Take to the Woody Trail for a sensational journey up the Wallace River. It’s one of Snohomish County’s premier hiking venues. Bring a lunch and a camera, and prepare for Wallace Falls to entice you to the top, persevering through an elevation gain of some 1,240 feet in 2.75 miles, though many don’t venture past the middle falls overlook. It’s a family friendly hike and good for all ages. The river and falls pound with forceful, furious action. You can hear its fury even when out of view—but what a sight!
The trailhead begins within the Wallace Falls State Park located just outside Gold Bar’s city limits. This is a popular hike, so there are more than a hundred parking spaces, with extra parking along the entrance road.
Useful information packs the kiosks. One board illustrates the trees to look for en route. Common are the Douglas fir and Western hemlock, but you also may see Pacific yew, a smaller hardwood conifer whose seeds look like berries. This trail may be short on wildflowers, but there are plenty of edible blackberries, salmonberries, red huckleberries, and thimbleberries. Watch for Western sword ferns, deer ferns, and the licorice fern. This last fern is an epiphyte that grows on other plants.
“Any time you see a fern growing out of a tree in clumps, it’s a licorice fern,” said Vickie, who was hiking with her grown daughter Maggie. “The first time we came up here I carried her on my back. This hike is great. You get so much for your effort.”
The trail starts off flat and forks after a few hundred yards. Stay to the right on the Woody Trail, which is adjacent to the broad, rushing Wallace River. The trail remains wide and shored up where necessary. Considering that the hike is classified as moderately strenuous, the well-built trail provides ease of travel. Large wooden bridges and railings made almost entirely of logs allow passage over several tributaries. It’s a long but relatively easy 1.8 miles to the lower falls viewpoint. This area is a maturing forest, with lots of moss in the trees and as ground cover. Various ferns, salal, and Oregon grape fill the undergrowth.
At the lower falls, the river cuts a break in the trees for almost complete viewing of the 275-foot Wallace Falls. This is a good place to stop for a snack or to have lunch. A covered shelter features several picnic tables under a covered shelter, with plenty of room to rest. The next leg to the middle falls overlook is just three-tenths of a mile further. The trail continues to gradually ascend.
In these upper stretches, the river disappears and may be inaudible. A precipice at the middle falls overlooks a full view of Wallace Falls plummeting over a rock ledge. It then re-forms into a wild, mist-spewing river as it drops down into the valley.
For Regan Edwards of Redmond and Lisanne Cormier, the middle falls is the end of the line, and they aren’t alone. “This is my first hike,” said Edwards. “I just ran a half-marathon and this hike is working a different group of muscles.” The women agree to pick up some Epsom salts on their way home.
“I’m from Maryland near the water,” said Cormier. “We don’t have hikes like this. Highly impressive. It compares to New Zealand.”
The final ascent to the upper falls is difficult, and there are switchbacks. Surprisingly, one of the better views is on the way. Take the few steps off the path at the sign reading “valley overlook.” A railing prevents you from plunging to your death and there are tiered benches. The sun, if any, hits this spot wonderfully. On your left the cascading waterfall continues. Below is the deep gorge of the Wallace River. On the right are a mountain range and the fertile hills near Gold Bar.
The upper falls viewpoint is level with the top of Wallace Falls, and you can see its rough waters approaching the edge. It’s a partial view of the falls yet very worth the climb. The return trip is nearly three miles on weary legs. If you start early, it would be about midday. At this time, the trail will have more hikers. It’s best to take it slow, and the views actually improve with the afternoon sun.
Wallace Falls is an essential yearround hike for those exploring Snohomish County trails. The trail itself is kept in first class condition and even toddlers can make the picnic area. The popularity of this hike cannot be overstated. Yet, most everyone is friendly on the trail, and it’s ideal for solo hikers.