the surprise swimming hole

The rustic and historic Salish Lodge is perched on a rugged cliff right above the 268 foot drop of the stunning Snoqualmie Falls.

The falls are part of the National Register of Historic Places and deeply rooted in the culture and beliefs of the Snoqualmie people. Along with being an ancient burial site, the Snoqualmie people believe the waterfall mists connect Heaven and Earth.

In the winter, the falls are extraordinary and Niagara-like in presence. However, even in the height of a summer drought, the falls are still a sight to behold. We come to the park almost every trip up to visit my family and today is no different.

We arrive for lunch at the Salish lodge where enormous hanging flower pots bursting with color greet us. We are seated by window with a view. Old growth Evergreens soar across the canyon, while we look dizzyingly down the tall cliffs to the emerald pool below.

Of course, no visit would be complete a peek at the gift shop. I’m pretty sure the love of gift shops gene came from my mom. I inherited it from her and my kids inherited it from me. Little faces light up when I tell them we’ll stop by. Mia purchases a compass, so she could navigate during our hike. Ava selects the delicate fabric hummingbird. I pick up a jar of local honey. The girls also love the Bigfoot memorabilia and the cheery gift shop bear.

After lunch, we walk the upper decks of the park. Using her compass, Mia navigates with her blanket trailing behind. It isn’t a particularly crowded, so we find a front row view of the falls right away. I’m pretty sure, Mia’s blanket is the most photographed blanket on the planet. She will either look fondly back on the photos of her with a blanket in her mouth or be embarrassed by it. Only time will tell.

Our view. Majestic. Beautiful. Always in motion.

Now, I haven’t been to the bottom of the falls in many years. There is an option to hike down a steep inclined trail to the river below with the corresponding steep hike back up. With two small kids in tow on a 95 degree day, I decide it is simply not worth it. However, there is a boat launch and boardwalk located just a short drive down the highway which provides the same end result. Normally, it’s an opportunity to see the falls from below, but Lady Snoqualmie had a different surprise in store for us.

I miss the turn on the way down the hill. Unlike up top, there are no signs to welcome you. You just have to know where to look. I turn back around and drive down the quiet country road. Finally, the road dead ends in a circular parking lot. Small wooden signs painted brown with the standard national park yellow (pretty sure that’s a real color!) letters point left or right, Boardwalk or River access. We decide to hike the boardwalk first. Built into the canyon wall, the walkway is suspended above the river and the river bed. Dry with drought, endless piles of rocks ranging from pebbles to boulders are exposed. We pause at the end of the trail to appreciate our view. A light mist dusts us while we gaze at the bright white water falling into a turquoise pool. We can see those who hiked the steep trail down to the closest point near the falls, their tiny statures dot my photos.

As the heat of the day intensifies, we stroll back towards our deciding point, the Boardwalk and River Access signs. We turn  towards the River Access trail, walk down a steep road, take a sharp turn at the bottom of the road, scramble over some rocks, and find ourselves on a small sandy beach wrapping around a perfect swimming hole. Normally, the river is too high with strong currents rushing between the rocks to dangerous for little kid exploration. From the drought, an oasis is born.

Since I had no idea there would be a swimming hole, I didn’t bring their bathing suits. So, I tell the girls to kick off their flip-flops and to just run into the water with their clothes on. It turns out I am the only parent unprepared because there are several other families doing the same thing. Only the locals seemed to know this place exists.

The river water is surprisingly warm, just barely cool to the touch near the shore. Bigger kids gather on the big boulders further out and jump off into the deeper pools. Babies and little kids wade into the large calm stretch of river just off shore.

The river coolness kisses away the heat, as the girls submerge themselves into the water. I wade out with them.

Nearby, a little girl tells Ava there was gold in the water (to be fair there still is gold, but it requires a great deal of effort), so she spent the next 20 minutes searching for treasure, until I told her she didn’t have the right equipment to pan for gold successfully. Disappointed she wades off to look for fish. A short time later, she runs up with a small dead fish hanging from her fingers. Dead already when she found him, she is proud of her discovery regardless. Turning back towards her sister, she chases her with it.

Mia spends her time digging holes and making dams.There is something satisfying about jumping up and down in the soft sand of your own pool of water.

Towards the end of our visit, I take this photo of Ava. I call it, ethereal river ballerina. Her white poplin skirt floats on the water, peaceful and quiet, as she studies something she’s discovered at the bottom of the river. Is it gold?

However, the happy memories created in finding of a small empty beach with a friendly swimming hole is worth its’ weight in gold. So, I guess we did find some after all.

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