You might think that a rainy day means no hiking – but you’re wrong. Waterfall hiking trails are at their most magical when it’s pouring. The rainforest landscape is shrouded in a mystical cloud of mist, the light is soft and moody and the waterfalls themselves cascade in a mighty flow of water. Before you go chasing waterfalls, check out Lisa’s tips on how to prepare for a rainy day hike and what to expect.
Hiking In The Rain – Exciting, But Dangerous
There’s a few things you need to think about before you go (and while you’re on the trail) that are different from a sunny day hike.
You might not need sunscreen – but you will need insect repellent. You probably don’t need to worry about carrying too much water either, but you will need to keep an eye on the water levels in creeks and rivers.
After a week of constant rain in south east Queensland, hiking mountains was out of the question – but I knew the Warrie Circuit in Springbrook National Park was the perfect spot for some waterfall spotting amid a mist-shrouded backdrop.
The Warrie Circuit is a 17km loop track that winds past multiple waterfalls as you head down the Springbrook plateau to a canyon full of enchanting creeks.
As I set out with 2 hiking buddies from Canyon Lookout, the rain was light and the creeks were flowing well – but not over the trail just yet. We caught glimpses through the mist of the waterfalls we would later walk past and under.
The rain was fairly constant as we continued down the Springbrook Plateau – ranging between a light sprinkling and heavy shower – and we stood in awe of the power of the gushing waterfalls on the trail.
There are usually 10 waterfalls on this circuit, but when there’s been heavy rain in the days preceding, you’ll see waterfalls almost everywhere you look. It was the fourth time I’d hiked the trail and there were more waterfalls than I’d ever seen before. I knew we were in for an epic day of chasing waterfalls.
As we headed down the plateau, we gingerly crossed small tributaries hopping and sliding across greasy rocks. At the base of this hike, there’s 2 creek crossings. With the recent rain, these crossings were flowing well and deep in places, but there were still rocks above the water line to hop across to the other side. The first creek crossing involved a careful rock hop that demanded a lot of faith in the grip of our shoes.
The second creek crossing was a little harder. There weren’t as many rocks above the water line, the creek was flowing fast and was noticeably higher than the last crossing. Instead of braving a rock hop and risking a nasty fall or getting into the fast flowing water, one of my friends and I decided to shimmy across a nearby fallen tree. My other friend did make it across the rocks with his longer legs.
And Then Came The Rain
About a minute after we’d made it across the last creek crossing, the rain came down hard and it didn’t stop for the next couple of hours. As we wound back up the top of the plateau, we stopped briefly at a few waterfalls and tried to dodge the hungry leeches.
By the time we returned to the Warrie Circuit turnoff, the waterfalls we’d passed earlier had doubled in size. Twin Falls could only be described as raging – churning the waterhole below like a washing machine. The concrete causeway was underwater and we would likely have been swept down the creek had we tried to cross there. Luckily we could get around the back of the waterfall by crossing swirling water halfway up our calves at the edge of the waterfall.
The trail back to the car had us wading through water – 5 hours before there had been no water over the walkway along the route.
This experience was a warning about how quickly conditions can change. I heard later that hikers who had tried to cross the creeks after us were forced to turn back – the water was too fast moving and deep. One hiker had seen a man try to cross and get swept off his feet down the creek, but luckily he saved himself. It could have had a very different outcome.
Rainy day waterfall hikes are fun and exciting – but they need some preparation. You need to be alert for changing weather conditions on the trail and know when to turn back.
Here’s My Tips And Advice For A Rainy Day Hike
# 1 Bring A Waterproof Backpack Cover
If you’re planning on heading outdoors in wet weather, make sure you invest in a good waterproof backpack cover. In my experience, backpack covers are never truly waterproof but some are better than others. Usually the ones that are included with backpacks aren’t good enough. I learnt this the hard way when my backpack cover failed in consistent heavy rain and anything that wasn’t contained in a dry bag was soaked through. In cold weather this could be very dangerous.
Head into your nearest outdoor shop and check out the range of backpack covers. They come in all different sizes to cover daypacks up to overnight packs.
# 2 Drybags Are Essential
Drybags are essential in wet weather to protect your valuables such as camera, phone and car keys.
Drybags also come in various sizes, generally starting from 5L, and you can get anything from ultralight bags to heavy-duty ones.
# 3 Be Aware Of Rising Creeks And Rivers
This is an important one. As I experienced on my recent rainy day hike, rising creeks and rivers can be a real threat. Remember, it’s not just the water falling where you are, but the water falling higher up in the catchment that will impact the creeks and rivers around you as it heads downstream. Long bouts of dry weather can lead to water ‘sheeting’ off hard soil in some areas, while long periods of rain can soak the soil, resulting in a similar flooding danger.
There is potential for flash flooding in heavy rain so be very careful when hiking on trails that cross creeks and rivers. If it looks treacherous to cross or crossing cuts you off if water levels rise dramatically, it’s better to err on the side of caution and turn back.
# 4 Leeches Are A Necessary Evil
Leeches and rain run together and you can’t have one without the other in a rainforest area.
Unfortunately insect repellent may not save you no matter how high the DEET content is. Your best defence is to cover up as much as possible.
Even then you might find 5 leeches hiding under your socks, it’s ok, they’re nicer than ticks.
# 5 You’ll Get Wet (And Potentially Cold)
In heavy rain I’ve never found a rainjacket that’s 100% waterproof, but you can get close if you spend the money. By the time I finished my hike I was soaked through from head to toe, in warmer weather some of this wetness might just be from sweat, but it has the same effect Luckily, because I was in Queensland, we were just wet and not cold. If you’re hiking in cold and wet weather, think about what layers are best for wicking sweat and keeping you warm if they do get wet.
# 6 Bring A Spare Change Of Clothes
In preparation for being soaked, make sure you bring a towel, a change of clothes, flip flops and a plastic bag for your wet clothes. You’re sure to want to put something dry on after walking through the rain for hours (I’m not sure if there’s a better feeling!)
# 7 Wear Shoes You Don’t Mind Getting Wet
By the end of your hike, you likely won’t care if you plough headlong into ankle-deep water – your shoes and socks are already soaked through.
Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet – but also have good grip. During wet weather, trails will be muddy and slippery – so make sure you have adequate shoes to hold up to the conditions.
Avoid cotton like the plague! It chafes, sucks the heat out of you and never dries. This is particularly important with socks – get some wool ones and don’t look back.
If your shoes get wet, stuff them with newspaper when you get home and put them close (but not too close!) to a heater to aid the drying process if there’s no sun about.
Sometimes wetter is better…