Elk Creek Falls


Forest Service Trails #740, #740A, #740B, #740C and #740D

Why? Easy walk to three picturesque waterfalls.

Season: Year-round if you include cross country skiing.

Ease: Easy to moderate. It’s 3 miles of walking with minimal, though noticeable, short bursts of up and down.

The falls on Elk Creek near Elk River really are smashing. All three – or four, really, depending on how you count – are especially fine early in the year when the creek is full to the brim and there’s lots of water cascading over the falls and through the basalt that lines their paths.

The hike to the various falls is a stem and loop kind of thing, with frills on the loop. The half-mile stem takes you from the parking lot to the loop where the falls are, and you can best see the falls by taking well-signed short hikes – the frills - off the loop to overlooks. The lower falls is my favorite, a fine gush of water that falls 50 feet through exposed basalt columns. The basalt glistens, for it’s washed by spray, and you can easily see the every-which-way nature of the columns.

The middle falls is actually two close together falls separated by a small pool that is hardly visible at all when there’s lots of water. They drop a total of 90 feet and are dramatically set in the narrow ravine they carve into the hillside.

The upper falls are quite small and are just a short distance up stream from the middle falls. In the rushing water of spring it can be hard to separate them from the white water up and down stream.

The falls aren’t the only thing of note along the trails. The fine conifer woods the trail passes through are soothing and quiet. In season, there will be wildflowers - shooting stars, wood anemones, calypso orchids, trillium, larkspur and blue eyed Marys to name a few.

Much of the route also is historical, and that history is highlighted by signs along the way. One tells about the trail, which actually is an old wagon road built by settlers around 1900. It was the major route through the area until the Dent Road was built in the 1930s. There’s also an old school site along the trail, with the gate posts that are still standing.

Trail Notes: The lower falls is farthest away, 1-1/4 miles from the parking lot. There is a short series of switchbacks to the creek level at the upper falls, but if you decide not to descend there is also viewing from above.

There’s a sign at the lower falls overlook turnoff that suggests you can hike down to lower Elk Creek in 1 mile. We walked it a ways, over and under downed trees, till we decided it wasn’t worth the time.

There are additional trails for cross country skiing in season.

Directions: Continue on Highway 8 past Deary and Bovil and towards the town of Elk River. About 15 miles past Bovil there's a sign for Elk Creek Falls on the right. Parking and restrooms are 2 miles in on this road.

Information: Palouse Ranger District, CWNF, (208) 875-1133.

Maps: USGS Elk Creek, Idaho, although it does not show the trails. There is a map signboard at the trailhead, and the Outdoor Recreation Guide to Elk Creek also is usually available at the trailhead for the falls and other area hikes.

Connections, sort of: While the falls do make for a fine short outing, there are a couple of other easy-to-see spots in the area that are usually available from mid-May through November. The first is the Morris Creek Cedar Grove. The grove has a 0.7 mile loop trail that takes you through a climax community of Western Red cedars, some of which are over 500 years old. The undergrowth of lady fern, Sitka alder, and Pacific yew are normal associates with the cedar in such a community. It's a great place to contemplate why trees live so long while we live so short.

The second is the Giant Cedar, a truly big tree that was not found until 1979, when the area was surveyed prior to timber sales. It's 18 feet in diameter, 177 feet tall and thought to be over 3,000 years old.

To reach the cedar grove, continue on Highway 8 into Elk River and go straight instead of right in the town of Elk River, when the highway turns toward Huckleberry Heaven. When this road deadends one block later, turn left onto Road 1705. Take the left fork 0.6 miles later, onto Road 382, then turn left onto Road 1969 in another 6 miles. Turn right at the fork 8.5 miles in and left into the parking lot 3 miles later.

The Giant Cedar is on Road 382, 11.3 miles from its start.