Big Creek (South Cascades)

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Big Creek (South Cascades) Canyoneering Canyoning Caving
 For other features with similar names, see Big Creek (disambiguation)
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Big Creek (South Cascades) Banner.jpg

Difficulty:3C2 III (v4a4 III)
Raps:‌8, max ↨130ft
Overall:5-7h ⟷2.3mi
Approach:5min ⟷830ft ↓50ft
Descent:4-6h ⟷0.3mi ↓377ft
Exit:2-3h ⟷1.8mi ↑700ft
Shuttle:Optional 5min
Condition Reports:
17 Sep 2023

"Removed DCR webbing anchor R1. Brought a wrench and tightened the bolts on R5 in prep for the off-season. R6 jump still goes. Removed webbing linking

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Best season:


Meet Davis’ bigger sister. She’ll initially greet you with an open free-hanging rappel into a beautiful basalt amphitheater that’s lined with an inset cave that has been carved out by the winds. She’ll even take you for a spin down a one-of-kind corkscrew rappel where the water magically spirals down the rocks and into a “rain” room. You pause before entering in the spiral of water...partially in awe of her beauty but also due to a nagging feeling that the walls are starting to close in and you’re not entirely sure what awaits. The water begins to pour down on you and the sides the room but your feet hit a platform and you’re able to disconnect safely. It feels like you’re caught in a downpour but you’re in the PNW, so you shrug your shoulders and think “no big deal, it’s the rain” and swim across and out of the rain room. The scenery here is unreal as you leave the rain room – the waterfall splits into two and unusual basalt fins emerge from the ground. She’s taken you a place where few have gone and you find yourself laughing out in joy at the sights before you.

But something darker awaits as you turn the corner. The walls suddenly close in and seemingly grow over 200 feet high. The sunlight and lush green landscape disappear and all that’s before you is a dark and narrow passage way filled with cold water and a lot of unknowns. It’s dark. It’s too late for escape. A sense of foreboding permeates throughout air as you carefully swim through the dark corridors and negotiate your way through slippery log jams, awkward rappel starts, and the threat of siphons. Ancient trees, some over 4 feet wide, lay trapped in the darkness and you wonder at how powerful she must become in higher water.

As your eyes get accustomed to the dark corridors and swims under and over log jams, the light slowly begins to illuminate the canyon walls and a sense a relief floods in. You peer over the lip and find a 20’ jump into a deep pool (or rappel) and a short scramble up to the next rappel. It’s the last and final drop. She won’t let you go too easily though – there’s a small but deep hydraulic mid-way down where you must push off the edge and swing to the lip. Continue down a chute where the water angrily shoots over the edge and hits the opposing wall and lands into a round basin full of logs that have been spit out from the confines of the canyon. It’s done – you’ve met Davis’ big sister. She was more volatile and had more hidden up her sleeve...but yet she may end up being your favorite.

Technical Notes


Do not underestimate the technical ropework and aquatic nature of Big Creek. This canyon lives up to its name -- it is big, dark, and foreboding. If you're new to running Pacific Northwest canyons, this is not a good one to start with. This is a really bad place to have an accident. There were at least four near-misses by inexperienced groups in Big Creek in 2022.

  • Groups should be familiar with how to rig unlinked bolts. Please do not add webbing to them. Big Creek sees massive floods in the winter and early spring. Giant logs may appear and disappear from year to year. Any webbing or fixed lines may present an opportunity to snag flood debris getting washed down the canyon. The relentless force of the water leveraged against the bolts can weaken, damage, or even destroy the anchor.
  • Groups should be familiar with how to rig retrievable traverse lines to access exposed anchors (ex: self-belay or team belay). Make sure your team can recognize and rig these traverses appropriately. Please do not add webbing to traverse anchors or leave fixed lines in the canyon. Again, flood debris can snag in the webbing and weaken the bolts.
  • Jumping into deep pools can be tremendous fun, but always send someone down first to check the depth and look for underwater obstacles (ex: underwater ledges, boulders, and impaling logs). Jumping is a leading cause of canyon injuries (i.e. broken ankles and legs).
  • It may be prudent for the first group through every year to have a bolt kit. Do not rely on natural anchors being available.
  • Beginners "leading" beginners is a common cause of canyon accidents.


