A Gem Under the Freeway

The Interstate 90 freeway stands above Franklin Falls, at left, and towers over the Denny Creek Trail that leads to the waterslides.Thousands of RVers traveling westbound on Interstate 90 in Washington state drive over this hidden gem every summer. Only those who know what lies beneath the pavement take the time to escape the traffic and noise to relax in this special place.

The first order of business for an RV stop here is to find a campsite in the Denny Creek Campground.  Traveling east from Seattle on Interstate 90, you reach it via exit 99 before Snoqualmie Pass. The campground will serve as your base camp to explore the world below the freeway.

Next you will need to decide how to unwind from a day on the road. Your choices via short hikes are a natural waterslide or a towering waterfall. Both offer clear, cool water for misting, sliding or soaking oneself. Let’s go.

Franklin Falls
The Franklin Falls Trail starts just east of the campground past the group sites. The trail travels along the South Fork Snoqualmie River through the forest, gently climbing above the river on the way to the falls. There are a few roots, some rocks and several stairs to climb along the way, but it is still easy for even the youngest hikers. Fences and bridges keep curious children from cliffs and other hazards.

The Interstate 90 freeway stands above Franklin Falls, at left, and towers over the Denny Creek Trail that leads to the waterslides.The trail passes within sight of Road No. 58 (the old Sunset Highway) a couple of times en route to the falls. Just before the trail descends to Franklin Falls it comes to a signed junction. The trail to the right is the upper end of the Snoqualmie Pass Wagon Road Trail, straight ahead are falls. Overall, the Franklin Falls trail is in great shape, but the last few yards of steep rock could be treacherous when wet. Hold on to young hands through this section. The falls contain an impressive 70-foot drop into a crystal clear pool, and there is a large gravel bar for splashing, enjoying a picnic or throwing rocks. Those brave enough to challenge the icy water can swim or wade here. During the spring snowmelt, the spray can create quite a chill, so be prepared. Even in summer it can be cool, as the sun doesn’t make it into the canyon until late morning or early afternoon. Plan to bring a light coat if you want to linger. The large bridge above and to the left of the falls holds the westbound lanes of Interstate 90.

Return to the campground via the historic Snoqualmie Pass Wagon Road Trail. Though the trail is not as well maintained as the Franklin Falls Trail, it will give you an idea of what our RVing forefathers had to travel over with their covered wagons a hundred plus years ago. The historic trail is a remnant of the Snoqualmie Pass Wagon Road dating from the 1860s. Other than a sign on Road No. 58 and one near Franklin Falls, the trail is not well signed. The trail crosses Road No. 58 three times and only cedar posts mark the path, although you can clearly see the swales caused by years of wagon travel.

Not even adults can resist the slippery waterslides on the Denny Creek Trail, a summer favorite for travelers of all ages. Denny Creek Trail begins from the trailhead at the end of Road No. 5830. In the summer this trailhead fills up with cars early, so be thankful you have a nice place to park your RV in the campground.

The trail is wide and easy to follow as it makes a modest climb through the forest. Several ancient trees grace the trail along the way, and spur trails lead to better views of Denny Creek. Children should be discouraged from using the spur trails due to steep terrain and lack of guardrails.

Water cascades across rock slabs at Denny Creek.After about half a mile, you will cross Denny Creek on a rustic bridge, shortly thereafter you will pass under westbound I-90. Be sure to look up and watch the traffic streaking across the drain grates high above you. Just over a mile from the trailhead, the trail crosses the creek again. You have now arrived at the waterslides. Descend to the creek, take off your shoes and refresh yourself in the mountain stream water. The water-scoured rock slabs provide smooth chutes for youngsters and the young at heart to slide down. Sheets of clear water fan out and spill down the rocks in all directions. The area is relatively safe for children, unless the water is high from snowmelt.

If you love waterfalls, journey north to the top of the waterslides. There you will find a picturesque cascade worthy of a visit. Hikers wanting more exercise can continue up the trail to Keekwulee Falls (1 1/2 miles from the trailhead) and Snowshoe Falls a bit farther. Beautiful Melakwa Lake is farther yet (4 1/2 miles from the trailhead).

Next time you find yourself RVing over the Cascades on Interstate 90, take a refreshing break from the freeway and discover what lies below. You’ll be glad you did!

Dave Helgeson and his wife promote RV & manufactured home shows in western Washington. They spend their free time traveling and enjoying the RV lifestyle.



Getting there: From Seattle, take I-90 east to Exit 47 (before Snoqualmie Pass). Turn left at the stop sign, and cross to the north (left) side of the freeway. At the “T,” turn right. Travel one-quarter mile and turn left on Denny Creek Road No. 58. Continue for approximately two miles to the campground entrance on the left.

Note: The campground can also be accessed from Snoqualmie Pass via the east end of Road No. 58. This route contains two very tight switchbacks and is not recommended for longer RVs.

Camping: Denny Creek Campground is located between the east and westbound lanes of I-90, yet there is surprisingly very little traffic noise that can be heard since the freeway lanes are on the mountain slopes above the campground. Denny Creek is a U.S. Forest Service campground. Stays are limited to no more than 14 days out of 30. Eleven of the campsites have power and water hookups, the rest do not. The group site has two hookup boxes with 30-amp hookups. This is one of the few Forest Service campgrounds built with larger RVs in mind. Allowable RV length is 35 feet, and a few are suitable for up to 40 feet. If you do not plan to camp at Denny Creek Campground, a Northwest Forest Pass is required on all vehicles parked at the trailheads.

Pets: Leashed pets are welcome in the campground and on the trails.

Trail data: Franklin Falls is two miles round trip from the campground with an elevation gain of 200 feet. Denny Creek waterslides are 2 1/2 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 500 feet. n

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