You have two choices during the fall and winter in Seattle: you can go into lockdown to avoid the elements — or — you can go out and enjoy them. We personally prefer the latter. There’s nothing better than stomping through the snow, and a great place to do that is a winter hike to Keekwulee Falls.
The trail to Keekwulee Falls begins at the Denny Creek trailhead. Here’s how you get there (map): drive about an hour east on I-90 to exit 47, turn left off the exit, turn right at the T (NF-9034), turn left toward the Denny Creek Campground (NF-5800), follow this road past the campground, veer left at the signs to Franklin Falls (which is another fun winter hike), go past the Franklin Falls trail, and into the parking lot for the Denny Creek trail. A Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking in this area.
NOTE: For a snow hike experience, keep an eye on the Snoqualmie Pass forecast. The Denny Creek trailhead is at an elevation of about 2,300 feet and climbs to more than 3,600 feet to Keekwulee Falls. The Franklin Falls traffic camera can give you a decent idea of what you’ll find at the trailhead.
To get to Keekwulee Falls, you must first hike about a mile through old-growth forest to Denny Creek. This is where it can get a little tricky. That’s because you have to cross Denny Creek to continue the trail to Keekwulee Falls. In the summer, crossing the creek is simple. In the fall and winter, with the creek running much more rapidly, it’s a bit more challenging. This is why I advise wearing waterproof boots (and possibly even gaiters) for this hike.
Once you cross Denny Creek (which might take a leap (or a few), balancing act, etc.), follow the sign (it’s small and posted on a tree) to the “Main Trail.” In another .7-miles (where you gain a bit of elevation), stomping through the snow, you’ll reach your destination: Keekwulee Falls.
Keekwulee is a Chinook word for “to fall down,” and that’s exactly what Keekwulee Falls does. It drops 171-feet to be exact. There are a couple great viewpoints from the trailhead, but there’s no access to the waterfall itself (which isn’t a bad thing in the chilly air). To add to the beauty of Keekwulee Falls in the winter, it’s surrounded by snow-covered peaks and evergreen trees.
You can continue on the trail past Keekwulee Falls. In about .5-miles (which gains even more elevation), you’ll run into Snowshoe Falls. Honestly, there’s no good way to see the waterfall, so it’s not really worth the effort. 1.6-miles past Snowshoe Falls, you’ll end up at Melakwa Lake. I tried to push on to Melakwa Lake when I was recently out there, and I eventually lost the trail in the snow and running water. At 4,600-feet, Melakwa Lake gets more snow than Keekwulee Falls and Denny Creek at a lower elevation.
NOTE: I was one of two folks on the trail to Denny Creek when I went on this hike during the week in mid-November. I was the only person to continue on to Keekwulee Falls. If isolation is your thing; this is a great option (although the same can’t be said in the summer).
Seattle doesn’t get much snow in the winter, but it’s not hard to find outside of the city. A hike to Keekwulee Falls gives you a chance to get out and enjoy the season without too much effort. It’s a fun adventure and one you should really consider doing when you have the time.
Have you ever done a snowy hike to Keekwulee Falls? How was your experience? We’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Don’t forget to also check out Seattle Bloggers for more great places to visit around the Emerald City!
And I’ll throw one more neat winter hike at you: Talapus Lake. You need to be aware of avalanche dangers but you can safely visit the beautiful alpine lake in the winter.