To Waterslides and Keekwulee Falls
- Difficulty: Easy. All year round to waterslides. Crossing Denny Creek at waterslides can become impossible at high water.
- Total distance (Round Trip) – 4 miles to Keekwulee, 2.6 miles to slides
- Total elevation gain – 560 ft to Keekwulee Falls viewpoint, 140 ft to the slide. Trailhead is 2550 ft. High point is 3050 ft. at Keekwulee Falls
- Estimated time: 1.5-3 hours depending on your fitness and how much time you want to spend there.
To Melakwa Lakes
- Difficulty: Moderate. Best March thru October. Winter users need equipment and experience in avalanche prone areas.
- Total distance (Round Trip) – 10 to Melakwa Lake, 11 to Upper Melakwa Lake
- Total elevation gain – 2700 ft. to upper Melakwa Lake, 2600 ft to Lower Melakwa Lake. High point is 4600 ft. at Upper Melakwa Lake
- Estimated time: 5-10 hours depending on your fitness and how much time you want to spend there.
Denny Creek was named for Arthur A. Denny, the leader of the Denny Party. The Denny party were some of the original non-native settlers of Seattle, who had mining claims in the area. The Denny Creek Trail is extremely popular and for good reason! It’s got something for everyone. A natural waterslide, two good sized waterfalls, lots of old growth forest mixed in with open areas with great views, and beautiful Alpine Lakes. Denny Creek actually has a number of waterfalls. Keekwulee Falls is the most significant of the bunch and is one of the prime attractions along the Melakwa Lakes Trail near Snoqualmie Pass.
The natural waterslide area is a must for families. A little farther up are Keekwulee Falls and Snoeshoe Falls. For a moderate hike, continue on up over Hemlock Pass to the beautiful Melakwa Lakes. For the strenuous and hard core folks, you can continue past Upper Melakwa Lake to Melakwa Pass or perhaps try scaling Kaleetan Peak.
Denny Creek Trail
Franklin Falls Parking Lot to Denny Creek Trailhead (0.4 miles)
Begin your hike on a connector trail to the real Franklin Falls trailhead. Upon leaving the parking lot, you’ll see a junction with the Wagon Road trail. Stay left and cross FR 58 after 0.1 mile. Restrooms are on your right immediately after crossing the road. Continue down the road (not FR 58) a short bit to the Franklin Falls trailhead on your right. The north side of the Denny Creek Campground is on your left. If you are going to Franklin Falls, turn right onto the Franklin Falls Trail. Otherwise, continue across the bridge and follow the road 0.25 miles until you reach the Denny Creek trailhead.
Denny Creek Trailhead to Natural Waterslide (1.3 miles, 150 ft elev)
The Denny Creek trailhead is at 2550 ft elevation. The Denny Creek trail follows the creek through old growth forest for 0.4 miles. Then it crosses the creek via bridge and passes under the I-90 westbound lanes viaduct (0.65 miles). Soon you enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (1.0 miles, 2575 ft).
The trail continues in a thick forest towards the first major point of interest which is the Denny Creek Waterslide. At 1.3 miles and 2690 ft, a side trail and steps lead down to the creek and slides. This is the destination of many of the trail users, especially in the summer. The water gushes over slippery smooth rocks into natural stone pools, making for the natural slide.
Natural Waterslide to Keekwulee Falls (0.7 miles, 350 ft elev)
0.2 miles after the turnoff to the waterslides, the Denny Creek Trail crosses Denny Creek. The crossing is on rocks in the river so at high water can become impassable. The bridge that was once here was washed out in 2009 by avalanche debris from the flood stage creek. If it’s raining hard, water levels can rise rapidly so consider that as well before crossing. There is a sign just after the crossing noting that the path switches sharply to the left. In about 3/4 mile, the trail breaks out of the forest into the first open area and the climbing starts in earnest.
Now the trail has two long switchbacks up exposed rockslides (1.7 mi). In a couple of places nearing Keekwulee Falls, you will be able to look nearly straight down into the Denny Creek canyon. Clearing these, you will get a great view of Keekwulee Falls. Named in 1916 by a party of mountaineers, Keekwulee is a Chinook word meaning “to fall down”. There are two drops of 35 feet and then 90 feet below. Just off the trail (2.0 miles, 3050 ft) is a viewpoint of the falls from an outcropping of rocks. The sound of the falls will drown out the freeway noise.
Keekwulee Falls occurs as Denny Creek emerges from a narrow canyon. It spreads across a wide granite shelf, cascading 30 feet in undulating sheets of water.
The canyon at the falls is steep enough so there are no safe routes down to the base of the lower falls. The falls face southwest and will see direct sunlight for much of the afternoon, often producing rainbows.
