For our first weekend back in Seattle after 6 weeks in Ecuador, I wanted a relatively easy hike. To ease back into things, you know? I picked Otter Falls because there was no snow, it was mostly flat, and with a cloudy weather forecast, waterfalls are one of the best (if not the best) options. If I can’t get sweeping mountain views, I’m going to find a pretty waterfall area. And Otter Falls fit the bill!
Otter Falls Trail Review
- Hiked: mid-January
- Distance from Seattle: 1 hour
- Accessibility: Mainly on a highway, but the potholes on the final portion of the dirt road were ROUGH. The bottom of our car scraped pretty badly on our way out. Consider parking right before the bridge–it will only add a few minutes to your hike and will save your car some trouble!
- Length: 11 miles (but my phone told me it was 10.1)
- Difficulty: 5/10
- Crowds: 9/10
- Trail views: 2/10
- Water features: 7.5/10
- Overall: 6.5/10
The drive from the highway to the trailhead is really pretty. I’m regretting that I didn’t stop to enjoy a snack and take some pictures along the river! There are many trails along this corridor, which I plan to continue exploring in the next several months. The road is paved for most of the way, too.
First things first: the trail is not well marked. In fact, if you plug in Otter Falls to Google Maps, it takes you to the Garfield Ledges trailhead (pro tip: If you have a smaller vehicle, park right before the bridge that leads you to the Garfield Ledges trailhead. You’ll avoid the bad potholes this way and only add on a tiny bit of walking to your mileage). Yes, this is another lesson in “be sure to use the coordinates from the Washington Trail Association” instead of typing in your destination to Maps. I’ve now made this mistake twice and you can be sure I won’t be doing that a third time! Thankfully, when we got to the Garfield Ledges trailhead, there was another adventurous couple who also was going to Otter Falls, who had astutely taken screenshots of the WTA description of the trail. They saved the day!
From the Garfield Ledges parking lot, you’ll simply continue up the gravel road, keeping the river on your lefthand side. You’ll walk for about 5-10 minutes, and come to another parking area, which is the “real” parking for Otter Falls. Note that there is no restroom here, so it’s best to use the restroom near Garfield Ledges trailhead if needed. There’s another bridge that is just for pedestrians, which you’ll cross to start the trail.
The trail remains in hearing distance of the river for quite some time. Within about 10 minutes of crossing the bridge, there will be a fork. You’ll want to take the path on your right at this fork, keeping close to the river. From there, the trail is easy to follow.
The first part of the trail is a lovely forested area right near the river. I loved getting to both see and hear the water here. It was a beautiful, greenish color on the day we hiked, and so transparent. Just gorgeous! There were a couple of downed trees blocking the trail earlier on as well; we were able to navigate them just fine, but they did present a bit of an obstacle. This tends to be more of a concern in the colder, windier months, but definitely not a reason to avoid this trail.
For the most part, the trail is lovely. It’s wide and gentle. Parts of the rail are rocky, but it’s not too severe. It’s almost entirely shaded, making this a great summer day option as well. The weather wasn’t too chilly despite being in the middle of winter because it’s not high altitude–I was fine in a polyester long sleeve shirt, hiking leggings, and a lightweight vest while walking. There’s a gorgeous little waterfall along the trail that’s about halfway through the hike as a bonus. You get some small views of the surrounding mountain area, but this hike isn’t really about the views, it’s about the water.
There are several wet stream crossings along this trail. I always enjoy these, but only because I have excellent, Gore-tex hiking boots that keep my feet dry. It’s always pretty to see transparent and crystalline water flowing across the trail. And there’s one really substantial creek crossing shortly before the turn off for Otter Falls. It’s a good idea to check the most recent trail reports and weather in the area before deciding to hike this trail; when rainfall is very heavy, these crossing can become dangerous. The day we went, we were easily able to navigate them without using poles–simply with our waterproof boots.
After you successfully cross the biggest stream, you’re really close to the waterfall. You’ll come across a sign directing you left up the slope of the forest. This area isn’t even really a trail–it’s more like a general “go up” area. The trail isn’t very defined. But it’s okay, because at this point you are so close you can hear the waterfalls and really all you have to do is go up! This part of the trail is also the only portion where there’s any real ascent, so you’ll have a bit of a lung burner right before you see the falls. It’s short, though!
This hike is quite flat, but long. I think I underestimated how long of a hike 10-11 miles really is, even considering that it was pretty flat, because I was still wiped afterwards! We enjoyed the waterfall area for about 30-45 minutes before making our way back to the trailhead.
Was this hike my favorite hike ever? No. But it was still totally worthwhile! I really loved all the water features of this trail, and Otter Falls itself is super unique. This is a great hike for…
- Grey or cloudy days when you want an easy option for a day hike escape from the city.
- Families with children old enough to walk 10+ miles.
- People with bad knees. There is so little elevation change that your knees won’t be hurting the next day.
- An uncrowded, peaceful day trip.
I hope you enjoy your trip to Otter Falls! Comment below if you end up taking the hike and let me know what you thought.