Hike Elk Creek Falls, Idaho: Escape the Heat with Great Waterfall Views

Overview of the Trail

The Elk Creek Falls Trail is a three-mile round-trip hike in northern Idaho, near the town of Elk River. From the trail you can view three different waterfalls. The upper falls offers swimming and fishing opportunities. Most of the hike is through a shady, mature forest. This is a great trail for a leisurely summer hike.

Trail Details

  • Total distance: 3 miles (lollipop)
  • Total ascent: 600 feet
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Other activities: swimming, fishing, bird watching

Getting to the Trailhead

The trailhead is located about 4.5 miles southwest of Elk River, Idaho. From Idaho Highway 8 turn south onto the Elk Creek Falls gravel road. This turnoff is located about 2.5 miles southwest of Elk River. Follow the road for about two miles and you will arrive at the trailhead. The road is a maintained gravel road. Road condition is good enough to drive passenger cars, but you will face some bumps and potholes, so it’s a good idea to drive slow.

Hiking the Elk Creek Falls Trail

The Elk Creek Falls trail will take you to three gorgeous waterfalls. Most of the trail is through cool, mature forest. You’ll start out with about a half mile of slight uphill, then come to an intersection of trails that allows you to go to the upper or lower falls. We like to start out going to the lower falls because it is the longest stretch of trail without waterfalls. We like to cover it while our toddler still has fresh legs. The trail to the lower falls descends about 500 feet in elevation over a 0.8 mile distance. Hiking back past the middle and upper falls will gain the 500 feet of elevation in a little over two miles. The trail is well-maintained, shady and easy to hike.

Elk Creek Falls Trail in Idaho
Elk Creek Falls Trail, Idaho

Lower Elk Creek Falls

On the way to the Lower Falls you will intersect the trail to the Middle Falls. All trails in this area are well marked so it is easy to navigate to all the water features. At the bottom of the trail you will be rewarded with a lovely view of the Lower Falls from across the canyon. It is a beautiful cascade. The maintained trail ends here, but it is possible to make a steep, and somewhat treacherous descent to the river if you desire. It looks like fishy water, but I’ve never personally fished here.

Lower Elk Creek Falls
Lower Falls

Middle Elk Creek Falls

After a snack at the Lower Falls we go back up the trail to the intersection with the Middle Falls trail. This trail will take you past the Middle Falls, then continue to the Upper Falls. The Middle Falls appears to be the tallest of the three cascades. It is beautifully situated where coniferous forest on one hillslope meets with the grassy and craggy opposite hillslope. There is not a good descent to Elk Creek from this location.

Middle Elk Creek Falls
Middle Falls

Upper Elk Creek Falls

The Upper Falls is just a short hike from the Middle Falls. The Upper Falls is also the cascade nearest to the trailhead and many hikers go straight the Upper Falls and do not go any further. Elk Creek is easily accessible from the Upper Falls viewing area. This area offers opportunities for swimming and fishing.

Lower Elk Creek Falls
Upper Falls

Directly below the Upper Falls cascade is a large pool where the water rushing down the falls settles before continuing down Elk Creek. Here you will often find many wader, swimmers and fishermen (women). The nice pool is what draws the majority of hikers to the Upper Falls. Elk Creek is also accessible downstream of this pool. The water is relatively shallow and fast, but it is a gorgeous creek and looks to contain some great fish habitat. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to fish it yet myself.

Elk Creek in Idaho
Elk Creek, Idaho, downstream of the Upper Falls.


If you’re looking for a leisurely nature outing, you need not look farther than the Elk Creek Falls Trail. The mature forest and close proximity to water will keep you cool and you’ll have wonderful views!

Konrad Hafen

Konrad is a natural resource scientist who spends much of his free time hunting, fishing, hiking and backpacking on America's public lands.

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