  • The gauge (USGS:14216000 Lewis River above Muddy River NR Cougar, WA) seem to be the best predictor of the flow you will find in this canyon.
  • Checkpoint: The reference pictures below are of the first rappel, after this rappel you can still exit the canyon (DCL).
  • Watershed: 15.5mi^2. Highest point of the drainage is about 4700' elevation.


Before entering the canyon, plan your exit. There are (at least) two options:

  • Exit via the Speed Trail. You'll find the trailhead 0.5mi to the north on FR 90. Shuttle is optional, but will save you a short walk along the road on finishing.
  • Exit south via the Lewis River Trail. You'll need a shuttle for this one. Backtrack on FR 90 for 3.8mi and turn right on FR 9039. Drive down 0.6mi to a large parking area just before the bridge.

After setting up the car shuttle, park at the former Big Creek trailhead. (This trailhead was officially closed by the Forest Service after a tree fell and damaged the former viewing platform. You can still park just off the shoulder of FR-90 and hike the trails at your own risk.) Look for a well-maintained trail that leads from the old parking area to the top of Big Creek Falls (1-2 minute walk).


  • R1 (Big Creek Falls): DCL - 130' off a webbing sling around a tree. The anchor DCL may cause the rope to run over a sharp edge near the lip. Edge protection/rope abrasion techniques are recommended.

Alternate Anchors:

  • Use a tree DCR for less abrasion
  • (Low water) Use a tree back from the main anchor. This allows rappelling in the flow.

It is possible to escape DCL below R1 via a steep user-trail that leads up to the abandoned trail network.

Walk downstream 0.25mi.

  • R2 (Corkscrew Falls): DCL - 125' from a bolted anchor. Once you are down this rappel you are committed to the descent. At the bottom of this falls is a deep pool known as the Rain Room.

Alternate Anchor: Rappel: DCR - 140'. Use a tree for a rappel more in the flow. Note that the top is slippery and it's difficult to cross against the current until fully on rappel. Watch your footing as there are holes in the wall.

  • Jump: DCR - 8' into a deep pool. Jump out far enough to clear the sloping rock below. There is a single bolt DCR if preferred.
  • R3: DCR - 40' from a bolted anchor. Take caution and set appropriate protection when accessing the bolts. At lower flow, it's possible to downclimb and jump about 20' leftover center.

(Sidebar note: there appears to be a bolt ladder going directly up the DCR wall just back from the R3 station. Possible escape route in high water? Whether it goes all the way out is unknown.)

  • R4: DCR - 35' from a somewhat exposed unlinked anchor at the lip. In high flow, beware a possible hydraulic and undercut DCL. Logs collect in here, so despite looking appealing for a jump do NOT do it.
  • R5 + traverse:
    • 10ft DCL traverse from two bolts. Traverse line to access the exposed rappel station.
    • 40ft DCL from quasi-hanging unlinked anchor. Rappel out of the water to land onto a slab of rock. Note this rappel is subject to logjams that may block access or divert the water flow, potentially making the bolt station useless. Update Oct 2022: The hangers at the rappel station spin, but the bolts seemed sound. Keep an eye on this one.
  • 6ft downclimb or careful jump. (A single bolt might be nice here in future.)
  • R6: 30' from a giant log set upside down in the pool. This can also be a jump. If jumping, scout the depth first!
  • R7 (Cave Falls) + traverse: This is the grand finale of the canyon and the crux of the route. Do not underestimate this sequence. This is a two-stage rappel with a traverse line to access the first anchor:
    • Traverse: 20' DCL traverse from two bolts. Traverse line to a bolted anchor near the edge. This traverse can be slippery.
    • R7a: 50' DCL from two bolt station to the lip of the waterfall. This rappel requires good balance to maneuver around the wall DCL. A slip could result in a dangerous pendulum into the flow. It may be a good idea to attach the rope (with sufficient slack) to the next anchor for R7b and treat it like a rebelay.
    • R7b: 30' DCL from two bolt station at the lip of the waterfall (out of the flow) to the bottom of Cave Falls.

