Few natural wonders can take your breath away like a waterfall, and those who love the smell, the sound, the spray – the sheer force of water pounding over rock – are in for a treat this spring.
A La Niña weather pattern that brought a cold, wet winter to the Northwest means that many waterfalls around Whatcom County are at their finest. Nearly 34 inches of rain fell in Bellingham during the rainy period from October 1 to April 30, about 6 inches above normal. Both rain-fed and glacier-fed rivers, creeks and streams are running high and water tumbles down hillsides from the Chuckanut Mountains to the forests surrounding Mount Baker.
“Rushing waterfalls are the blood rushing in our veins, like ocean waves are our heartbeats,” said Britt Ervin of Bellingham in a social media post. “We rarely take the time to focus on how connected we are and how complex our physiology is, but waterfalls are a loud reminder that forces you to feel.”
Every single waterfall is different. Some are small and pretty. Others are huge and powerful.
Aaron Young, Aaron’s Waterfall World
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Likewise, Rhapsody Farrell of Bellingham finds tranquility in the roaring cascades.
“I think from very young, it is almost an innate instinct to be calmed by the sound of rushing water,” Farrell said.
Doug Clark, an associate professor of geology at Western Washington University, enjoys waterfalls on both an intellectual and aesthetic level. Clark, who specializes in glaciers and how they change the landscape, often takes his students to Nooksack Falls or to Racehorse Falls, both examples of glacier-fed cataracts.
“They’re certainly picturesque,” Clark said. “You definitely feel a sense of power.”
Aaron Young of Burlington maintains a website called Aaron’s Waterfall World and hikes across Washington state in search of waterfalls, especially ones in remote locations.
“When you get your first glimpse of a waterfall, it’s pretty fantastic,” said Young, who teaches math at Mount Vernon High. “It’s more like the sense of discovery and adventure is what gets me excited.”
Young’s website offers detailed information, including directions and facts about height, width and type of falls. Some 256 waterfalls are cataloged in Whatcom County, and Young has a list of top 10 Mount Baker waterfalls and a selection of waterfalls for children. His favorites in Whatcom County are Racehorse Falls in the Mount Baker foothills and Middle Sholes Creek Falls, along Wells Creek Road off the Mount Baker Highway.
(I) love the sense of timelessness of nature.
Anne Mosness, Sudden Valley
“You have to climb way down into the canyon. When you get to the bottom, it’s a deafening noise,” Young said.
Young carries a laser range finder and uses trigonometry to calculate the height of falls in remote areas, an aspect he emphasizes when students ask how they will ever use such math in everyday life.
“Every single waterfall is different,” he said. “Some are small and pretty. Others are huge and powerful.”
Waterfalls are categorized as plunge, horsetail, fan, slide, punchbowl, block, curtain, tiered, segmented and cascades. A tiered waterfall plunges down a series of ledges; a block waterfall is wide at the top; a plunge falls vertically, away from the rock face; a fan waterfall spreads horizontally and stays in contact with the rock.
Anne Mosness of Sudden Valley said waterfalls connect her to her place in history.
“(I) love the sense of timelessness of nature,” Mosness said.“Where the river has worn down rocks, I've imagined Native American encampments near the flowing waters, and bathing in the pools of water, leaning against the smoothly worn boulders.”
10 Kinds of waterfalls: plunge, horsetail, fan, slide, punchbowl, block, curtain, tiered, segmented and cascades.
Lowland Whatcom County boasts several easily accessible waterfalls.
Among the most spectacular is the 88-foot Nooksack Falls, just off Mount Baker Highway, about seven miles east of the Glacier Public Service Center, a U.S. Forest Service ranger station. Whitewater careens over rock along the Horseshoe Bend Trail east of Glacier. Racehorse Creek, off North Fork Road in the Mount Baker foothills, features several impressive falls. At Whatcom Falls Park, the main falls is a 20-foot drop above a historic Depression-era stone footbridge. The Hertz Trail at the east end of North Shore Road along Lake Whatcom has two nice waterfalls, especially in winter and spring.
“The North Lake Whatcom Trail has a beautiful waterfall out by the bridge,” said Kelly Villarreal of Bellingham.
On a side route from the Lake Padden Trail is Padden Creek Falls, which plummets in two stages as it carves through Padden Gorge on its way to Bellingham Bay. Smaller cascades spill over hillsides on the trails around Arroyo Park in the Chuckanuts.
Those who hike the trails in Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve along Lake Louise Road said the 79-foot fan-style Lookout Falls on Rufus Creek is particularly impressive this spring.
“Wow! I’ve never seen it raging that much,” said Keno Mccloskey of Sudden Valley.
The spelling of Anne Mosness’ name was corrected on May 1, 2017
▪ Aaron’s Waterfall World, aaronswaterfallworld.tripod.com and on Facebook
▪ Northwest Waterfall Survey, waterfallsnorthwest.com