Columbia Gorge Scenic Waterfalls
The Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area is famous for its waterfalls - 77 on the Oregon side alone! They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be classified into eight forms: plunge, horesetail, fan, cascade, punchbowl, block, tier, and segmented.
You can see examples of each of these waterfall shapes on a tour of the Historic Columbia River Highway. Be prepared to do a lot of stopping and starting again - these spectacular waterfalls are all within approximately a 15 mile distance of each other!
You can get there from Oregon's I-84. If you're coming from the west, you can exit at Troutdale (Exit 17), Lewis and Clark State Park (Exit 18), Corbett (Exit 22), Bridal Veil (Exit 28 or Dodson (Exit 35). If you're coming from the east, you can exit at Dodson [Exit 35], Bridal Veil [Exit 28] or Corbett (Exit 22].
Parking & Accessibility
Many trailheads are now designated Trail Parks. These trails are identified with this symbol. The Northwest Forest Pass Program requires a permit to park near designated trailheads. The cost of these permits ranges from 5 dollars for a day use permit to 30 dollars for a season permit. Revenues from pass sales go directly to maintaining and improving the trails, land and facilities we all enjoy. You can obtain a pass by calling 1-800-270-7504, or purchase online. Motorcycle passes are also available.
Most of the hiking trails that lead to the waterfalls are steep slopes that are not wheelchair accessible. However, many of the waterfalls can be easily viewed from the highway, including Horsetail Falls, Multnomah Falls, Shepperds Dell Falls and Wahkeena Falls. Others may require only a minimal of assistance to reach a viewing location. Just west of this wealth of waterfalls is the historic Vista House at Crown Point State Park. This historic building on the Historic Columbia River Highway provides a gorgeous panorama.
CRGNSA Campground Information, plus Local Weather & Gorge Cam
Horsetail Falls Trail (FS #438) off the Historic Columbia River Highway is a great place to start your Gorge Waterfall Tour. Pass through a chamber behind Ponytail Falls, then continue on Oneonta Gorge Trail to see Oneonta Gorge, Oneonta Falls and Triple Falls.
Height: 176 feet
Access: car or hiking
This classic example of a horsetail formation along Horsetail Creek can be viewed from a turnout on the Historic Highway, 2.5 miles east of Multnomah Falls.
Height: 100-135 feet
The Triple Falls viewpoint is on Oneonta Trail #424, 1.7 miles from its trailhead. The trailhead is 0.8 miles past the junction with Horsetail Falls Trail #438. The Horsetail Falls trailhead is 2.5 miles east of Multnomah Falls on Historic Highway. Triple Falls plunges along Oneonta Creek. It is of triplet form, not triple as the name implies.
Oneonta Gorge is a cool mossy canyon with a unique botanical area. The Oneonta Trail (FS Trail #424) follows this skinny gorge to its falls and beyond, joining other trails for loop hikes. The waterfall can only be seen from hiking inside the gorge.
If you choose to hike Oneonta Gorge, do so at your own risk. Storms in the late 1990's washed fallen trees downstream, creating a large log jam near the mouth of the gorge. Climbing over the log jam to access the deeper parts of the gorge should only be done at your own risk, with the understanding that nature is precarious at best.
Multnomah Falls is the most visited natural attraction in Oregon. Over 2.5 million visitors a year come from every part of the world to view the lush foliage, tall firs, and towering cliffs that form the spectacular backdrop to the second highest year-round waterfall in the United States. Multnomah Falls is the highest waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge with a total drop of 620 feet.
A steep paved trail leads visitors to a platform above the falls. The waterfall is visually complimented by Benson Bridge, built in 1914 by Italian stone masons, and Multnomah Falls Lodge built in 1925. Inside the Lodge is a gift shop, restaurant, and U.S. Forest Service Information Center.
Major improvements were made in 1994 to the lodge, including access for those with disabilities, enlarging the outdoor dining terrace, improving and relocating the restrooms and snack bar and adding a fully-appointed interpretive information Visitor's Center.
Lumber baron, Simon Benson, an avid philanthropist, donated funds for the land encompassing Multnomah Falls and for the 1914 construction of the Benson Bridge, which spans the chasm above the lower falls. Multnomah Falls park was dedicated in 1915.
Ten years later Multnomah Falls Lodge, now a National Historic Landmark, was constructed at a cost of $40,000. The stone and timber "Cascadian" style building was designed by noted Portland architect Albert Doyle. In 1939 the city of Portland transferred ownership of the park and lodge to the US Government. The US Forest Service has administered the site since then.
