Waterfalls of the Impassable Canyon

November 2, 2015

The Impassable Canyon identifies the lower section of the Middle Fork Salmon from Big Creek to the confluence with the Main Salmon River.  Often people assume this section gets its name from the rapids in the lower canyon, which are fun and exciting, but rather, it comes from the deep rock canyon the river has cut into the Idaho batholith.  This section holds some of the most striking canyon scenery in the Northwest, with steep, even, vertical granite walls towering above the river.  The name was given to the Impassable Canyon because it was not possible for trail builders to complete the Middle Fork Trail all the way through the lower gorge and as a result the trail leaves the river at Big Creek.  While not friendly for building trails, this section provides some of the most dramatic landscapes on the Middle Fork.  Beautiful waterfalls cascade down the steep rock walls, highlighting the canyon scenery.

Waterfall Creek:  This spectacular waterfall is just above Big Creek, but should still be included on this list.  Waterfall Creek tumbles over and through giant granite boulders on its final descent into the Middle Fork from the Big Horn Crags.  On spring trips this creek is a raging torrent of frothing whitewater as it overtakes the boulders.  By August it’s broken into several smaller waterfalls as it cascades down between the boulders.  In the latter part of the season, we do a high adventure walk through the waterfall that involves climbing between the big boulders and under waterfalls.

Middle Fork Salmon Waterfall Creek

Veil Falls:  Veil is probably the most picturesque waterfall on the Middle Fork Salmon.  It originates from a spring high on the canyon wall.  From the river it doesn’t look like much, but  when you hike up to the cave, you find an oasis tucked away under the waterfall.  As the wind blows this small falls around, it mists the cave keeping the vegetation in Veil Cave green all summer long.  Standing in Veil Cave on a hot day, the water gets blown around creating a migrating curtain waterfall that provides a refreshing shower and a stunning views!  Relaxing under the waterfall you can watch each water droplet fall from the top all the way to the ground.  Veil is certainly a classic stop and a highlight to anyone that visits the Middle Fork Canyon.  You often hear comments like, “this is the most beautiful place I have even been” or “this place is magical!”

Veil Falls Overlook

Golden Falls:  This waterfall is one of the lesser known of the canyon.  The pull in for this one can be tricky at high water, but at lower flows it becomes more accessible.  On a day when boats are stacked up at Veil, this spot can be a waterfall all to yourself.  A great place to enjoy some solitude at the base of the beautiful cascade!

Middle Salmon Golden Falls

Mist Falls:  This is one that everyone can enjoy a good view of from the river.  After running Webber Rapid keep your eye out for this site up on the right side of the canyon wall.  Interested in a closer look?  After a short scramble up through some boulders, you are rewarded with another oasis similar to Veil.  The falls starts out as a free-falling waterfall, but then near the bottom forms a beautiful cascade over the rocky ledges.  In the springtime Mist pumps out a lot of water, but by August it’s just a trickle!

Mist Falls Middle Fork Salmon

The Grotto:  Parrot’s Grotto is the final waterfall of the Impassable Canyon.  Pulling in at Nugget Creek you can visit the historic lower cabin of the hermit Earl Parrot.  After a short walk up Nugget Creek you come to a spectacular spout waterfall pouring into a three quarter grotto.  There are delicate ferns that cling to the grotto walls, and on a hot Middle Fork day it is especially nice to spend some time in the shady air conditioned grotto.  It’s also easy to imagine what a perfect hermit hide-out this place must have been.  Earl had an upper and lower cabin, with the upper being his main home.  Earl had a large garden he irrigated with the water from Nugget Creek.  I am sure he spent many a hot afternoon sitting in the cool grotto watching Nugget Creek continue to carve out this impressive rock formation.

Grotto Falls Middle Fork Salmon

Usually, you don’t get to explore all these waterfalls on one trip.  With WRO, we normally hike to at least two or three waterfalls.  These are magical places and normally a highlight of any Middle Fork trip.  Have you visited all the waterfalls of the Impassable Canyon?  Which is your favorite?  Please leave a comment or share your Middle Fork waterfall experience in the comment section below.  If you are joining one of our Middle Fork trips, we look forward to sharing these special places with you!

Middle Fork Salmon Waterfalls

~Seth Tonsmeire