Elk Creek Falls: The Highest Waterfall in Idaho

Updated on May 13, 2018

Much beauty awaits all visitors to Elk Creek Falls

One of the waterfalls worth marveling over
One of the waterfalls worth marveling over | Source
Another spectacular waterfall
Another spectacular waterfall | Source

Did you know that the highest waterfall in Idaho is located fifty miles east of Moscow? This natural wonder, which is part of Elk Creek Falls, can be reached on foot from the parking area on Elk Creek Falls Road, a clearly marked 2 ½ mile gravel road off ID 8. This gravel road continues to be well marked until you reach an unmarked intersection where you can drive straight or veer left. Veering left is encouraged, and from here additional signs guide motorists to the parking area. The parking area includes several picnic tables, as well as a single vault toilet. However, there are no trash receptacles on site, and therefore all trash brought in must be packed out.

This is a national recreation trail. At the trail entrance there is an information board which includes a page of instructions from the National Forest Service. This page lists regulations concerning sanitation, operation of vehicles, campfires, camping, fee areas, property, public behavior, pets and animals, business activities, audio devices, fireworks, and firearms. Incidentally, this is a non-motorized trail; in addition, all animals must be leashed or otherwise restrained. This sheet concludes with the helpful motto “Leave only footprints, take only pictures.”

This system of hiking trails feature several interpretive displays. The first display describes the public school building that was built nearby in 1910. This school building remained in use for over two decades until the Great Depression of the 1930s forced many families to relocate. A second display explains that the hiking trail was once the old wagon road that was frequented by the early settlers of Elk River and Orofino. Interpretive displays are also located at the middle and lower falls. The display at the middle falls explains how the volcanic eruption of Mount Mazuma, which is now known as Crater Lake, changed the landscape of this area with significant ash deposits. These ash deposits made it possible for plants such as maidenhair fern to grow despite existing more commonly in coastal regions. The interpretive display at the lower falls mentions the Appalachian settlers from West Virginia who populated this area in the 1870s and 1880s.

The interpretive displays are sturdily constructed, visually appealing, and informative. While worthwhile for hikers of all ages, they make this hike family friendly. Moreover, since these well-maintained hiking trails range in difficulty from easy to moderate, these trails are accessible to most individuals, including small children, who may not fare as well on more strenuous trails. The trail intersections are well-marked, and they lead to one of four destinations: upper falls, middle falls, lower falls, or the parking area. Every overlook includes benches to sit down and enjoy the view.

One of the trails leading to the falls.
One of the trails leading to the falls. | Source

View of the upper, middle, and lower falls differ considerably, and need to be appreciated accordingly. The upper falls can be observed in closer proximity than the middle or lower falls can. The distance the water cascades from the upper falls is not nearly as pronounced as from the middle falls, as this, at ninety feet in height, is the tallest waterfall in Idaho. While the middle falls may provide the most exciting view because of their height alone, all three falls are visually appealing.

This entire area is a visual masterpiece, as it includes pristine views of the thickly forested Selkirk-Bitterroot Mountain Range. Whether visited alone or with friends or family, this is a location not to overlook. At least two hours to explore are recommend, and one could easily spend more with the help of a camera or a picnic basket. What are you waiting for?

In case you want to see the falls without leaving your computer...

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