Day Hiking Overview: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

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Hike to Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge.
Hike to Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge. (Robert Glusic/Photodisc/Getty)

Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Travel Tips

  • The Columbia Gorge Trail stretches for more than 35 miles through the Gorge. Enjoy a spectacular day hike here.
  • Hiking to the Gorge's waterfalls is a classic Portland area day trip. The popular 13-mile Eagle Creek Trail visits more waterfalls than any other trail in the Gorge. Don’t miss the breathtaking Multnomah Falls, the second highest year-round waterfall in the United States.
  • The Columbia River Gorge is famous as the boardsailing capital of the world—it functions like a wind tunnel and creates ideal conditions for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Enjoy an easy hike to watch the action on the water.
  • For a fun family excursion, wade up the Oneonta Gorge off the Historic Columbia River Highway. Scramble over boulders then stop to have a picnic at your favorite spot.

Multnomah Falls is the most popular attraction in the Columbia River Gorge. It is the second highest year-round waterfall in the United States, the site of the picturesque Benson Bridge and the historic Multnomah Fails Lodge.

The walk to the viewing platform at the very top of the waterfall is well-trodden, despite the long and fairly arduous 1.2-mile climb. However the path is paved, there are plenty of places to rest on route, and the heart-stopping view of the 620-foot drop is well worth the effort.

Beyond the viewing platform there are two very pretty loop walks, 3.3 miles and 6.2 miles, where you can get away from most of the crowd.

The longer walk passes through woodland and by a number of small waterfalls, including one of the prettiest in the area, Fairy Falls. It climbs steadily before descending in a series of steep switchbacks to the impressive Wahkeena Falls.

While Multonmah Falls is well worth a visit, don't overlook the other great dayhikes that the Columbia River Gorge has to offer. The Oneonta Gorge makes for a change of pace. And here are few other exceptional tramps...

Wahclella Falls
An easy and scenic loop walk tracing Tanner Creek through Cedar glades and Douglas Fir woodland. The highlight of this trail is the impressive Wahclella Falls, which has eroded the basalt rock below to form a basin-like pool.

Distance: 1.8 miles
Elevation gain: 340 ft. Loss 100 ft.
Difficulty: Easy
Season: February to December
Use: Light

Access: From 1-84 take the Bonneville Dam Exit #40. The Wahclella/Tanner Creek #431 trailhead and parking lot are situated on the south side of the highway.

Both the Multomah Falls Trail and the Wahclella Falls Trail are covered more extensively in the GORP feature article Hiking in the Columbia Gorge.

Eagle Creek Trail #440
A beautiful trail that traces the line of Eagle Creek through woodland and along paths carved into basaltic cliffs. Eagle Creek is one of the easier trails in the area, with spectacular viewpoints from the cliffside path.

Highlights of this trail are "Punch Bowl Fails" (2.1 miles), "High Bridge," which traverses the gorge 150 ft above the creek (3.3 miles) and "Tunnel Fails," where you walk through a man-made tunnel behind the waterfall (6.0 miles).

Other features include petrified trees (visible from the first 1/4 mile of the trail) and rich displays of wildflowers in spring.

Eagle Creek is a very popular trail but unsuitable for small children or people who are afraid of heights, as parts of the path run along high cliffs with no outer guardrails.

Season: Spring to late Autumn
Use: Heavy
Length: Variable, depending on cut-off point. Tunnel Falls - 72 miles round-trip.
Elevation Change: 2,000 ft.
Difficulty level: Easy

Access: Access only from the Eastbound lanes of Highway I-84. Exit #41, signed Eagle Creek Park, 3 miles east of Bonneville Dam.

From Westbound I-84, take Bonneville Dam exit 40 and loop back, onto East-bound I-84. Parking and restrooms at trailhead.

Camping: Eagle Creek attracts large numbers of backpackers and therefore special regulations restrict camping and fires to designated spots, some of which are stove use only.

