Colonial Creek Falls is the tallest waterfall in the continental United States. It's visible after making a tough hike from Pyramid Lake in North Cascades National Park.
Colonial Creek Falls is a hidden gem of Washington State. Most people don't know that the tallest waterfall in the continental United States is in Washington, much less that it's a few miles from the much-traveled Highway 20.
The waterfall traverses more than 4,000 feet across the slope and drops 2,568 feet (or 783 meters). There are 13 different drops in total. Colonial Creek Falls is the 15th tallest waterfall in the world.
Where is Colonial Creek Falls?
The highest waterfall Colonial Creek Falls is perhaps not quite as impressive as its designation suggests. But, its location is bafflingly beautiful.
If you've ever been to North Cascades National Park then you know that no matter where you are, the views are incredibly stunning. Even from the highway, you're likely to find yourself distracted by the towering peaks above you. They've most beautiful in the early season when they're still covered in snow.
The waterfall is in the Colonial Basin, underneath Colonial Peak, and not far from other North Cascades summits, like Paul Bunyon's Stump, Neve Peak, Pinnacle Peak, and Snowfield Peak. To access any of these mountains you'll have to cross the waterfall.
For most of the year, the horizontal traverse of the waterfall is entirely covered in snow. This means that from a distance, where most people view it, it's not nearly as impressive as its height suggests.
Where to See Colonial Creek Falls?
There is more than one spot to see the falls from but no single location provides a truly expansive view of all 13 drops. If you want to hike all the way to the falls and challenge yourself with a long, leg-burning day out, keep reading!
Ross Dam Trailhead Viewpoint
But, for those of us with less time on our hands or without the inclination to bushwhack up to Colonial Peak, you can access COlonial Creek Falls by driving down Highway 20 to Ross Dam Trailhead. This is about 14 miles from Newhalem and 100 miles from Pateros.
From this viewpoint, the waterfall is still 5 miles away.
Thunder Arm Bridge Viewpoint
Another spot where you might be able to glimpse the waterfall is while on the bridge that passes over Diablo Lake's Thunder Arm, near the Colonial Creek South Campground.
Colonial Creek Falls Access
The waterfall is only accessible from a very difficult trail starting at Highway 20.
Colonial Creek Falls Trail
The waterfall is high in Colonial Basin, more than 4,000 feet in gain from the start of the trail and through some of the more difficult terrain that this part of Washington can throw at you.
The hike starts at a pull-off on the side of Highway 20, not far from Diablo Lake. The trail is marked by a large sign for Pyramid Lake.
Following this trail, make your way through the woods on a well-worn and nicely maintained trail. There is about 1,500 feet of elevation gain before you make it to the lake.
Pyramid Lake is fairly unimpressive (Pyramid Pond is perhaps an apt name). From here, you'll want to find the obscured climbers trail just to the right of where the main trail ends, It weaves around the right side of the lake and quickly starts climbing uphill.
The trail gains 3,000 ft of gain in 2 miles. You'll find yourself winding through the trees, scrambling up and around rock faces. Eventually, the trail levels out, providing your first views of Pyramid Peak and Pinnacle Peak.
There are a few plateaus that suggest your hike is over but you'll need to keep going until a vast snowfield stretches out in front of you and you can see several steep mountain passes. Finally, you'll find yourself with this view:
In the foreground, just underneath the right-hand peak, you'll see the upper part of Colonial Creek Falls. The waterfall dips underneath the snow and down the gulley for 2,568 feet.
Washington Waterfalls Nearby
While Colonial Falls might be the most impressive waterfall height-wise in Washington State, it's not visually the most interesting. There are several other options close to Highway 20 that are worth checking out if you're a waterfall hunter.
Gorge Creek Falls
Gorge Creek Falls is just a few miles closer to Newhalem from Diablo Lake. It's accessed via the Gorge Creek Falls Trail which is a short and easy hike. The waterfall is 242 feet tall and flows year around. It's a great side activity if you're visiting Diablo Lake.
Newhalem Falls drops 280 feet and is a very beautiful sight no matter your reason for visiting the area. It's a horsetail waterfall and is located near the middle of Newhalem itself. The waterfall is created from snow melt, so if you want to see it, it's important to visit early in the season.
John Pierce Waterfall
The John Pierce Waterfall is one of the most prominent waterfalls that you can see from highway 20. It's in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and was previously known as Horsetail Falls. That is, until 1972 when the highway was officially opened and it was renamed for a senator.
The waterfall is only 66 feet tall but is very impressive with a 10 ft width.
Ladder Creek Falls
Ladder Creek Falls is on the eastern end of Newhalem close to milepost 120 on Highway 20. It's accessed via the Ladder Creek Falls trail (it's paved!) which is only 0.5 miles in length. The waterfall is in a beautiful setting and flows year-round.
Mystery Falls is 106 feet tall with an average width of 10 feet. It's a tiered horsetail waterfall that flows from the Skagit River. You can see it 12 months out of the year along the side of Cascade River Road.