Who doesn’t love a good waterfall hike?!
Melting snow means water. Mountains mean water flowing downward. Washington is rife with waterfalls, and I’m always keen on hiking to more. With snow levels still lingering, Mama Boots, my dog Schooner, and I decided to hit Teneriffe Falls, near North Bend, to get some mostly snow-free hiking in. Checking trip reports I saw there was still ice on a lot of the trail, so I grabbed my microspikes. As Mama Boots did not have any, I let her borrow mine, and I grabbed the boyfriendo’s size XL ones for me (ugh). The trailhead (called the Mount Teneriffe trailhead) on a gloomy February Saturday still had parking by the time we arrived around 10AM, but as weather warms, this lot will fill up earlier and earlier. Luckily, this trailhead is a stop in summer for Trailhead Direct, a great way to avoid the headaches of weekend trailhead parking.
Off we went, through the forest. The trail begins very gently, and is nice and wide (being a former road). However, I knew this easy part would end, and it did abruptly, as the trees gave way to rocks. Here, the trail gets narrow and rocky–and steep. WTA said there was 22 switchbacks here, and trip reports warned that at least some would be icy. We got intel from one descending hiker who seemed concerned until we told her we had microspikes, which she said we’d need about halfway up. Mama Boots busted out her poles and we began the slog over the rocks. We started seeing spots of ice along the trail, and the stepping got more and more ginger. Also, we noticed many of the descending hikers were big groups–like 5-8 people, all of whom we’d pull over to let by. As the ice got worse, this took longer and longer, especially yielding to those who did not have spikes or poles.
Admittedly, this got pretty frustrating to me. Hiking’s growing popularity in the PNW means a lot of people just piling in their car with nothing but worn-out tennis shoes and a bottle of water to wherever Instagram said to go. While I do not intend to gatekeep or say only those with fancy gear should be hiking, the lack of preparation and research–going to a place with bad conditions and not being prepared for those conditions–can be a recipe for disaster.
Onward we climbed, until we reached a spot on trail that was icy enough and big enough to chain up. It was Mama Boots’s first time using microspikes, and she was blown away at the improvement in traction. My dog Schooner seemed unbothered by the ice under his paws, but the constant stopping to let people schooch past made him antsy to keep pulling me onward (our rumbling bellies, us deciding on waiting ’til the falls for food, also made us antsy). As we continued to climb up the switchbacks, the roar of the falls got stronger. We passed a frozen chunk of the lower falls, but even with spikes and poles, I did not dare venturing closer. Then, with just a few switchbacks to go until the falls, we heard a terrifying sound: a huge rumbling, followed by a huge crash. I was frozen in fear, assuming we were about to die in an avalanche. A chunk of frozen falls had broken off, with water behind it bursting like a dam.
That solidified our decision to a) hustle to the falls and b) hustle away from the falls, ASAP. People exiting the falls all warned us that had nearly been crushed, so we really tried to sprint and beat the sun’s melting rays. We literally snapped a couple pictures and turned heel immediately. I’m bummed we didn’t get to enjoy them more, but safety first, always!
Hustling downward on ice was even harder than huslting upward. Again, tons of ill-prepared people going up and down had to schooch, and somehow regardless if going up or down we had to yield (as almost every group was again, 5-8 people, having 2 + a dog pull over just seemed easier…in theory). I kept taking off my spikes prematurely and having to stop to put them back on. Did I mention we were starving, too? Finally, we reached a good spot to snack and take off our spikes. Phew!
The rest of the return trip was easy enough. Somehow my final milage from GPS ended up being a half-mile longer than WTA and Gaia said it would be, possibly from the constant pulling over and stopping to chain up/down. However, it was still a worthy trek. Like many hikes along I-90, this one was crowded and full of ill-prepared people, even in not-great weather. If going in summer, consider a weekday or Trailhead Direct. If going in fall or spring, double-check snow conditions and gear-up appropriately!
Distance: WTA said 5.6 miles RT, but my GPS clocked 6.3!
Elevation: Around 1500 feet ascended
Parking: Discover Pass if parking in the lot, no pass required if using Trailhead Direct
Bathrooms: Pit toilets at parking lot
Best Beer Bet: No Boat or Snoqualmie Brewing in North Bend