Multnomah Falls Lodge was threatened by a wildfire in the 1990's. You can still see the nearby husks of burned trees where the blaze came to within feet of this historic building. Steep cliffs and difficult terrain made the fire hard to battle, but firefighters, using helicopters with 1000 gallon buckets to dip water out of the Columbia River, were able to douse the blaze and save the lodge.
Rapid uplift of this region over the last two million years has forced the Columbia River to incise the Gorge as seen today. However side streams, like Multnomah Creek, did not have the erosive power of the Columbia River and were left behind to plunge off the Gorge's basalt cliffs. Multnomah Falls is a "side-effect" of the geologic origin of the Gorge.
While the spectacular geology of Multnomah Falls appears timeless, the rockface is continually being worn away by the force of the waterflow. This fact was highlighted on Labor Day, September 4, 1995, when a large rock slid from the face of upper Multnomah Falls due to the natural process of erosion and dropped into the upper plunge pool. The spot where this 400 ton boulder broke off is easily identifiable as a flat, tan colored area where the water is splashing on the rock (during times of low water flow). It fell 225 feet and created a splash of 70 feet, spewing water and small rocks that flew over the Benson bridge. A wedding party just happened to be on the bridge for photos when the boulder fell. 20 people had minor injuries from flying, gravel size rock chips, including the groom who was struck by flying rock in a particularly delicate part of his anatomy. His bride reported the next day in The Oregonian that, despite his injuries, he had still been able to bravely perform his conjugal duties.
This 242 falls was once known as Gordon Falls in honor of pioneer land-owner F.E. Gordon. In 1915, a committee of the Mazamas changed the name of the creek and falls to Wahkeena - the Yakama Indian word for "most beautiful."
Wahkeena Trail climbs to 900 feet for a spectacular view of the Columbia River, described by Rudyard Kippling as "penned between gigantic stone walls crowed with the ruined bastions of Oriental palaces." Traveling among rocks festooned with deer fern, the trail follows the creek close to its source and enters a steep forest of moss-hung vine maple, sword fern, and 200-ft Douglas firs to end at Larch Mountain Trail in 2.8 miles. Wahkeena Trail connects with several other trails enroute and allows many loop possibilities. Wahkeena Falls Picnic Area provides a picnic shelter and a stone fireplace.
Wahkeena Creek is isolated and unique. Without a network of tributary streams flowing from higher elevations, Wahkeena Creek is isolated from adjacent watersheds. This isolation has created a unique habitat for 8 species of aquatic insects that are only found in the Columbia River Gorge. No other watershed in the Pacific Northwest can yet claim this many endemic species. Two of these insects, the Wahkeena flightless stonefly (Nemoura wahkeena) and Anderson's caddisfly (Neothremma andersoni) are only found in the Wahkeena watershed.
Height: 242 feet
Access: car or hiking
This fall along Wahkeena Creek can be seen from the Wahkeena picnic area across the Historic Highway. There are parking spaces at the picnic area. It is 0.5 miles west of Multnomah Falls. The Yakama Tribe word "wahkeena" means "most beautiful."
Height: 20-30 feet
This waterfall along Wahkeena Creek is 1.1 miles up from the trailhead of Wahkeena Trail #420. You can access this trailhead at Wahkeena Falls, which is 0.5 miles west of Multnomah Falls on the Historic Highway.
At Latourell Falls you can see entablature jointing. This is a distinctive jointing pattern found in the Columbia River basalt flows. Stress, produced when lava cools and contracts, causes joints to form. Columnar joints (colonnades) are found below the entablature. The were formed perpendicular to the lower cooling surface and are beautiful prisms and columns. You can also see such jointing at Shepperds Dell, Crown Point and Multnomah Falls.
Height: 249 feet
Access: car or hike
In Guy W. Talbot State Park, this fall of Latourell Creek is named after Joseph Latourell, a prominent Columbia River Gorge settler. It is on the Historic Highway, 3.4 miles west of Exit 28 off I-84. It's a short walk to the viewpoint from the park's picnic area to the viewpoint.
Upper Latourell Falls
Height: 75-100 feet
This is 0.8 miles along the trail from Latourell Falls (above). You can get to both falls from the Historic Highway, 3.4 miles west of Exit 28 off I-84. It is possible to walk behind the falling water.
The view from the top of the trail descending into Sheppers Dell is positively dizzying. This trail, nestled into the crevices and crags of the Columbia Gorge, is a narrow pathway.
