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The Palouse Falls Destination encompasses a portion of Washington state and Idaho in the northwestern region of the United States. Coursing directly through the destination from the west to the east is the Snake River. A few miles north of the confluence of the Snake River and the Palouse River can be found the destination’s namesake, Palouse Falls. The namesake is a waterfall in Palouse Falls State Park that drops roughly 200 feet downstream off of a canyon that was formed during the Missoula floods. Those who visit Palouse Falls may have the opportunity to go wildlife viewing, bird watching, and picnicking as they observe the waterfall and its surrounding landscape. Aside from the Palouse Falls site, another natural area that frequently receives outdoor recreation-seeking tourists is the Saint Joe River area. There, visitors can engage in more active pursuits in comparison to Palouse Falls, as trails extend through various parts of the site that are accessible by horseback riders, hikers, and mountain bikers. Beyond the warm-weather activities provided within the destination, people often come to the small cities and towns, including Asotin, Dayton, Ritzville, Tekoa, Palouse, and Colfax, to explore the attractions and historic sites. Some historically significant buildings that were restored date back to the 1880s.
Located in the northwestern area of the United States, the Palouse Falls Destination comprises part of southeastern Washington and northern Idaho. The destination’s namesake is a waterfall in Palouse Falls State Park that can be found about four miles upstream from the confluence of the Snake River and the Palouse River. Palouse Falls is in the destination’s western region and reaches a total height of approximately 200 feet.
In 2014, Palouse Falls was named Washington’s state waterfall after the state Legislature passed a bill that had been written by “school children who advocated for the designation.” Three distinct views of the falls can be observed in Palouse Falls State Park, one of which can be reached by a set of steps leading from the main day-use area that neighbors the parking lot. Access to the other two viewpoints is available by walking along a paved trail, though it should also be noted that the highest of these viewpoints, the Fryxell Overlook, can be accessed by the park’s secondary gravel parking area. Numerous informational panels are based throughout the park with the intent to inform visitors about the creation of the canyon as well as the Ice Age Floods. Many tourists who visit Palouse Falls engage in leisurely outdoor activities such as bird watching, wildlife viewing, and picnicking.
A notable event took place in Palouse Falls on April 26, 2009, which involved a whitewater kayaker by the name of Tyler Bradt. With several years of kayaking experience, Bradt was able to set the world record for surviving the highest waterfall plunge. After plunging nearly 186 feet down Palouse Falls, Bradt was left only with a sprained wrist. “Considering the waterfall, the injuries were pretty minor,” Bradt remarks. He continues, “I actually expected more of an impact.”
The small cities and towns that surround Palouse Falls often draw tourists to the area, as they contain a relatively high quantity of historical architecture and attractions. Dayton, one particular town found south of Palouse Falls, features over 100 historical sites, one of them being the Boldman House Museum—a Victorian building that dates back to circa 1880. The museum displays a collection of artifacts that pertain to events that took place in Dayton. Furthermore, Uniontown, located near the border between Washington state and Idaho, has a downtown area that comprises buildings that were constructed in the 1900s.
Palouse Falls is part of a 377-foot deep canyon and consists of an “upper falls” and a “lower falls,” both of which have contrasting heights. The “upper falls” drops to around 20 feet and is situated about 1,000 feet northwest of the main drop, while the “lower falls” descends to a significantly longer height of 200 feet. The canyon and its vicinity, as a whole, is characterized by flood-created coulees, plunge pools, cataracts, rock benches, buttes, kolk-created potholes, and pinnacles that are commonly found in scablands.
In addition to Palouse Falls State Park, the destination contains another natural area called Saint Joe National Forest in northern Idaho. Of the Panhandle National Forests, the Saint Joe River area includes most of what had originally been established as the Saint Joe National Forest. A number of trails wind through the forest, which allow hikers, backcountry horse riders, mountain bikers, and ATV riders to utilize them. Outdoor enthusiasts frequently visit Saint Joe National Forest year-round to undertake recreational activities, namely fishing, hiking, hunting, camping, horseback riding, skiing, and snowshoeing, among others. Moreover, the forest serves as the home for a considerable population of elk.
The Snake River—a fairly significant aquatic landform that courses from the destination’s western area to the south—is “a major river of the great Pacific Northwest region in the United States.” Extending approximately 1,078 miles long, the Snake River is the largest tributary of the Columbia River. The river itself is an ecosystem that provides a diverse range of habitats for various species of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles, as well as flora species. Common mammals include the gray wolf, wolverine, grizzly bear, Canada lynx, and mountain lion.
One of the nearest towns to Palouse Falls is Starbuck, Washington. It was reported that nearly 95 days each year experience some form of precipitation in Starbuck, as the town receives an average of about 15 inches of rain and 15 inches of snow annually. Regarding the temperature and climatic conditions in Starbuck, many consider the “most pleasant months” to be June, September, and August, according to tourism statistics. December and January tend to be the “least comfortable months” of the year, as temperatures drop to around 27 degrees Fahrenheit on average. As for the warmer season, July typically has an average high that reaches 88 degrees Fahrenheit.
Over 13,000 years ago, Palouse Falls was carved and is now “one of the last active waterfalls on the Ice Age Floods path.” The Ice Age Floods shaped the falls’ geographic formation due to the force of the floods’ flow being too strong for the valley, which ultimately caused the basalt columns to be carved into three coulees. Throughout the continuation of these floods, the coulees began to recess from the waterfalls. As the Missoula floods overtopped the south valley wall of the Palouse River and diverted the water to the current course (to the Snake River) by erosion of a new channel, the Palouse Falls and the canyons that encompass it were created.
After several years of being referred to as “Aputapat,” the name of Palouse Falls State Park was changed in an effort to honor the Palouse Indian culture. The Palouse tribe believed that Palouse Falls was formed by a mythic creature known as “Big Beaver” that was struck five times by the spears of four giant brothers. The legend explains that each time Big Beaver was hit, he gouged the walls of the canyon and shifted the river’s direction. Big Beaver tore out a huge canyon on the fifth strike of the spear, causing the river to tumble over the cliff of the newly created canyon, thus creating Palouse Falls. The jagged walls of the canyon supposedly “show the deep marks of Big Beaver’s claws.”