At the bottom, you may want to spend some time exploring this wonderful amphitheater and cave-like space under the falls. The creek below divides in two around a 200ft high mossy monolith. You can go either way around the monolith. DCR side is more impressive. Check the downstream side of the monolith to find a dark dead-end tunnel (50' long) leading to a 5ft falls.

When ready, continue downstream from the monolith. The creek passes through interesting sections of bedrock, giant boulders, potholes, and other water features. There are a few swimmers along the way and at least one good slide, but most can be avoided. After 20min or so, reach:

  • R8 (Habitat Falls): 20' two tier drop to chest-deep pool. Rappel or bypass over the small "ridge" DCL and follow a use-trail down to the bottom.

After another 5min of walking reach the confluence with the Lewis River.


Standard Exit (shuttle optional)

From the confluence, head upstream about 0.5mi to pick up the Speed Trail. There are two options:

  • Ford directly across the Lewis River (easy in late summer) and bushwhack up the bank opposite to pick up the Lewis River Trail. Follow it right/north about 0.5mi. The trail undulates up and down a bit, but it's faster than hiking upriver in the creek. Keep going until you reach a log with the words 'Speed Trail' carved into it. Ford the Lewis River again (heading back east) to an overgrown meadowed bar. The Speed Trail is not obvious here, but cross the bar and head downstream 100ft to find it set back in the trees on the east side. The trail starts on the north side of a small creek (approx. UTM 10 583697mE 5106153mN). GPS is handy for finding the correct location.
  • Head directly up the Lewis River, bushwhacking and crisscrossing the river as needed for 0.5mi. Locate the Speed Trail as above.

Follow the Speed Trail upwards to FR 90 (~0.8mi, 700ft elevation gain). It's steep in sections and there is one area with significant blow-down. A flagged user trail bypasses the vegetative destruction. From the confluence, it takes about 1.5-2 hours to get back to FR 90. If you didn't leave a shuttle car at the Speed trailhead, walk south on FR 90 for 0.5mi to the Big Creek trailhead.

River Trail Exit (requires shuttle)

Don't like steep hills with a heavy pack? If you don't mind some extra miles, you can hike south on the Lewis River Trail. Ford across the Lewis River, go downstream about 100ft, then climb up onto the bank to find the trail. Follow it south and west for 4.5mi (+200ft gain cumulative) to the bridge on FR 9093. Takes maybe 1.5-2hrs. On the south side of the bridge is a large parking area, where, hopefully, you stashed your shuttle car earlier.

Red tape


Beta sites

Trip reports and media


This canyon was first descended on 9/13/2015 by Evan Topinka, Luca Chiarabini, and Tiffanie Lin. We didn’t expect to find such a committing canyon as we had finished tackling Wahclella the day before. When we entered the dark section, Luca exclaimed, “sheeeet, I forgot to charge the drill batteries!” Thankfully there were plenty of natural anchors. (Almost all the natural anchors were swept out by flooding the following winter.) Many thanks to Ken Liebert, Robert Cobb, Joe Bugden, and Zach Forsyth who provided information from scouting trips that made this trip possible.


Information provided by automated processes. KML map by (unknown). Main photo by (unknown). Authors are listed in chronological order.

In all habitats live animals and plants that deserve respect, please minimize impact on the environment and observe the local ethics. Canyoneering, Canyoning, Caving and other activities described in this site are inherently dangerous. Reliance on the information contained on this site is solely at your own risk. There is no warranty as to accuracy, timeliness or completeness of the information provided on this site. The site administrators and all the contributing authors expressly disclaim any and all liability for any loss or injury caused, in whole or in part, by its actions, omissions, or negligence in procuring, compiling or providing information through this site, including without limitation, liability with respect to any use of the information contained herein. If you notice any omission or mistakes, please contribute your knowledge (more information).


Helicopter evacuation at Big Creek FallstrueInjury2018-09-30