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Multnomah Falls

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon

Columbia River Gorge Links:

May 27th, 2000

6.0 miles
1630 vertical feet
Total Time: 4:20

Rating: 8/10

Directions:   View Driving Map


Jean and I drove along the Historic Columbia River Highway to Wahkeena Falls, about a half hour's drive east of Portland, Oregon.

The small lot, holding about 20 cars, was almost full. There's a picnic area on the other side of the road with restroom facilities and lots of pamphlets with useful info about the gorge area.

Wahkeena Falls from the trailhead

Wahkeena Falls is practically right next to the roadside, tumbling over 200 feet, though not in one fell swoop. Near the bottom the water meanders left and right before being directed underneath the roadway. Tree partially block a complete view of the falls.

Wahkeena Falls as seen from the bridge

The trail starts off to the right and begins climbing immediately. It's a paved trail which switchbacks up and around to a foot bridge over the falls. From here, there's an up-close and personal view of the main portion of the falls above the bridge, and yes, you will get wet. At least in the spring, when flow is near its peak.

There's a bench near the bridge, but I'm not sure why it's placed there, since you can't get a good look at the falls from the bench. Shortly after the bench we found the intersection with the Perdition Trail, which leads off to the left. We'd planned to come back via the Perdition, but unfortunately it was closed du to hazardous conditions. We'd have to either make it an out-and-back or make it a longer loop, going all the way down to Multnomah Falls. We'd decide later.

Jean heading up the switchbacks

The trail continues past the bridge and begins another series of switchbacks, this one with walls made of placed rocks. At some point here the pavement ends and the real trail begins. I was surprised to see so many families with children coming down at this point -- I was surprised they'd made it up this far (it's a reasonably hard climb).

View from Lemmon's Viewpoint

The switchbacks bring the trail up to Lemmon's Viewpoint. From here, we could look north across the Columbia River. After enjoying the view we turned around and continued up the trail into the lush green forest. This is the best part of the trail. It follows the creek which feeds Wahkeena Falls. Around each corner of the trail is another little waterfall, a cascade, and all the while it's like walking in a lush rain forest.

Jean at Lemmon's Viewpoint

Trail leading from Lemmon's Viewpoint

The main waterfall on this section of trail is Fairy Falls, which tumbles perhaps a modest 30 feet. There's another bench here where you can sit and enjoy the atmosphere. It's also much more peaceful here, as most people apparently turn around at Lemmon's Viewpoint. Still, we did run into hikers every few minutes.

Fairy Falls

Above the falls there's a spur trail toward Angel's Rest. We kept on the main trail, which eventually crosses the creek, levels off, and begins heading east. The scenery here changes, as we're no longer engulfed in the forest. But there are still trees everywhere.

At the intersection with trails 419 and 420, concrete trail markers lie flat on the ground. It took a bit of time to decipher them. It helped when some hikers came from the opposite direction and told us where they'd come from. It seemed we weren't all that far from Multnomah Falls, so we decided we'd just make it a loop hike.

Water clinging to a spiderweb next to the trail

We avoided the spur trail headed up toward Devil's Rest and continued on the low road. It starts a gentle descent toward the creek which feeds Multnomah Falls. We would not be disappointed when we reached the creek. Compared to the creek which feeds Wahkeena, the Multnomah feeder is huge. Instead of being directly next to the creek like we were at Wahkeena, the trail here looms dozens of feet above the water level. Massive signs of erosion are seen on both sides of the creek, with sheer cliffs and broken, battered trees.

Jean on the trail

The air was moist and in places the earth above us dripped water on us. We began to see more and more hikers as we descended toward the falls. Along the way we were rewarded with numerous waterfalls, each beautiful in its own right, and some of them very powerful, as well.

One of several waterfalls along the trail

A closer look

After crossing another foot bridge the trail turns to pavement again. We knew we were close to the end now. At this point, a spur trail leads shortly to an overlook at the top of Multnomah Falls. It consists of a circular wooden platform with railings, but there's really not much to see. There's somewhat of a view looking over the Columbia River (though not as good a view as Lemmon's Viewpoint). And you can see the falls begin to tumble over the cliff. But you can't see the whole thing. You aren't missing anything if you skip this spur trail.

We then started the long descent on the paved switchbacks leading to the Multnomah parking area. Here I wished I'd brought the rubber tips for my trekking poles. The pavement was slippery and steep and I slipped (though didn't fall) several times. I used one trekking pole to help steady myself. I'm sure some people must fall on this part of the trail, though.

The switchbacks arrive at Benson Bridge. The falls consist of two parts -- a long drop into a pool, followed by a shorter but wider drop to the the bottom. The bridge goes over the end of the pool near the second drop. Here we saw the falls as tourist trap, as we could see the huge parking lot and people gathered around the bridge and the bottom of the falls. Multnomah Falls is the 4th tallest waterfall in the United States, dropping some 620 feet over the two stages, and people flock to see it.

Multnomah Falls

After weaving through the sea of humanity, we went to the west end of the parking lot and took the Return Trail back to our car at Wahkeena Falls. It was much more peaceful here, and I actually like Wahkeena Falls better. I was never very much for large falls -- smaller ones have more character. The only large or powerful waterfall I enjoyed was Mist Falls in Kings Canyon NP, because we could stand practically next to the falls and be amazed at its sheer power. Other powerful falls, you can't get close enough to appreciate them. On this hike, though, you can get close to a lot of beautiful small falls.


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