Portland Area Hikes

Wahkeena Falls to Multnomah Falls
By Paul Gerald
  |  Gorp.com
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Key Info
Length : 5.2 miles
Configuration : Loop
Difficulty : Moderate
Scenery : Waterfalls, canyons, river views, flowers, a spring, big trees
Exposure : In the forest all the way
Traffic : Heavy use, especially on weekends; on weekdays and on the trail away from Multnomah Falls, use is moderate.
Trail Surface :Pavement, gravel, packed dirt with some rocky sections
Hiking Time : 3 hours
Season : Year-round, though it gets muddy in spots during winter and spring
Access : No fees or permits required
Maps : Trails of the Columbia Gorge
Facilities : Full service at Multnomah Falls
Special Comments : Trails in the gorge often suffer from slides and flooding in winter and spring, so call ahead to make sure this trail is available: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, (541) 386-2333.

In Brief
Just off I-84 and bookmarked by two beautiful waterfalls, this is the perfect introduction to all that the Columbia River Gorge has to offer, including great scenery, big crowds, and nice, steep climbs.

To park at Multnomah Falls, take I-84 for 24 miles east of I-205 to Exit 31/Multnomah Falls. Park and walk under the expressway and railroad tracks to the historic lodge. To park at Wahkeena Falls, go 21 miles east on I-84 to Exit 28/Bridal Veil. Turn left onto the Historic Columbia River Highway and proceed two miles to the signed parking area at the falls. Driving time is 25 minutes.

When hiking friends come to visit Oregon, this is where I take them first. They get to see the scenic spectacle that is the Columbia River Gorge, they get to view the highest waterfall in Oregon, they get to see old-growth Douglas firs, and they get their hearts pumping-from excitement and, at times, from effort.

You can hike either way on this trail, and park at either falls; my preference is to park at Multnomah Falls (either on the Historic Columbia River Highway or at the I-84 exit) and begin at Wahkeena Falls. I'll explain why later.

To do this, walk 100 yards down the historic highway to the west of Multnomah Falls Lodge and take the Return Trail, which parallels the road for 0.6 miles to Wahkeena Falls. Along the way you'll pass under an overhanging rock and be cooled off by a mossy, "weeping" rock wall.

Actually several falls in one, Wahkeena Falls encompasses several styles of falls, from sheer drops to cascades to misty sprays. This creek, by the way, comes primarily from a spring up on the ridge that you'll see later. To start the loop, follow the paved trail across the creek and then 0.2 miles up to a footbridge at the base of the upper falls. Take a nice, deep breath of that cool, moist air; your workout is about to begin.

In the next 0.4 miles of graveled switchbacks, you'll gain about 400 feet in elevation; such quick climbs are the trademark of gorge hikes. When you get to a lookout point on the right with a great view of the Columbia, the worst is over. You can rest a few minutes later on a bench at lovely Fairy Falls, sort of a miniature version of Ramona Falls.

There's still come climbing to do; it's just that now it's more gradual and you have the creek and some lovely old forest of ferns, cedars, hemlocks, and firs to take your mind off it. Fairly recent fires took out smaller growth, blackened the trunks of bigger trees, and opened the forest floor for berries and wildflowers to move in. Just above lovely Fairy Falls, you'll encounter the Vista Point Trail; turn right here, staying on the Wahkeena Trail. In 0.4 miles you'll come to an intersection with the Angels Rest Trail. The sign here has an interesting quirk: it lacks the word "trail" after Vista Point, Devils Rest and Larch Mountain. So the distances listed are to those trails, not to the destinations. At any rate, you should at least take a detour here on the Angels Rest Trail for about 100 yards to see Wahkeena Spring.

The spring is a sort of magical place, where cool, clear (and in my opinion drinkable) water comes right out of the ground. There are several big, moss-draped cedars there, two of them on nurse logs and one in the creek, and in April there are trilliums blooming all over the place. There's also a little trail that goes off down the stream, but it goes nowhere in particular.

You can turn back, of course, and continue towards Multnomah Falls, but if you want to add some fun (and a small dose of effort), you're only 2.6 miles from Angels Rest at this point. Or you can just see some sights along the way. In 100 yards, there's a little creek which, for some reason, is filled with red rocks. The next half mile on that trail gains 400 feet, but then it's basically flat the rest of the way to Angels Rest. A mile up, you'll come to a clearcut area where the Foxglove Trail cuts off (and up) to Devils Rest, and a half mile past that you'll come to a nice campground with little-bitty picnic tables and more nice cedars (and also a birdhouse-see if you can find it). After another half mile, you'll get to another intersection with the Foxglove Trail, and just below that Angels Rest.Devils Rest is worthwhile, and there are three ways to get there. The Foxglove Trail (from the clearcut on the Angels Rest Trail) goes up through the clearcut for half a mile, then it turns left onto a trail and climbs for another half mile. It gains 800 feet in that mile. Technically, Devils Rest is the summit of the ridge, but it's a nondescript pile of rocks with no view. The real view is just below the summit on the east-bound Devils Rest Trail; look for the trail going off to your left as you head downhill.

Meanwhile, back at the intersection of the Wahkeena and Angels Rest Trails, back near the spring, take the Wahkeena Trail up the hill 0.4 miles to a four-way intersection. Coming up the hill from your left is the Vista Point Trail; ignore it. Going up the hill to your right is the Devils Rest Trail. And straight ahead is the Wahkeena Trail.

Continuing east on the Wahkeena Trail, you'll soon start downhill and, in 0.9 miles, intersect the Larch Mountain Trail. This trail connects Multnomah Falls with Larch Mountain. For our purposes here, turn left and head down rock-filled Multnomah Creek. In the next mile, you'll pass several waterfalls in a gorge filled with ferns and large, old-growth Douglas firs.

A well-marked (and well-traveled) paved trail to the left leads 0.1 mile to the top of Multnomah Falls, where a wooden platform offers an ego-building view of the camera-toting throngs below. "Yeah," you can say later at the bottom, "I've been up there." This brings me to why I like to do this hike this way. From this point on, especially on a weekend, you'll be among hundreds of people. From my perspective, it's better to move downhill (hence, more quickly) through this scene, arriving at Multnomah Falls and the Benson Bridge a mile later.

The highest falls in Oregon at 542 feet, upper Multnomah Falls is indeed quite a sight. Be sure to stop in the information office at the lodge to see the pictures of various floods and a massive rockfall that occurred there in years gone by. Now for the final reason I like to start this hike at Wahkeena Falls but park at Multnomah Falls: When you're all done, you can get yourself an ice cream cone or an espresso, cruise the gift shop if you're into that, and your car is right there waiting for you.

Nearby Activities
The 1925 Multnomah Falls Lodge is well worth checking out, with its skylights and fireplace in the restaurant and old-style stone and wood construction. The food is excellent as well, especially the Sunday brunch. The smoked salmon omelet is out of this world.

Published: 21 May 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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