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Ladder Creek Falls

  • Difficulty
  • 0.8km
  • 61m
  • 0.5h

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Hiking to ladder Creek Falls is a great family-friendly hike for those in Newhalem. Take a short hike over the Skagit River and through the woods to Ladder Creek Falls. In the evenings, a colored light show provides entertainment from dusk till midnight year-round.

Getting there

Exit Highway 20 at the town of Newhalem (milepost 120). Follow Main Street past the General Store and restrooms, then turn left onto the one-way road. Continue 0.25 miles to the Ladder Creek Falls trailhead at the east end of town. Parking is available in a gravel lot next to the river.


Total Gain: 61m


Type of Hike Loop
Crowd Levels Moderate
Route Signage Good
Toilets Yes
Family Friendly Yes
Backcountry Campgrounds No
When to Do Year Round

 Detailed Description

Take it easy with this family-friendly hike to Ladder Creek Falls. The trail begins beside the Skagit River, where interpretive signs explain the history of the Gorge Powerhouse in front of you. The powerhouse was constructed in the early 1920’s to produce electricity for homes in Seattle as part of the Skagit Hydroelectric project.

The Seattle City Light company town of Newhalem was born from this project – employees needed a place to live while they worked in the remote North Cascades. Superintendent and “Father of Seattle City Light” James D. Ross (after which nearby Ross Lake is named) originally built the trail to Ladder Creek Falls to showcase the area to visitors.

Begin by walking across the passenger suspension bridge to your right (south). Originally built in 1920 to provide access to the powerhouse construction site, the bridge has since been rebuilt twice. Across the bridge, enter the Ladder Creek Falls Garden next to the powerhouse. This area was hot in the 1930’s – literally. JD Ross heated the grounds to grow tropical trees and orchids, while playing music and lighting up the gardens to showcase the power of electricity.

Continue along the trail to enter the forest. Dusk is a particularly interesting time to visit – just as the light show is about to begin. Colored lights illuminate the creek and falls till midnight. Today’s lightshow – restored in 2011 – lacks music and tropical plants, but uses energy efficient 1,000 watt spotlights to light up the night.

The falls themselves drop a total of 108 feet over three tiers. Visibility is partly obstructed, and you can’t get very close to the falls, but it’s worth the short walk to see the show. Turn your hike into a loop by following the path around the backside of the powerhouse. You’ll pop out of the forest onto a powerhouse service road. Continue around the side of the powerhouse to cross the 1935-built service vehicle bridge, and return to the trailhead.

Insider Hints

  • To catch the evening light show, camp at nearby Newhalem Creek Campground. The Trail of the Cedars connects the campground to the town of Newhalem.
  • Ranger-guided walks are offered during summer weekends at Ladder Creek Falls.
  • Stop by the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center in Newhalem for information about the park and its many hiking trails.