World Waterfall Database

Chinook Creek Falls

Pierce County, Washington, United States

Status: Cataloged
This waterfall has been surveyed by members of the World Waterfall Database.

Detailed Info

Motorists traveling along Highway 123 in Mount Rainier National Park often notice an eye-catching waterfall across the valley from the Seymour Peak tunnel a few miles south of Cayuse Pass. Most simply take a quick picture and proceed on their way, oblivious to exactly how significant this waterfall actually is. As Chinook Creek rumbles down from its namesake pass, it drops over several small waterfalls, but shortly before reaching its confluence with Dewey Creek the stream plunges off a hanging valley in a very scenic and rather impressive waterfall, dropping 221 feet in five distinct steps; 42, 102, 21, 26, and 30 feet respectively. When viewed from the highway, only the uppermost 42-foot tier and no more than half of the 102-foot tall tier of the falls are visible, the rest remains obscured by the thick forest below. However those who are able to make the rather precarious scramble to the base of the falls can achieve a much more revealing vista of the falls.

At this point along its course, Chinook Creek is sustained entirely by snow melt from the Chinook and Cayuse Pass areas. Though the creek technically heads in Tipsoo Lake, the lake is not large enough to ensure a stained flow throughout the summer and the outlet will sometimes dry out as the water level drops. This means that Chinook Creek itself behaves almost as a seasonal stream at this point - though it rarely seems to actually go dry. In following, Chinook Creek Falls is not terribly noteworthy a waterfall beyond the beginning of August, and attempting to get close to the falls after that point will likely result in disappointment given the amount of effort involved.

History and Naming

Chinook Creek Falls is the Unofficial name of this waterfall.

We had previously listed this entry as Upper Chinook Creek Falls, but after uncovering nearly a half-dozen additional waterfalls further upstream, as well as coming to the blatant realization that this is far and away the most significant waterfall along Chinook Creek, the naming conventions of the falls along the creek have been slightly changed. The waterfall which we had previously listed with this title is now listed as Lower Chinook Creek Falls.

Our Thoughts

Unfortunately accessing the base of Chinook Creek Falls is a difficult enough endeavor that we can't recommend it as a location to seek out. Getting to the falls in itself is not terribly difficult, but taking into account a necessary stream ford, off-trail traversals along the top of several cliffs, steep slopes covered with hard forest duff, and potentially slick slopes near the base of the falls, it all results in a trek that poses too many hazards for those who are not considerably experienced in off-trail navigation. All that said, this is a great waterfall and if you are experienced and comfortable enough to attempt to reach it, the payoff is outstanding (at least during the early summer months).

Photo Tips

When shooting from the road, a 300mm lens is almost necessary for a good shot. No idea what to expect from up close. Well lit in the morning hours, pretty much impossible to see in the late afternoon due to shadows.

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   46.85345, -121.53234
Elevation:   3758 feet
USGS Map:   Chinook Pass 7 1/2"

Chinook Creek Falls is located near Cayuse Pass on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park. From the junction of Highways 410 and 123 at Cayuse Pass, follow Highway 123 south for just a half of a mile and park at the large gravel turnout on the right (west) side of the road. Walk south along the highway for about 270 feet and locate where the East Side Trail intersects the highway just before the road crosses a significant gully (the small metal sign indicating the trail is set several dozen yards back from the highway so it's not terribly obvious). Follow the trail downstream for just over eight-tenths of a mile. At this point it's necessary to leave the trail and scramble down to Chinook Creek in order to cross it. The best place to do so is either at the bottom of Hourglass Falls, or between tiers of Upper Chinook Creek Falls (see links below). Once across, continue following the creek downstream, but do so while angling slightly up the hill, otherwise a cliff band will block progress. If the correct route is taken, it becomes possible to circumnavigate the cliff band (the same cliff that forms Chinook Creek Falls) and traverse to the ridge directly opposite of the falls, which can then be followed all the way to the base of the falls, a total of about a mile from the trailhead. The route down to the base is very steep in places, but is mercifully free of brush for the most part.

