Planning a trip to Oregon and would love to visit the beautiful waterfalls surrounding the Columbia River Gorge? These are the must-see waterfalls that you just have to visit on your scenic route.
In November 2020, I decided to visit my daughter who relocated to Portland, Oregon. I hadn’t seen her in a few months and with the pandemic and states and countries going into lockdown, it was also a while since I’d traveled. With not being able to travel internationally, I decided to pay Portland, Oregon a visit and take in some of the sights. One of the things we decided to do on one particular day was what we called “chasing waterfalls”.
The Columbia River Gorge is home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls, so we decided to take a quick trip there, about an hour away from Portland, and see all the waterfalls we could visit. Here are three that you shouldn’t miss.
The Multnomah Falls
Quite possibly the most famous waterfall in all of North America, the Multnomah Falls is located in the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Oregon. It has been an important part of Oregon scenery since 1815 when explorer William Clark first spotted it during his journey down the Columbia River.
The Multnomah Falls drops a total of 620 feet (189 m) from its origins on Larch Mountain and is best viewed from the Historic Multnomah Falls Lodge. The lodge was built in 1925 by the City of Portland as a place for travelers to rest and take in the majestic beauty of the falls. From there, you can also hop onto one of the hiking trails that lead to more stunning views of the Columbia River Gorge and its many waterfalls.
No trip to Multnomah Falls is complete without stopping at Benson Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that spans the lower portion of Multnomah Falls. This is arguably one of the most beautiful spots in the gorge and provides spectacular views of both the falls and the Columbia River below.
The area around Multnomah Falls is home to a variety of wildlife from elk and bald eagles to ospreys, herons, and coyotes. And if you’re lucky (or unlucky), you may even spot a black bear or mountain lion!
The lodge also provides a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy, including guided hikes and interpretive programs that provide insight into the history of the area. There’s even an onsite restaurant where you can grab a bite to eat before heading back out onto the trails! So come out and explore the natural beauty of the Columbia River Gorge at Multnomah Falls! Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned veteran, this is one spot that you won’t want to miss.
Horsetail Falls was the first waterfall that we actually visited as we were a bit lost on our way to Multnomah. The waterfall cascades over 200 feet of rocky terrain and gives off a powerful roar as it descends. There are also several smaller trails that branch off from Horsetail Falls offering hikers more scenic routes to explore. It’s an easy walk down however to the bottom of the falls, and we were able to get down and take photos there.
If you walked with your hiking boots, I would certainly recommend going off to some of the more scenic trails around the falls. While we visited in late fall, we were told that the best time to visit the falls was in the early spring (during the rainy season) as the falls are truly spectacular then.
Wahkeena Falls is the smallest of the falls, but don’t discount it. It’s very serene and beautiful, with a small pool at its base. The trail to Wahkeena Falls is short but steep—it’s about 0.8 miles (1.3 km) from the parking lot at Wahkeena Picnic Area to the falls’ viewing point. Along the way, you can take in multiple viewpoints of Multnomah Creek, ferns, moss, and hemlock trees. At the top of the trail, you can get close to the falls and even climb behind it—just be careful! It’s a short but rewarding hike that should not be skipped. If you have some extra time, take a side trip to nearby Fairy Falls for more cascading adventure.
For an even more relaxing experience, take a break and relax at the Wahkeena Falls picnic area. It’s located just off the highway, offering plenty of parking and easy access to the falls. There you can have a snack while taking in views of both Wahkeena Creek and Multnomah Creek. You can also explore some of the many trails that lead off from this spot, including routes to Angels Rest and Devils Rest.
The area is also home to a variety of wildlife, with bald eagles, ospreys, and several species of birds all frequenting the riverside. Keep an eye out for deer, elk, coyotes, and other animals as you move up Multnomah Creek—they often appear in the early morning or late at night. With so much to explore, a day trip to Wahkeena Falls is the perfect way to reconnect with nature and take in some of Oregon’s breathtaking scenery.
The nearby Columbia River Gorge also offers an abundance of outdoor activities, from hiking and mountain biking to fishing and kayaking. Why not make a weekend of it, combining your trip to all the falls, including Multnomah, Horsetails and Wahkeena Falls with another day of exploration in the Gorge? From wildflowers to waterfalls, there’s something for everyone—and you won’t want to miss out on the majestic views as you take in the sights.
Make sure to bring along your camera so you can capture the stunning views of the Columbia River and the surrounding landscape. You may even spot some wildlife, like deer or bald eagles! And don’t forget to take time to relax and appreciate the peaceful sounds of nature – listening to a babbling brook or chirping birds can be a calming experience, regardless of how busy your life usually is.
So plan your trip today and get ready to explore one of Oregon’s most beautiful natural wonders. Go chase some waterfalls!