There is a short boot path which descends steeply to the pools above Keekwulee Falls. While a beautiful spot, consider the risks before trying it. It should only be attempted at low water on a dry sunny day in summer. Stay away from any rock area sloping down towards the lower falls. No attempts to get selfies at the lip of the lower falls, please! If you go over, it will be the end. The photo at the right above provides a closeup and wide angle view of the area. In the right hand photo, the pools are just below the upper cascade at the top of the photo.
Keekwulee Falls to Hemlock Pass (2.5 miles, 1460 ft elev)
After Keekwulee Falls, the trail climbs steeply through a narrow, steeply walled canyon. At several switchbacks you will be only a few steps from plunging over a precipice down to the gorge below. There’s a brief sighting of Snowshoe Falls through the trees at 2.8 miles, 3520 ft. Snowshoe Falls dries up later in the summer and you won’t see it. The trail then levels off for 0.2 miles before it crosses gently flowing Denny Creek on a footlog beside a huge cedar snag at 2.9 mi 3600 ft. In this valley is lots of shade, wild blueberries and olallieberries in season. Enjoy this stretch before the steeper trail ahead.
On the east side of Denny Creek, the view opens up to Hemlock Pass. Then cross a talus field (3.3 miles) into a sparsely treed open area (3.5 miles, 3785 ft) where the trail ascends steeply and is quite rocky.
There are great views into the valley (3.9 miles, 4125 ft) and the trail crosses a side creek which makes a nice drinking hole for dogs. Check out the beautiful wildflowers and butterflies to distract from the steep climb in the heat.
Once the trail crosses this side creek it becomes more shaded and less rocky (except for another talus field crossing) though the ascent is still steep. The trail passes into a hemlock forest at Hemlock Pass (4.9 miles, 4510 ft). There is no cell service beyond Hemlock Pass – although you have it most all the way up the Denny Creek Valley.
Hemlock Pass to Melakwa Lake (0.5 miles, 140 ft descent)
Once over Hemlock pass, the trail descends gradually through a heavy forest and small rolling hills to the Melakwa Lake trail junction. Don’t take the Melakwa Lake Trail (left turn). It drops down and follows the Pratt River down to the Pratt Lakes. You can go this way and end up back along I-90 for an 11 mile hike with transportation arranged. Or it’s a 15 mile hike to complete the loop along I-90 back to Denny Creek Trailhead.
Melakwa Lake to Upper Melakwa Lake (0.3 miles, 125 ft elev)
Now that you’ve hiked 5 miles to here, it’s a must to do another 0.3 to Upper Melakwa Lake. The Alpine views from Upper Melakwa are absolutely stunning.
Cross over the Melakwa lake outlet on the logs and proceed along the trail on the left shore of the lake. Then follow the stream up a very short way to Upper Melakwa Lake (elev 4500 ft).
Options for the Harder Core Hikers/Climbers
Melakwa Pass is a 0.5 mile rock scramble up the center of the valley beyond Upper Melakwa Lake. Its elevation is 5115 feet which is 615 feet above Upper Melakwa Lake.
Follow the right side (ascending) of upper Melakwa Lake to the valley beyond. Rocks are basketball to car sized. You’ll follow the very upper reaches of the Pratt River for the first part of the way up. It’s possible to find easier hiking along the animal trails where the rocks border the forest on the left hand side. There is more vegetation and easier going as you approach the top of the pass.
Descending the other side of Melakwa Pass leads to Chair Peak Lake, Gem Lake and Snow Lake. Chair Peak Lake is just down from the pass so you could include a visit there on this excursion.
At least at the beginning, the trail is fairly well defined. It goes straight up. Climb the ridge until you have to drop down the west side and traverse the base of the cliffs through a scree field. Then go back up the ridge to again pick up the trail to the summit.
From North Bend, take Highway 90 westbound to Exit 47 Denny Creek Tinkham Road. Turn left and cross over the freeway. Then turn right on Forest Road 58 at the stop sign. The road shortly crosses under the westbound lanes of I-90. You are now “inside” the freeway as the eastbound lanes are about a mile separated from the westbound lanes from here to Snoqualmie Pass. Turn left immediately after crossing the freeway. After about 2 miles drive on a beautiful forested road along the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River, pass the Denny Creek Campground. About a half mile past Denny Creek, there is a large 60 vehicle parking lot on your right hand side. This is the Franklin Falls parking lot which is also used for the Denny Creek Trail now that the Denny Creek / Melakwa Lake parking is closed.
A Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking. It’s about 0.4 miles down, across Forest Road 58 and the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River to the Denny Creek trailhead. There is a restroom at the trail crossing of FR 58.