One of the great advantages of living in the Pacific Northwest is the nearness of nature, including unspoiled mountains and ocean beaches. Thanks to the work of many sustainability-oriented Washingtonians, Oregonians, and Idahoans, we have protected many of our beautiful and wild places from being scarred or destroyed.
One such place is the Mountains to Sound Greenway in eastern King County, which surrounds Interstate 90 as it winds towards Snoqualmie Pass.
People from across Washington have been flocking to the Greenway’s Denny Creek area in recent weeks to marvel at the awe-inspiring sight of frozen-over Franklin Falls, a notable waterfall on the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River.
Very cold temperatures and heavy snowfall have prompted the closure of the forest road that goes from I‑90’s Exit 47 to the Franklin Falls trailhead, turning what was previously a two mile roundtrip hike into a nearly eight mile roundtrip hike that requires giving up the better part of the sunlit day.
This has seemingly not dampened the allure of the Falls in the slightest, for when I made the trek there this weekend to take in the sight myself, the trail was rather crowded. Fellow hikers were practically always in sight.
And no wonder, for frozen Franklin Falls is truly something to behold. If anything deserves to be called a winter wonderland, it is this place.
Many visitors have remarked that it looks like a scene out of The Chronicles of Narnia (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), and indeed it does. Disney and Walden Media filmed some of the winter scenes in the Czech Republic and Poland, but the Cascades here in Washington could have served as a filming location.
A string of successive cold snaps have produced a massive array of icicles at the Falls’ third tier — and it’s quite the immersive experience.
In the film version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there’s a scene where our heroes have to cross a frozen river in front of — you guessed it — a giant, frozen-over waterfall. This scene isn’t actually described in C.S. Lewis’ famous novel, but it was created for the movie for dramatic effect.
The frozen waterfall seen above is a set created by the filmmakers, utilizing computer generated imagery (CGI), and while it’s reasonably convincing, it can’t compare with the real-life icicles at Franklin Falls, which were sculpted by nature.
Recent lows up at Snoqulamie Pass have been in the low teens (the night before my hike, the low was 14° Fahrenheit) resulting in a spectacular set of ice formations.
While at Franklin Falls, I witnessed more than one intrepid ice climber scale the Falls as coolly and calmly as a patient fisherman reeling in a big catch.
Winter recreation in our region can truly be rewarding, but it’s important to be prepared when setting out. I saw many people hiking at Franklin Falls who clearly weren’t dressed for contingencies and didn’t appear to have much in the way of supplies. If you attempt to go to the Falls yourself, you should:
- check current conditions and the weather forecast prior to setting out (don’t go in bad weather, it’s not worth the risk)
- print out driving+hiking directions rather than attempting to rely on GPS; be prepared to hike the eight miles roundtrip
- ensure you arrive before midday so you can get down before sunset
- dress in layers and put hand warmers in your gloves
- carry the Ten Essentials (including an insulated water bottle)
- wear snowshoes or put traction devices on your shoes (reduces the likelihood of slipping and falling on the ice)
- bring trekking poles and make full use of them
I went prepared and enjoyed myself immensely, but I could see other hikers had neglected to adequately prepare for the hike and weren’t enjoying it as much as they could have as a consequence. Please travel prepared and stay safe!