Panther Creek Falls is one of the most uniquely picturesque waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest. Crowds ranging from amatuer hikers to professional photographers venture to this destination to see the vein-like network of falls cascading over fallen trees and vivid green moss. As one of the most impressive waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, winter conditions shouldn't hinder you from accessing the falls.
While summer access is espcially easy because you can drive within 100 yards of the falls, winter access can be much different. The last 9 miles of the drive to Panther Creek Falls is an exceptionally twisty drive, and the narrow road begins to gain elevation just after the Falls Creek Campground. If you have a car that doesn't do well in the snow, you can still make it to Falls Creek Falls in the winter...simply park at the Panther Creek Campground and snowshoe it in for the last 4 miles to the falls. Even if this is a bit more of a workout than you're looking for, you'll be rewarded with an ice- and snow-covered view, and you'll likely have the area all to yourself (versus the crowds of people that come in the summer months). If you have a vehicle that does well in the snow, you can possibly forgo the snowshoe alltogether and drive right up to the trailhead, but please be safe and plan accordingly because the narrow road has a steep drop off of the shoulder and there are no guard rails on the way up to 2,000 feet of elevation.
When it comes to finding the actual Panther Creek Falls, the trailhead can be a little confusing. While there is a sign marking the way to the path, it is a small wooden sign that blends in well with the surroundings. When visiting this location, it's not uncommon to see people wandering up and down the road asking where the falls are. If your online maps are not working (which is likely since there is little-to-no reception in the area), keep an eye out for an open parking area that is just below a large rock slide. If you are facing the woods (with your back to the rock slide), follow the road to your left (downhill) and keep an eye out for the Panther Creek Falls sign and a small trail that drops down toward the running stream that you can hear below.
To access the Falls from the lower section viewing area, there is a trail about 200 feet (west or downhill) along the road from the main trail. This trail is actually more of a scramble, and there will very likely be icy conditions in the winter. Please take caution if you decide to venture down to the lower falls.
The eastern falls (69 feet) and the western falls (102 feet) that merge together as one large network are visible from both the upper and lower viewing angles.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.