Sheppards Dell Falls
Height: upper falls 35-50 feet; lower falls 40-60 feet
Access: car or hiking
The two tiers of this falls can be seen from the bridge crossing at Sheppards Dell State Park, two miles west on the Historic Highway from Exit 28 off I-84. The lower falls is a horsetail formation and the upper falls is a plunge formation.
Bridal Veil Falls
The parking lot for Bridal Veil Falls is directly across from the Bridal Veil Lodge, a bed and breakfast for weary waterfall watchers. Bridal Veil Falls can be seen from Interstate 84, but if you want to see it while on your Historic Highway Waterfall Tour, you'll have to park the car and walk the 2.2 miles round trip.
Bridal Veil Falls
Height: upper falls: 60-100 feet; lower falls 40-60 feet
Access: car or hiking
Bridal Veil Creek abruptly drops twice. The parking area for this falls is about one mile west of Exit 28 off I-84. A short trail winds down to the base of the lower tier. Along the pathway, look across the Columbia River towards views of seasonal falls on the Washington side of the Gorge.
Tanner Creek and Eagle Creek Area
Height: upper 15-25 feet; lower 50-70 feet
This thunderous waterfall is in the Tanner Creek area. To get there, turn off I-84 at Bonneville Dam (Exit 40) and proceed south several hundred yards to the Tanner Creek Trail parking area. Start at the trailhead and hike 0.5 mile to the trail's end at the falls. East Fork Falls can also be seen streaming above the descent from a vantage on the west side of Tanner Creek.
Height: 100-150 feet
The viewpoint is 1.5 miles from the trailhead of Eagle Creek Trail #440 on Eagle Creek Park. If you're coming from the west on I-84, take Exit 41. If you're coming from the east, you'll make a U-turn: take I-84 west, exit at Exit 40, go on I-84 East and take Exit 41. The waterfall was named in 1915 after the legendary Indian goddess of salmon.
Punch Bowl Falls
Type: punch bowl
Height: 10-15 feet
Punch Bowl Falls may sound short but it is exquisite and is a classic example of a punchbowl formation. Like Metlako Falls, it is also at Eagle Creek Park. If you're coming from the west on I-84, take Exit 41. If you're coming from the east, you'll make a U-turn: take I-84 west, exit at Exit 40, go on I-84 East and take Exit 41. Hike 2.1 miles from the trailhead of Eagle Creek Trail #440 (0.6 mile past Metlako Falls viewpoint) to a short side trial leading to the falls.
Most waterfalls are limited to the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge because landslides modify the steepness on the Washington side. The entire region's bedrock material is tilted slightly southward. When it is water saturated, the upper basaltic layers on the north side of the river slide into the Gorge. Thus, waterfalls on the Washington side are fewer and smaller.
But mentioned here is a fall complemented by 600-foot geologic projection, Beacon Rock.
Beacon Rock is adjacent to State Route 14, Washington State's main highway along the Columbia River. To get to the Beacon Rock area from I-84, take Exit 44 Cascade Locks and cross Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River to Washington State. Take S.R. 14 westward for 7 miles until you are greeted by the impressive Beacon Rock.
Height: 80-120 feet
Turn north off S.R. 14 onto the spur road across from Beacon Rock. Drive 0.3 miles to the picnic area and the trailhead of Hamilton Mountain Trial. After a moderate climb of about 1.25 miles, reach two short spur paths. The upper path to the far right leads to a viewpoint overlooking the drop along Hardy Creek.
For additional photos visit:
Randy Craig's Northwest Hikers' Resource and Photo GalleryDon Bain's Virtual Guidebook to Oregon (Multnomah Falls Area)
US Forest Service Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area
Gorge Vistas: A visitor's guide to National Forest recreation opportunities in the Columbia River Gorge, Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region and US Dept. of Agriculture.
Friends of Multnomah Falls Membership Brochure, PO Box 426, Troutdale, OR 97060, 503-253-0590.
US Forest Service Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway
Photos by Susan Buce
Climate and terrain range from conditions found in Germany to France’s Burgundy and northern Rhone Valley to northwest Italy’s piedmonts. In fact, so unusual is this growing area that local vineyard and winery owners filed an application to establish a new appellation, the Columbia Gorge American Viticulture Area. The AVA was authorized on May 10, 2004 and straddles both sides of the Columbia River for a stretch of about 15 miles, including 280 square miles. Not all of the following have tasting rooms, and some are by appointment only.
