The Mountain Loop Highway is nothing by one awesome hike and adventure after another, but one thing you may have missed is the relatively short hike/walk to the Granite Falls Fish Ladder.
After a quick Sunday brunch in Arlington at The Stilly Diner on a dreary Sunday in February, we were looking for a short hike to walk off all the extra, but yummy, calories. What decided on was a trip to the Granite Falls Fish Ladder. I’ll admit that I’ve been by it a dozen times or more and had thought of stopping but was usually on my way to or coming back from, some more prominent spot out in the boonies.
It was close, short and if the rain cut loose on us, we wouldn’t get too wet, so we went.
Getting to the Granite Falls Fish Ladder Trail
With relatively easy access, the Granite Falls Fish Ladder trailhead is right along the Mountain Loop Highway, less than a mile north of Granite Falls. Parking consists of two pull out areas, one on either side of the road. I would suggest backing into any parking spot to make your exit easier, as the trailhead and the road can be quite busy.
Basic Info On the Granite Falls Fish Ladder Trail
The trail itself is declared to be a 0.7 mile, out and back hike with 98′ of elevation gain. With some wandering around back and forth, my watch tracked our visit at 1.3 miles. The trail itself decends from the parking lot along a wide, relatively smooth gravel access road with two switchbacks. You can also take two short stairs to cut off some of the distance.
Part of the trail is along the fish ladder and is concrete with steel grating. A word of warning, dogs and timid children may not appreciate this.
I would not call this trail ADA accessible, but it is not difficult and easy to navigate.
Parking Pass: None Required
Dogs: Allowed on a leash
What To See At The Falls
The obviously attraction is the falls itself. While counted as a single falls, it is actually a series of smaller falls making up about 50 feet of drop over 300 feet of distance. Depending on the time of year, the falls can be anywhere from roaring to relatively sedate.
Be sure to look around and check out the small waterfalls and plant life in the area as well. There are lots of drippy spots and things to look at besides the waterfall if you like getting up close to ferns, and moss. If you like graffiti, there is plenty of that as well.
The History Of The Granite Falls Fishway
In 1954 the Washington Department of Fisheries created the Granite Falls Fishway by blasting a nearly 300′ long tunnel through solid rock to create a fish ladder with a completed length of just under 600′.
At the time of its construction, it was the worlds longest vertical baffled fish ladder, with 50 steps and 51 pools 8 feet by 10 feet in size. The combination of ladder and tunnel give returning salmon and steelhead a way to bypass the falls and access 30 additional miles of spawing areas upstream.
Most of the year fish make use of the fishway. Steelhead use the fishway nearly year-round, as they have two spawning seasons running from April through October and December through April. During the rest of the year, the ladder is accessed by various species of salmon, including Chinook, sockeye, coho, chum, and pink.
Best Time to Visit
Just about any time of year is good to stop at the fishway. During the spring thaw or after storms, water thunders down the falls. When we were there, the falls were more of a cascade of gentle falls. My suggestion would be to stop at different times of the year to see the changes in the water. I know I’ll be stopping by again when the water is raging.