Built along a series of crashing waterfalls, it’s hard to beat this short walk when you need scenic beauty ‘now.’
Distance: .6 miles
Time: 20 minutes
Steep: In a few places on the trail and on the optional stairwell to the lower falls
Trailhead: 110 Deschutes Parkway Southwest, Tumwater
Tumwater Falls Park is at the top of my list for out of town guests because of its accessibility and raucous beauty. As soon as you emerge from your car, you are greeted by the soothing sound of the Deschutes River as it hurtles over the upper falls. The grounds are gorgeous and recently enhanced by native plant gardens.
There’s a lot of history here, too. It was the site of the first American settlement on Puget Sound, where the settlers used the river to power their mills. The now closed Olympia Brewery looms overhead, once a powerhouse of American beer production. Aside the parking lot are the fish ladders and tanks, installed in 1952, to capture and harvest spawning salmon every autumn.
The trail is a loop, and you can choose to travel clockwise (go left of the river) or counter (by going right). I usually go right, and begin my walk on the footbridge across the river. You can look far downstream, with the rushing river nicely framed by the other bridges atop it.
The earthen wall to the right of the trail is hung with ferns, berry shrubs and often miniature waterfalls. The Deschutes River, to your left, is studded with rock formations emerging from the water. Many of them have had bowls carved out of them, created by the tireless erosion of this powerful river.
At the base of the trail, you can travel down the stairwell to get up close and personal with the lower falls. They are tall and loud and wonderful, spraying you with a watery mist redolent with rainbows when the sun is out.
Traveling up the other side of the river bank, you get a closer look at the fish ladders that allow salmon to bypass the insurmountable waterfalls. In October, it’s quite a show to watch these enormous fish jumping at the base of the falls, and then, exhausted, choosing the ladders instead.
There is a recently installed native plant garden towards the end of the trail, with a legend of all the species they used. Above this garden is Falls Terrace restaurant, where folks are enjoying the same view as you, except with white wine and Caesar Salads. With the sparkling river pounding, the tall trees blowing in the breeze and the mighty salmon jumping, what a great view it is indeed.