Oregon Vineyards and Wineries in the Columbia Gorge region:
• Cathederal Ridge Winery (Hood River)
• Hood River Vineyards (Hood River)
• Pheasant Valley Vineyards (Hood River)
• Edgefield Winery (Troutdale)
• Maison de Glace (The Dalles)
• Mt. Hood Winery (Hood River)
• Blue Dog Mead Co. (The Dalles)
• Scorched Earth Winery (Murdock/Dallesport) no tasting room
• Phelps Creek Vineyards (Hood River)
• The Pines 1852 (The Dalles)
Vineyards and Wineries in Washington
• Maryhill Winery and Tasting Room (Maryhill)
• Cascade Cliffs Vineyard and Winery (Wishram)
• Marshal’s Winery (Dallesport)
• Syncline Wine Cellars (Bingen)
• Wind River Cellars and Bad Seed Cider House (Bingen)
• Columbia Gorge Winery (Lyle)
• Waving Tree Vineyard and Winery (Goldendale)
Rowena Loop and Tom McCall Nature Preserve
The road twists in the hairpin turns of the Rowena Loops where U.S. Highway 30 makes several switchbacks as it climbs up the side of the gorge to Rowena Plateau.The Rowena Loops were built to “develop distance” and to allow the maximum 5% grade on the Historic Columbia River Highway.
Looking down from high up on Rowena Loop, one sees a panaramic view of the Columbia River Gorge. To the west is the Tom McCall Nature Preserve, named for the late governor, who was committed to conservation of Oregon’s natural beauty. Spectacular spring wildflower displays grace this magnificent plateau overlooking the Columbia River. More than 300 plant species, including grass widows, prairie stars, shooting stars, balsamroot, lupine and Indian paintbrush thrive here. The open grasslands are home to four plant species unique to the Columbia River Gorge: Thompson’s broadleaf lupine, Columbia desert parsley, Thompson’s waterleaf, and Hood River milkvetch.The preserve is so diverse partly because it lies in the transition zone between the moist, heavily-forested west side of the Cascades and the drier bunchgrass prairies of the east.
Take I-84 to either Mosier exit #69 or Rowena exit #76 and follow U.S. Highway 30 to the Rowena Crest. Beyond milepost 6, the preserve is on both sides of the highway. This final section of the highway included two tunnels bored through the bluffs near Mosier. Finally, on June 27, 1922, Simon Benson, who was an ardent supporter and benefactor of the project, ceremoniously spread pavement mixture on the final segment at Rowena Point near The Dalles. After almost 9 years of work on the Columbia River Gorge Highway, the final segment linking Astoria to The Dalles was complete. From The Dalles to Troutdale, workers had built an amazing 119 km (73.8 miles) of roadway, including 3 tunnels, 18 bridges (some of worldclass quality for their time), 7 viaducts, and 2 footbridges.
Historic Columbia River Highway (1922)
Looking east toward the Vista House along the Historic Columbia River Highway.
The Historic Columbia River Highway was constructed between 1913 to 1922. When the 75 mile Columbia River Highway between Troutdale and The Dalles was officially completed on June 27, 1922, it was hailed as one of the engineering marvels of its age. Its purpose was not merely to provide an east-west transportation route through the Columbia River Gorge, but to take full advantage of every scenic feature, waterfall, viewpoint and panorama. It is the oldest scenic highway in the United States. The Highway was the product of Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Scenic Landmark, this little-known route is one of the original 13 federally designated All-American Roads.
By the late 1800’s, steamboats and railroads served some locations along the Columbia Gorge, but lack of a good road hampered travel and commerce. Early roadbuilding efforts through the dense forests and mountainous terrain between Portland and The Dalles were largely unsuccessful. After the advent of the automobile, interest in building a road through the Columbia Gorge grew. In 1908, Samuel C. Hill, a Good Roads Advocate in Washington and Oregon, invited Sam Lancaster for a visit to discuss Hill’s vision of creating a highway through the Columbia Gorge. In 1908, Hill, Lancaster, and Major H.L. Bowlby (who became Oregon’s first State Highway Engineer) traveled to Europe to attend the First International Roads Conference. They studied European roadbuilding techniques and designs in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.
The first paved highway in the Northwestern United States, the Columbia River Highway was heralded as one of the greatest engineering feats of its day. The King of Roads was the product of two visionaries, Samuel Hill and landscape architect Samuel C. Lancaster. The first U.S. state historic highway to gain distinction as a National Landmark, it has also qualified as a National Scenic Byway, a distinction that requires the road itself to be considered a destination. The scenic Columbia River Highway passes through a spectacular year-round waterfall area, including Multnomah Falls, the second tallest waterfall in the United States and one of Oregon's most popular natural wonder tourist stop.