Potato River Falls – Lower Trail (2021)

After hiking the entire upper falls trail and running out of drinking water in the process, I took a short break at the parking lot for a refill and some snacks. I was able to get a small bit of cell signal and confirmed the rain was done for the afternoon. Time to continue down the lower trail and explore far beyond where I have been before…

Potato River Falls

Get ready for two very tall sets of wooden staircases, and be sure to save your energy for the trip back up again at the end. Take your time and enjoy the beauty of the forest as you descend down, down down…

Here’s a view of Potato River Falls from the lower viewing platform. While it is partially obscured by the trees, this is absolutely the best direct view you will find – short of getting into the river.

Long Exposure

Here is the only attempt I made at a long exposure. It was difficult to get a clear image since I had to push my zoom lens to it’s limits.

Lower Rapids/Falls

Most visitors stop here and turn back up the stair steps. Today was about exploring further downstream. I made my way down to the water level via several well-worn trails. From here you can see all the way back up to the parking area atop the cliffs – quite a different perspective from down here!

Making your way downstream you can sometimes walk right along the water, and other times it becomes easier to look for trails back up through the woods. Keep a keen eye and you won’t have trouble finding the way.

Next up is a medium-sized pile of rocks that gives a nice ripple of water but does not drop very far.

Back into the forest and I found a wooden staircase and some very wide and winding trails. Oh what a fool I am to have missed this all before!

Another hop, skip, and jump down river there is a small row of stones and a teeny tiny drop. Not shown here are the large rocks submerged in the water with perfectly straight shear faces that have certainly fallen from the surrounding cliffs.

Downstream there is a larger rock garden. Foliage colors are really popping here, and while the air temperatures are unseasonably warm it is perfectly cool and pleasant in the canyon. Can’t imagine any other place I’d rather be than here.

Another short hike in the woods around the rocky shores, and we pop back out to the river. Below the rocks there is a small rapids that drops maybe a foot. And again great views of the colorful leaves all around.

Turning 180° for downstream views this is where it gets interesting. Even though I forgot my water shoes, crossing the river was out of the question. It doesn’t look like much, but the center channel of the river cuts deep in spots and I am not going for a swim today. Instead, I followed along the shore (right-hand side of the photo below) which is a precarious and slippery endeavor that could get you wet easily if not careful. It was the only option today but I would like to come back and cross to the other side and see how that route looks sometime in the future.

Only about 50-75 yards downstream we find the first significant rapids (falls? ehh…) that have a distinct drop of maybe a couple feet overall. No large falls in this area but still fun to look at.

View looking back from further downstream. This part was very slow moving and tricky to navigate without sliding right into the water. I would estimate this section being only 80 yards downstream but took me the longest to walk.

Here are the final rapids before the Potato River calms down again to flat water. Again, not a huge drop, but this time we have a pair of ledges that fall maybe 2 feet at the top, 1 foot at the bottom, and maybe 5 feet overall in this distance.

Closer look at the top-most ledge. It looks much larger zoomed in but I assure you this is only a foot or two high at most.

And a closer inspection on the bottom drop which only “falls” maybe a foot while the river level itself drops a small bit more.

Looking downstream you can see the cliffs rise tall again on the right-hand shore, while the left side is dominated by dense forest cover at lower elevations. Water levels are low this time of year – I doubt you can stand where I was at most other seasons as it would be submerged.

From here it was back up the trail and back up the long flights of stairs to my truck. As a bonus, here’s one final gratuitous look at the fall colors from my drone flights earlier in the day. I’m almost certain this was at peak and I was happy to have timed it well for a change.


Here’s a video of the lower section which gives a much better idea of what you will find versus just looking at still images. Moving water needs moving images. Enjoy!

Hiking Data

Here’s the route for the lower trail section. The first parts are of course quite well defined and well worn. Towards the end there is no trail and you just have to find your own way along the water’s edge.

Total distance is just shy of 1 mile round trip. Not very far, but plan to spend some time as it can be slow moving in some spots. Total elevation change around 200 feet from the staircases – you’ll definitely get your glute workout today!

Lat = 46.4630127 , Long = -90.5313263 -- Show at Google Maps

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