View this location in Google Earth
Chinook Creek Falls is marked with the large icon in the center of the map. Up to ten additional waterfalls (if any) may be marked as well, with links below.

Other Nearby Waterfalls

Additional Waterfalls which occur within 5 miles of Chinook Creek Falls
No additional waterfalls were found within 5 miles.

By The Numbers

The information presented in this table is meant to help identify and clarify the physical aspects of the waterfall for comparative purposes. While we try to ensure this information is as accurate as possible, sometimes it will prove necessary to either estimate or flat out guess at certain characteristics where either enough information isn't readily available, is not known, or we were not able to confirm a given trait upon surveying. This information may be changed at any given time to ensure accuracy.

Total Height

The Total Height listed for the waterfall represents the difference in elevation from the top of the uppermost drop, to the bottom of the lowermost drop of the waterfall, including all stretches of interstitial stream in between. Stream between two tiers of a waterfall is counted in its overall height regardless of whether or not that section of the stream would be legitimately considered a waterfall on its own right, were it to be isolated. Waterfalls with only one drop will of have the height of only the single drop listed here.

Tallest Drop

The Tallest Drop figure represents the height of the largest single drop within a multi-stepped waterfall. Waterfalls with only one drop will have the total height of the waterfall repeated here.

Num of Drops

The Number of Drops in a waterfall is a tally of the total number of distinct drops which make up the waterfall. Stretches of interstitial stream in between two or more distinct drops of a single waterfall are NOT considered to be distinct drops of the waterfall unless the section of stream in question would otherwise qualify as a waterfall were it to be isolated.

Avg Width

The Average Width of the waterfall represents the breadth of the waterfall from bank to bank under typical flow conditions, or if the waterfall has been Cataloged, under the conditions which it was most thoroughly surveyed. Often this number will be approximated because of a lack of approachability to many waterfalls. We often utilize Google Earth to measure the width (where imagery is of sufficient quality and resolution to allow it.

Maximum Width

Maximum Width represents a hypothetical measurement of roughly how wide a waterfall could get during peak streamflow or flood conditions. For smaller waterfalls, this figure will generally not differ much from the Average Width measurement, but for broader waterfalls - especially those that feature a crest that isn't constricted - this figure can at times be consideraby larger. Like the Average Width measurement, this measurement will take into account the difference in width at the top and bottom of the waterfall as much as possible, but will often be made based on the width of the crest of th falls alone.


The Pitch of a waterfall is an estimated - often very roughly - measure of the average slope or steepness of a waterfall. The Pitch figure only takes into account sections of stream which are actively falling. Pools or stretches of level stream in between two or more successive drops of the falls will not factor in this figure. As an example, a waterfall which features two truly free-falling leaps separated by several dozen yards of flat stream will have a Pitch of 90 degrees. Similarly, a waterfall with two drops separated by a pool, one with a true free-falling drop, and one with a Horsetail type fall will average the two, so while the Plunging drop has a Pitch of 90 degrees, if the Horsetail drop has a Pitch of 45 degrees, the total Pitch will be roughly 67 degrees.


The Run of a waterfall is a measurement representing the total linear distance on the ground between the top and bottom of a waterfall. This figure is not often easy to establish with a high degree of precision and as such will often be estimated. Waterfalls with a longer Run will usually either be less steep, often cascading type waterfalls, or will feature multiple steps separated by shorter stretches of a more gradual gradient streambed.


The system of classification of waterfall forms we use is a heavily modified derivative of the classifications outlined by Greg Plumb in his "Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest" books. While plumb uses eight distnct forms, we wanted further granularity and opted to break down the hierarchy twofold: first based on the overall pitch of the waterfall, and then based on what shape the fall takes as it makes its descent. There are five primary Categories of falls in this system: Plunge, Horsetail, Steep Cascades, Shallow Cascades, and Rapids. Additional deliniation is then applied depending on characteristics such as the breadth of the falls, whether it splits into two or more channels, whether it falls in multiple successive drops, etc. For more information on our waterfall form classifications, see the Help page.


