deep, twenty foot wide slot canyon. There, it pours from deep pool to deep pool down several 20-30 foot tiers, and through tangles of logs that routinely fall in from above.
The slot lasts a tenth of a mile and ends atop a scrotum-shriveling precipice. Sheering down tall, twisty tiers with harrowing glimpses of the eight-hundred foot canyon surrounding it, it eventually pours into “the cave.”
The cave is a fantastic scene and the easiest place to get a sense of the falls. Its origin was a cataclysmic event that occurred tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of years ago, when a chunk of canyon rim crashed to the bottom of the falls. While today the boulder is still around a hundred feet tall, and at least as wide, when it came down it would have been many times larger. Lodged directly at the base of the falls, the stream had to find a way around.
So for countless millennia, water has carved a deep cavern behind and around the monolith. Today, the cave extends fully behind the falls, in possibly the most impressive waterfall overhang in WA.
Access once more, is off-trail. Conveniently though, the nearby “Speed Trail” leads down from FSR 90 to the Lewis River. At that point, it’s possible to traverse to the mouth of Big Creek, and then upstream to the base of Cave Falls.
Though demanding, the trip is incredibly rewarding. It passes through ancient old-growth and a boulder garden along the Lewis River. Then afterward, the trek up Big Creek offers a surprise waterfall and gorgeous, cascading bedrock shallows, all before reaching the unforgettable namesake cave.
More photos of the trip can be found on Facebook at “Zach Forsyth Photography.”