Home Trip ReportsDayhike Otter Falls & Big Creek Falls

Otter Falls & Big Creek Falls

by Amanda Phillips
Big Creek Falls in North Bend

I took a deep breath and ventured the first few steps away from the car and towards the trail. This felt fine, this would be fine; April was finally over and we were going back outside. To three waterfalls, Marten Creek Falls, Otter Falls, Big Creek Falls and allowing spring melt wash away the previous weeks. 

What a difference a month a makes. The last trip report on this blog was from Hurricane Ridge, a month ago. We made the trek to the peninsula the day before we met Ranger, the pup we adopted shortly after. Our carefree selfies seem like a million years ago and it is hard to reconcile the hopes we had then with the reality we know now. 

Long story short, in the two short (long) weeks we had Ranger, we learned that he is a dog that needs a dog companion. We were his first home without another dog, and it was as if he had always had a translator by having another dog around. Then we took away his translator and spoke to him in a language he couldn’t understand. Our happy, playful guy became anxious and scared, and the circle he felt comfortable in shrank. Within days our goals went from “maybe in June we can take him on his first backpacking trip!” to “maybe this morning he will pee outside after only an hour of trying”.  It no longer felt kind to keep him, when we could allow him to go to a home with another dog and we began the painful process of returning him to the group we rescued with. 

The week after he left, our little apartment felt too big. Mornings lacked purpose without coaxing him out of bed and afternoons seemed empty without planning for elaborate evening walks. I roamed around on autopilot, avoiding the raw spots for the following weeks. You see, it wasn’t simply the loss of a dog we cared about but the dream it represented. Having a dog felt so right, I couldn’t understand how it could have been good in so many ways yet we were still without a pup after it all. I knew we made the right choice for his happiness, but I still wanted to wake up and see him every day. 

Returning to the life we knew a few short weeks before felt impossible. We went through the motions but it felt hollow. I assumed I would escape to the woods, where the wilderness had always brought me comfort and solace, but I avoided it. I didn’t want comfort, I didn’t want things to return to normal, I wanted to acknowledge that this sucked. Continuing the dream and hitting the trails without the dog we assumed would be at our side felt like a betrayal. 

Until this weekend. Reality finally sunk in, we started making goals and plans for the future again. Adopting another dog no longer feels like a practice in masochism and things feel clearer. Now, I simply wanted to walk and walk until I had a chance to process it all. Otter Falls, with its easy, rambling road walk punctuated with rushing falls called to me. I wanted the quiet to let my mind roam and then to stand next to the roaring falls as mist crawls over my arms, letting the sound drown out all other thoughts. So I did, and it was perfect.

Copy of Kendall Peak Lakes (2)
Woman with dog at Discovery Park

Marten Creek

Man standing on a bridge looking over Taylor River

We reached the road closure and parked. Threw on boots, grabbed gear and set out for the trailhead. We crossed Taylor River on an old, paved bridge and continued to the official start of the route. Retracing my steps from last summer, the trail was infinetly more interesting with trilium lining the trail. Snowy peaks shone through the trees every now and again and we were treated to a few glimpses of Taylor River. 

After about a mile, the trail began to pull away from the rushing river and we were left with a hushed forest and easy road walk. I walked eagerly, listening for the next influx of water, knowing it would mean we were near Marten Creek Falls.

Snowy Peaks near Middle Fork in North Bend
Detail shot of Devils Club
Taylor River in North Bend

Sure enough, we rounded the corner and saw the bridge and tumbling water. When Meg and I visited last July, it was during a hot summer and we knew that the low water that allowed us to swim in the waterfall was an anomaly.  I couldn’t wait to see what the area looked like with spring melt rushing down over the exposed boulders. When we crossed the bridge and I was blown away by the strength of the water. Swimming today would have been suicidal. 

I love repeating trails to see how different conditions can change a place. This was the perfect example of this phenomenon and highlighted how special that one day in July was. Swimming in Marten Creek Falls was one of the highlights of the backpacking trip, but for this dayhike, it was just the first of several spectacular waterfalls.  

Marten Creek Falls in North Bend
Bridge over Marten Creek in North Bend
Marten Creek Falls in North Bend
Marten Creek Waterfall in spring

Otter Falls

We continued down the flat, decommissioned road walk at an easy pace, slowed only by creek crossings. Simple rock hopping in the summer was a bit more complicated with higher water, but certainly still crossable. A few creek crossings later, we saw the turn-off for Otter Falls and made our way through the steeper, rooty trail to reach the Lipsy Lake and Otter Falls. Stunning as always, Otter Falls maintained the theme of the day by displaying much more water than July of the previous year. It was too wet to climb on the slab safely, so we contended ourselves with finding a little spot at the base and eating some lunch. 

Man crossing a creek near North Bend
Otter Falls in North Bend in the Spring
Trilium on the otter creek trail
Otter falls flowing into Lipsy Lake

Big Creek Falls

Otter Falls was our turn-around point last July and I was determined to make it to Big Creek Falls this time, just 0.5 miles after Otter Falls. The road walk is just tedious enough that I couldn’t imagine doing it again this year, and knew that this weekend with high spring water would allow for prime waterfall viewing. We had hoped to visit in the winter, when it was still rimmed with icicles, but conditions never quite aligned. 

Forested path near Otter Falls
Split rock on the otter falls trail
Big Creek Falls in North Bend

Much like Otter Falls, Big Creek Falls is composed of large, slabby rocks with an abundance of water flowing down. Where Otter Falls is more gentle and viewed from a greater distance with a lake between you and the falls, Big Creek Falls is in your face! Crossing a waterfall in the middle of its route, rather than sitting at its base provides for very different experiences. Where Otter was peaceful, calm and awe-inspiring, Big Creek Falls felt like an overload of the senses. I love that this trail lets you experience both! We were cooled by the cloud of mist that hung over the road, and enjoyed the little break of sun in a mostly cloudy day. 

After getting our fill of the waterfall, we turned around and began the 5.5 mile walk back to the car. The miles fell away as the blisters grew, and the hips, backs and knees sore from an April away from the trail protested. Each persistent step was a reminder that we are here, we are healing and things are still beautiful, after it all. Glad to be back. 

Girl kneeling in front of Big Creek Falls
Big Creek Falls in North Bend and surrounding forest

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