There are four major camping sites above High Bridge; Tenas camp (3.7 miles), Wy'east (4.7 miles), Blue Grouse (5.3 miles) and 7.5 Mile camp.

Water is easily available but most must be boiled for 5 minutes or treated before drinking.

Elowah Falls Trail
The Elowah Trail is among the most popular in the Gorge. Hike to either the bridge below Elowah Falls or to the viewpoint platform above the falls.

Distance: 2 miles round-trip to the upper falls
Elevation gain: 425 ft.
Difficulty level: Easy
Season: Spring to early winter
Use: Heavy

Access: From I-84 take Dodson/Ainsworth State Park exit #35 and continue 2.5 miles east on the Scenic Highway to the trailhead.

Horsetail Falls Trail #438
This picturesque trail passes through forest and features a series of pretty waterfalls. The trail can be adapted to suit the individual. For a short walk aim for Ponytail Fails (1.5 miles round-trip) or alternatively complete the Horsetail Falls to Oneonta Gorge loop (2.7 miles). For longer, half-day or day hikes, continue to Triple Fails (5 miles round-trip) or Larch Mountain (8.8 miles one way).

There are several highlights along this path that make all efforts worthwhile: Ponytail Fails, where the trail passes through a chamber behind the waterfall; a glimpse into the Oneonta Gorge to the creek far below and the Oneonta Fails; Triple Falls and the old growth forest above these falls; finally the spectacular views from the Larch Mountain.

At times this trail climbs steeply, particularly on the initial set of switchbacks to the top of Horsetail Fails and from Oneonta Gorge to Triple Fails and Larch Mountain. Along the latter section there are some high drop-offs where those with children should take care.

Distance: Horsetail Falls to Oneonta Loop-2.7 miles round-trip
Elevation gain: 500 ft.
Distance: Horsetail Falls to Triple Falls-5.0 miles round-trip
Elevation gain: 700 ft.
Difficulty: Moderate
Season: Usually Feb. to Dec.
Use: Moderate

Access: The Horsetail and Oneonta Gorge Trailheads are situated at the eastern end of the Scenic Highway. From eastbound or westbound 1-84 take Exit #35 and continue west 1.4 miles to the large parking area at the Horsetail trailhead. Alternatively, eastbound traffic may take Bridal Veil Exit #28 and continue east along Scenic Highway for 5.7 miles.

Hiking Oneonta Gorge

The Oneonta Gorge offers two very different trail experiences:

1. Oneonta Creek: A fun adventure for those not afraid of getting wet or scrambling over boulders, with the impressive Oneonta Fails as the reward for your efforts. Ideal for sunny days, this trail involves wading up Oneonta Creek, which has carved its way deep into the basaltic rock of the region. Looking up from the creek you see a crack of sky and trees perched on the cliff edge 150 feet above.

Length: 1 mile round-trip
Season: Summer
Use: Moderate
Difficulty: May be slippery and involves a certain amount of rock. Not suitable for elderly people or young children.

2. Oneonta Gorge To Multnomah Falls (Gorge Trail #400): An easy trail through woodland that runs parallel to the Scenic Highway to Multnomah Falls. Here the walker may visit the historic Multnomah Fails Lodge or tackle the steep climb to the top of Multnomah Falls before returning along the same route to the trailhead.

Length: 4 miles round-trip
Season: While the Scenic Highway is passable
Use: Light
Elevation gain: 50 ft.
Difficulty level: Easy

Access: Oneonta Gorge is situated on the Scenic Highway three miles east of Multnomah Falls. From I-84 eastbound take Exit #28 (Bridal Veil) and continue 5.2 miles to Oneonta trailhead. From I-84 westbound or eastbound, take Exit #35 (Scenic Highway) and continue west 1.9 miles to Oneonta. The Gorge Trail #400 trailhead is 0.7 miles farther to the west.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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