Towell Falls


Why? Great early and late season hike with waterfalls and fine basalt scenery.

Season: Most any time of year, though it would be very hot and dry in the summer.

Ease: Moderate, with little elevation change over 3+ miles.

Since I’m a wildlife junky, I often think first of wildlife sightings when I remember a hike, and only after that do I move on to what’s always there for everyone, the scenery. For the hike to Towell Falls near Ewan, what I remember first are the red-tailed hawks and the owl.

The hawks had a nest on a ledge along a basalt cliff. Presumably they also had eggs or young in the nest. The owl was harassing them, and had actually taken possession of the nest area. The hawks dive bombed the owl for some time while we watched, then just soared overhead. Eventually the owl left, and I assume the hawks returned later to see what could be salvaged.

The hike to Towell Falls is a fine one, especially early or late in the hiking season, and it’s a great first-of-the-year outing. It’s a relatively short and easy hike, for one. That it’s also lovely, a fine stretch of trail along Rock Creek with basalt in view and fine flowers in season, just adds to the draw. And of course, there are the water falls, three of them.

I don’t know if it’s correct to call the area the trail passes through a coulee. I have it in my mind that a coulee is a dry, old river bed, perhaps one that had great quantities of water flow through it at one time. There is water in this creek, at least in the spring, but it also looks as if a flood must have come through once and scoured out the relatively flat-bottomed land between the basalt mesas that bound it. And given that it’s in the area generally thought to have been flooded repeatedly over geologic time, the latter seems likely. So maybe it’s a coulee, maybe not, and maybe that doesn’t really matter. For whatever it is, it’s a fine spot.

The country is rough – scablands are that way. But in the spring, a carpet of green smoothes the edges with a variety of flowers providing contrast to the red-brown basalt cliffs. The May flowers I could identify included prairie star, tritelia, larkspur, sandlewood, iris, blue eyed Mary and a yellow mustard of some type. February and March visits were a bit too early for any bloom.

The falls are a bit off the trail (see trail notes below) and make a fine lunch spot.
Be sure to take the time to see all three.

On the way back to the trailhead, I suggest a detour up to the top of a mesa so that you can enjoy the fine views of much of the country you’ve hiked (also see trail notes below).

And when you get back to the parking lot, you might want to look at the old ranch area across the stream. It was abandoned some time ago.

When you’re close to and below the basalt cliff that’s about a mile from the falls, check for birds. That’s where we saw the owl and hawks. On other hikes I’ve seen deer and cattle (the area is grazed for part of the year), a garter snake and a rattlesnake, the latter on a late May hike. A friend once saw a cougar.

Trail Notes: The trail follows what looks like an old roadbed. It’s flat at first, heading to the right of the butte and along the creek. In 1 ½ miles or so, it heads up, then to the right, then down to close below basalt cliffs. It goes up and over a couple of small rises and then to the right again, at which time you can see the falls. To find them, note the rock-bordered old parking lot to the left of the trail. Head through it and look for faint trails in the vegetation.

You can see all three falls without crossing water, but if you want to get close to the easternmost falls, you’ll have to wade the stream.

To find the detour to the mesa top on the way back, turn right and follow the fence when you reach it about a mile from the trailhead. Follow it up to near the top of the mesa, turning left on what looks like a road cut. Continue over the top to a slash or cut with a trail down toward the parking lot, and head down it to rejoin the original trail. It is, however, quite steep in spots.

Directions: Take Highway 23 west out of Steptoe. Turn left on Wagner Road at 25.9 miles from there, stay left at 28.4, turn right before the butte onto George Knott Road at 32.9 and left into Rock Creek Management area, which is signed at 38.1 miles from Steptoe. It’s 2.4 miles from there to trailhead. Or, continue on Highway 23 past Wagner Road to Davis Road just past milepost 31 and turn left. Drive 6.8 miles and turn left on George Knott Road. Turn right in 2.2 miles. The trailhead is 2.4 miles later. However, if it is wet, the road could be a challenge.

Alternately, head out of Colfax on the Endicott Road, 3.8 miles west of town on Highway 26. Turn right on Jordan-Knott road at 27.3 miles from Colfax. Stay right at the Y at 29.5 miles, and stay on Jordan-Knott by heading left at 33.8 miles. The road to Towell Falls is on the left at 39.1 miles from Colfax.

Information: BLM Spokane, (509) 536-1200

Map: The BLM maintains a web site, Under “Recreation,” click on “Recreation Sites,” then scroll down to “Rock Creek/Escure Ranch” to find a map and information about Towell Falls and the Escure Ranch/Rock Creek area.

These maps are sometimes available at the trailhead or always available from the Spokane office.