The watershed which a waterfall occurs within, if it is specified, will be based on the ultimate distributary watercourse to the ocean. For example, Washington's Palouse Falls occurs along the Palouse River - which is a tributary to the Snake River, which is itself a tributary to the Columbia River, which ultimately enters the Pacific Ocean, so Palouse Falls would then fall within the Columbia River watershed. Streams which empty directly into the ocean, or into a minor basin which then empties to the ocean will often have this field left blank.


The name of the watercourse which the waterfall occurs along. If the watercourse is not known to have an officially or colloquially recognized name, this field is left blank.

Avg Volume

The volume of water present in the stream at the location of the waterfall. This is often the most difficult figure to pin down because accurately measuring streamflow is not a simple process. We will rely on USGS data as much as possible, and attempt to take into account seasonal fluctuations in stream levels if possible. There is no guarantee that this figure will be accurate, and in cases where there is no USGS data to use, it may be a very, very rough estimate at best.


If known, the primary source of the watercourse which produces the waterfall will be listed here. This is helpful in determining whether a waterfall may flow more consistently during certain periods of the year - streams which originate in Springs, Lakes, or Glaciers will often flow more consistently throughout the year than those fueled by simply Runoff. The source of the stream may also be either unknown or undetermined.

Flow Consistency

A rough estimation of how many months out of the year the stream which produces the waterfall will actually hold water. The vast majority of waterfalls featured on this website will technically be truly perennial waterfalls (those that flow all year long), but some may see their flow dwindle greatly in the late summer months. This figure will not take into account the winter months when the waterfall may freeze, because in such cases the waterfall will very often be inaccessible. Entries which specify a Flow Consistncy of 12 Months should in general have an acceptable flow at any time of year (but may be better during certain periods - see below).

Best Flow

A general estimate of the best period of the year during which time the falls will be considered at optimal conditions, or flowing at their best. There may be variance within the range specified where the flow will be better or worse, but visiting at any time in the range specified (if available) will generally present the waterfall in its best light.



Cataloged Icon
Waterfalls which are Cataloged we have visited and surveyed in person. Statistical information should be quite accurate (for the most part), and exact measurements will often be available (information is not guaranteed to always be up to date). Detailed information, directions, and photographs will almost always be available.
Confirmed Icon
Confirmed Waterfalls are known to exist, should be relatively accurately mapped and geotagged, and the statistical information available will often be dependable. If height information is presented, it may be estimated but should be accurate. Directions will not likely be available.
Unconfirmed Icon
Unconfirmed Waterfalls are often marked on a published map, but we have yet to confirm the exact location and / or whether or not its stature is significant enough to qualify for listing in the database. Statistical information may be estimated and may be inaccurate. No directions.
Unknown Icon
Waterfalls marked as Unknown are either suspected to exist based on heresay or a hunch, or we have received unverified information suggesting a waterfall may exist near the location provided but cannot corroborate it in any way. Geodata may not be accurate, the location may not be known at all, and statistical information will be estimated and highly inaccurate.
Inundated Icon
Inundated Waterfalls have been submerged beneath lakes or reservoirs, usually a result of impoundment of a river behind a dam, and most often no longer functionally exist (there may be rare exceptions). We maintain records for these features out of historical importance.
Subterranean Icon
Though not common, some waterfalls can be found entirely underground within cave systems. Access to subterranean waterfalls can vary from easy via developed walkways to requiring a high level of extremely technical spelunking skill, including familiarity with ropework and a distinct lack of claustrophobia.
Disqualified Icon
Waterfalls which have been marked as Disqualified do not have the necessary stature or features to qualify as a legitimate waterfall according to our criteria. We will maintain records for entries with this status where the feature is well known and / or may have been historically referred to as a waterfall at some point in time.
Posted Icon
Posted Waterfalls are known to exist, and we may have a large amount of information associated with them, but are located on private property and are not legally accessible to the general public. Accessing waterfalls with this status should not be attempted without first being explicitly granted permission of the property owner.

These ads help to pay our bills. Please consider whitelisting this domain in your adblocker to help keep this site running.