Ladder Creek again in (multicolored) spotlight
Ladder Creek Falls in Newhalem, illuminated at night throughout much of the 20th century as a way to build interest in the adjoining Skagit Hydroelectric Project, is again lit up as a result of a $1 million renovation.
Special to The Seattle Times
More must-see waterfalls
Here are some other dramatic waterfalls for your to-do list:
Wallace Falls: Several impressive falls here, with the showstopper being a spectacular 265-foot plunging horsetail of water. At Wallace Falls State Park in Gold Bar, about 14 miles east of Monroe off Highway 2. Discover Pass required.
Twin Falls: A viewing deck and a bridge spanning the Snoqualmie River offer front-row views of these stunning falls as they drop some 135 feet, streaking across and splashing against a jagged cliff face. In Olallie State Park, about three miles east of North Bend. To get there, head east on Interstate 90 to Exit 34. The park is about a mile south of the freeway off Southeast 159th Street. Discover Pass required.
Franklin Falls: About 15 miles east of North Bend, the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River plunges dramatically 75 feet off a cliff to the riverbed below. And it does so essentially between the east- and westbound lanes of I-90. Access is off I-90 Exit 47. From the north side of the freeway, follow Denny Creek Forest Service Road 58 for 2.5 miles to Franklin Falls Trail. Northwest Forest Pass required.
Snoqualmie Falls: Though the hiking trail to the base is closed through 2013, the observation deck above this Mount Rainier-of-area-waterfalls is open. Each year, 1.5 million visitors make the trek to this spot about 25 miles east of Seattle to watch the Snoqualmie River take flight for 270 feet before dashing on rocks below. Take I-90 Exit 25 and follow the Snoqualmie Parkway for 3.5 miles to Snoqualmie. Turn left onto Highway 202; the falls are a half-mile ahead.
NEWHALEM, Skagit County — Now that we've settled in to soggy season, it's time to seek out those places that seem most alive when the five-day forecast is nothing but frowning clouds and teary raindrops: waterfalls.
And while it's not accurate to say that there's a new waterfall to add to the pantheon of can't-miss falls — your Snoqualmie, your Wallace, your Franklin, et al — new light is being shed on one of the region's popular walk-up waterfalls. Literally.
Last month, Seattle City Light restored its historic light show at Newhalem's Ladder Creek Falls, re-illuminating the forested falls in a rainbow of colors for the first time since 2004.
Every night, from dusk until midnight, as the tumbling creek zigs, zags and plunges down through a narrow slot canyon, it's bathed by alternating red, blue, purple and white lights. The effect is arresting: At times the falls resemble a giant lightning bolt streaking through the woods; at others, it looks like boiling hot lava flowing down the hillside, the only giveaway being the chilly nighttime air at this spot on the edge of the North Cascades.
"When it gets dark, it's just spectacular — you get enveloped in the light," says Scott Thomsen, a spokesman for Seattle City Light, which owns the land on which the falls are located.
"We really wanted to maintain what J.D. Ross called 'a paradise of color in the wilderness.' "
Ross, often referred to as the "Father of City Light," started the light show in the 1920s as a way to attract visitors and garner attention for his Skagit Hydroelectric Project. Over the years, however, time and lack of maintenance caused the original lighting system to fall into disrepair, so that by 2004 it had stopped working altogether. Plans to resurrect the light show got under way in 2008.
The new energy-efficient LED lighting system — it uses 90 percent less electricity than the original system, which featured 1,000-watt spotlights — is part of a $1.06 million renovation. Other improvements include rebuilt concrete stairs, a new seating area, benches and signage.
To get to Ladder Creek Falls, head east on Highway 20 (North Cascades Highway) to Newhalem, about 23 miles east of Rockport. (Though Highway 20 closes for the winter, that's farther east; access to Newhalem is year-round.) Park across from the Gorge Powerhouse — a couple hundred yards east of the Skagit General Store and the restored steam engine out front — and cross the river via the pedestrian-only suspension bridge. The lighted falls are just ahead up the pathway. Adjoining paths navigate a woodland garden.
A bridge overlook to the right offers a multihued gander of some mini-cataracts, but for the more dramatic plunges — three tiers, each of which are 30 to 45 feet high — head up the steep stairs to the left. Ample railing and fencing throughout ensure that little ones are safe, thus making Ladder Creek Falls a terrific family outing.
"When you see it in person, it really is incredible, words don't do it justice," Thomsen says.
"You've really got to come see it."
More information: See www.seattle.gov/light/tours/skagit/sk5_sght.htm
Mike McQuaide is a Bellingham freelance writer and author of "Day Hike! Central Cascades" (Sasquatch Books). Contact him at email@example.com.
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