I think I’ve mentioned Elk Creek Falls in passing, but haven’t actually written a featured post about it. Elk River is a small outdoor recreation town (read: hunting & fishing mostly) a little over an hour east of Moscow. This small community represents the “end of the road.” The paved road ends here and forest service roads pick up to take you into some remote places. While most people come back here to hunt, ride ATVs and snowmobile in the winter, there are some family-friendly hikes and other attractions that make Elk River worth a visit. There’s the giant cedar, the largest tree east of the cascades, as well as a second old-growth cedar grove. There is Elk Butte, which is less of an official hike and more of a walk along gated roads to a high lookout tower 3000 feet above the town. There’s the general store in town, which serves its own huckleberry ice cream, a treat of itself. And then there are the falls.
Despite there being an abundance of mountains in Idaho, the state is relatively sparse in waterfalls compared with its western neighbors of Oregon and Washington. Elk Creek Falls is therefore something of a rarity for north Idaho. With the three cascades combined, it’s the tallest waterfall in the northern part of the state. To view all three falls, you hike a 3-mile loop of moderate difficulty. The upper falls is the smallest of the three, dropping about 20 feet into a deep pool accessible by the trail. This becomes a popular swimming hole on the hottest days of the summer. The middle falls are the tallest drop at about 70 feet, but this is viewed at a distance. While the lower falls is shorter, about 50 feet, it’s possibly the grandest of them all. The water plunges over some basalt columns into a steep-walled gorge before heading out toward the Dworshak Reservoir.
The hike takes you through some protected patches of forest where you can find a variety of plant and animal life. It’s a great place to find wildflowers in the spring and watch birds all summer long. The trailhead has a picnic area with 4 tables and a privy. The observation areas at each falls has a bench to sit on while enjoying the view. Expect to spend at least two hours here if you take the full hike. Fortunately, there are connector trails which allow you to pick and choose which falls to see if you don’t want to visit all of them.
Here’s a video tour of our most recent hike to the falls with Clara.