For most people, Washington is the land of trees, mountains, rain, waterfalls, and the Space Needle. While Washington is more than all of these things, it is a state with stunning waterfalls. Like any location, all of the state’s waterfalls have the own unique charm and features, which makes rating them a subjective task at best. However, in my opinion, the one of the best – if not the best waterfalls in the entire state of Washington is Sol Duc Falls, which is easily accessible by a short hike in Olympic National Park. If the “best waterfall of Washington” claim wasn’t enticing enough, the falls are also located in a historic area of the park, the Sol Duc region.
Located near Lake Crescent, the Sol Duc region of Olympic National Park consists of miles of hiking and backpacking trails, the Sol Duc Hot Springs, the Sol Duc River, and the Sol Duc Falls. The oldest story regarding the Sol Duc Valley is from the local Native Americans who believed that at one time, a dragon resided in it; and that a neighboring dragon also lived in the Elwha Valley. According to the legend, when the dragons discovered each other and fought to a standstill, their frustrated burning tears formed the Sol Duc Hot Springs. Along with the legend, the Quillayute people of the region also provided the name for the river, which roughly translates to “sparkling waters”. Since the early twentieth century, this region has been popular in the park as a tourist destination for the hot springs; but as of the last fifteen years, has also become quite popular because of the waterfall as well. Despite its long-term popularity, this is something to me that is a “must-visit” if you go to Olympic National Park.
Directions: The Sol Duc area of Olympic National Park is on the Northwestern side of the park; and is located directly off of Highway 101 on Sol Duc Hot Springs road. The exit to Sol Duc Hot Springs road is well signed on both the northbound and southbound sides of Highway 101. From Port Angeles, which is the largest town on the Olympic peninsula, and somewhat nearby to the Sol Duc region, it is a forty mile drive to the trailhead, which takes about an hour. Visitors to the area should be aware that because of the rugged terrain of the Olympic Peninsula, cell service can be intermittent at times and as a result it is a good idea to have a hard copy of any directions or maps leading to or from the Sol Duc region. From the Highway 101/Sol Duc Hot Springs road intersection, visitors will want to follow the road twelve miles south into Olympic National Park. At the twelfth mile, there will be an intersection with a right (West) turn for the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. Unless one is planning on visiting the resort prior to the hike, they will want to continue straight (South) on the main road, past the Campgrounds, and follow the road until it dead-ends at the trailhead, where there is a large parking lot.
From the back of the parking area, the trail heads south down a slight incline into the old-growth forest. Whether this is one’s first hike on the Olympic Peninsula, or one’s thousandth hike in the region, one will be impressed by the majestic grandeur of the trees, rocks, and plant life in the region. Depending on the season, there may be small to large seasonal flows of water alongside the .8 mile trail leading to Sol Duc Falls. After a half mile (.5) there will be a large shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps for inclement weather use by hikers and backpackers alike. From the shelter, the trail marginally descends down into a well-shaded ravine where the Sol Duc River cascades over a series of rocks and forms the falls themselves. The first view of the falls will be seen from the National Park Service Bridge, which spans the ravine. On the far side of the bridge is “Lover’s Lane”, and trail junctions which head further into the park. On this side, there are also stunning views from a variety of angles of the falls, and the Sol Duc River. Once one is finished admiring the falls, and the river, follow the trail back the way one came for an easy 1.6 mile roundtrip hike.
Tips: Along with the trails around Hurricane Ridge, or the Hall of Mosses, this hike is one of the most popular hikes in Olympic National Park for the simple reason that it features stunning wilderness features, and a fantastic waterfall. Having said that, even though this is a popular hike, it is something that I believe all first time visitors to Olympic should undertake, because there is something magical and phantasmagorical about the scenery along the hike. When one stands alongside the Sol Duc River near the falls, it is easy to understand why the Native Americans had the legends they did about the region, and fun to imagine one’s own stories as well. It is also worth noting that while this hike is beyond popular, there are still chances for solitude and serenity along it. When I hiked it, it was during the height of summer at around mid-day, and even I had large portions where I was alone on the trail. Finally, this hike is a great experience because it allows access into a stunning National Park with minimal effort. When I hiked it, I carried my sleeping son both ways with minimal effort. Visitors who take this trail will gain a greater appreciation of this park – and of the National Park System in general, which is a great way to influence greater preservation and protection of these natural treasures