The Columbia River Gorge waterfalls in Oregon.
If you are not familiar with this location, the Columbia River Gorge is basically, an enormous river, separating the states of Washington and Oregon, for miles. It contains some of the most scenic views and drive available in the United States, for free. (Being a dad, and almost always taking my kids on my road trip vacations, “free” is very important to me.)
The word “Gorge” is added to the end, because it means that there are massive hills and mountain cliffs on each side of this monstrous river. If you are trying to go for a scenic drive, with no particular destination or purpose, with a huge scenic payout, this is definitely a location to drive through. Either side is accessible, with independent highways running parallel to the gorge, in their own states. If you do take this drive, try to stop at every single rest stop, overlook, and vista point, to take a picture of the scenery. I have fallen in love with this area, out of all the United States, after only driving this location a handful of times. Don’t get me wrong, there are many scenic drives that outdo this area (I’m vaguely remembering a drive I took from Montrose, Colorado to the Mesa Verde National Park, that had a ridiculously scenic drive through the Rocky Mountains, but I forgot the name of the scenic highway bypass,) this one just happens to be my personal favorite.
Maybe because, unlike Colorado, though the terrain is mountain-y, Oregon and Washington state have a “wetter, thus greener” habitat, that quite honestly, almost makes you forget you are in the United States and not in “stereotypical movie-type, overseas, coastal farmland” Europe. It’s like a cold rainforest that snows, and has pleasant summers. All the trees look like Christmas trees to me. Because I’m from Texas. Those trees do not exist within the greater Houston metropolitan area. But if you’re like me, who gets overly happy over land structures, no matter what they are, because you have been deprived of them all your life…. …then this is the place for you to be.
There is an area, where the original highway that connected Portland to civilization, in it’s infancy, is now a small by-way to the big Interstate, that’s yards away. I believe it’s called the “Historic Columbia River Highway” and it passes through the Benson State Park and Multnomah Falls Lodge area. At certain points, it is barely enough to fit 2 vehicles next to each other. If you take it, rather than the Multnomah Falls Car parking area, which is accessible from the interstate, you will find that there are little parking areas to stop at, next to a number of the area waterfalls, not just Multnomah Falls, which is the main attraction.
The first time I came here, Multnomah Falls took a lot of my time. It was raining, it was late, I didn’t know it had a trail, I just searched for tourist attractions in the area, and it popped up on my internet search results. So I went and found the car parking area easily. I was happily surprised that this place was free to visit, as I had been paying to enter the last couple of parks and areas. There’s a lodge that attracts the majority of the crowd, for it’s easy, convenient access to civilization, which seems to cut off as you do a 180 degree turn, from the lodge to the waterfall. It’s a good place to get something to eat/ use clean restrooms. If you don’t know about the area, or short on time, just visiting this area will do you enough. If you have an entire day to waste, take the time to explore the many other natural attractions in the area.
Almost every waterfall has a trail that will lead you to a scenic overlook of the top of the same waterfall, as well as a different perspective of the Columbia River Gorge and Washing state. The trails are not too hard to hike, the majority of the trouble coming from having to walk at an upward incline the entire time. If you’ve gained some weight, since your younger days, like me, the occasional stopping to “take a good picture” or “enjoy the scenery” is enough of a believable excuse to get your rest. I’m only saying this because the first time I decided to actually walk to the top of Multnomah Falls, I had a group of elementary aged kids running circles around me, with their family. It was pretty shameful to have to take breaks, walking up a cliff side that little kids are not taking serious, all while trying to catch your breathe. “It’s the elevation… I’m not used to it.” That’s the most believable excuse my brain makes, while it’s happening. So if I can be witness to old ladies and children making this trip to the top of Multnomah Falls, it should be doable for most, as well.
There are things to see to the left and right of Multnomah falls, not just that one particular waterfall, itself. Your best bet, to get to see everything in the area, in one day, would be to start at the Horsetail Falls, east of Multnomah falls. Horsetail falls is a much accessible waterfall, as it has steps that take you to the base of it. This will take more than a couple hours, so make sure to pack the hiking essentials: something to drink and something to eat or snack on.
After you take a couple pictures of the bottom, or intake the experience enough, make your way to the hiking trail. There’s signs posted. You’re going to walk to an overlook of Horsetail Falls from the top, and keep hiking into the area, towards the Oneonta Gorge and waterfall area. Pit stop to get you pictures. If you do get a change to come back, the Oneonta Gorge itself, is a water trail. There are stairs descending from the bridge that crosses over the creek, that lead you right into the water. If you have a change of clothing or water hiking clothing, this is also definitely recommended, and can be accessed from the Oneonta Gorge parking area. You get to walk the water trail that is Oneonta Gorge until you reach Oneonta Falls. The trail you are currently on will overlook both things.
Keep going and you will reach the top of Multnomah Falls. There is an overlook that shows you a small cascade to the left, with the remaining waterfall going over the peak, to the right. Take the trail away from the platform and continue onto Wahkeena Falls. Once you cross over it, descend down the trail to the bottom, and loop back, using the road, back towards Horsetail Falls. This will give you an opportunity to check out Multnomah Falls from the ground, and any other site you want to stop by and check out, on the way back, do so.
It’ll be a long day, many miles under your feet, but it’s one of the few locations in the United States that gives you the opportunity to access such natural wonders, while still keeping you close to city access.