The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is home to more than 90 waterfalls. Some of them hide deep in a moss-festooned forest. Other falls sit right along the Historic Columbia River Highway.
Top 10 Waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge – Waterfall-Inspired Day Trips from Portland, Oregon
Our entire trip to Oregon started with a desire to see Multnomah Falls. The roaring giant sits about 30 miles east of Portland and gathers millions of visitors yearly.
When I starting planning this trip, looking for the most affordable cities to fly into, budget accommodations, and most importantly other landmarks we would want to see in Oregon, I was stunned to find out how many waterfalls the state had.
The cascading falls are scattered across the entire Beaver State, from southern hidden gems near Medford to gushing torrents in the west. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, located just 35 minutes from Portland, is a prime destination to see the striking waterfalls of Oregon.
Encompassing almost a hundred falls, cascades, and rapids, the Columbia River Gorge straddles both Oregon and Washington states. The region that is known as the largest national recreation area in the USA also boasts a plethora of hiking and biking trails, most of which are centered around the roaring falls with the panoramic views.
What is it like to Visit Waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge during Rainy Season (Winter Months)?
I knew little about the Columbia River Gorge before our 4-day Oregon trip, but everything I read about its waterfalls sounded too irresistible to pass on this opportunity. Even the rainy weather in early February (the rain poured all day long) couldn’t keep us from enjoying this misty idyll.
The best part of that “wet” environment was that only a few sightseers, equipped with umbrellas and covered in raincoats, dared to defy the elements. So except for the famous Multnomah Falls, the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge enjoyed almost complete serenity and tranquillity.
Long hikes, however, may feel inappropriate in this dramatic setting at this rainy time. Fear not, many of the Columbia River Gorge’s waterfalls reside along the scenic highway. Some can be seen even from the car. Others require a short, less than a mile walk from a roadside parking lot.
Without further ado, let me present to you some of the best waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, located near the city of Portland, Oregon.
THE 10 BEST WATERFALLS IN COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE THAT YOU CAN EASILY REACH AT ANY SEASON
1. Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls, the first waterfall we saw in the Columbia River Gorge, sets the bar high in terms of what you can expect to find in the area. Nestled at the site of an old lumber mill, the waterfall hides in the moss-covered forest, a short walk from the Columbia River Highway.
On an early, rainy morning in February the area looked deserted. A sign at the trailhead indicated that the waterfall was just 0.3 mile away. Unable to confirm this information, we followed the paved, narrow trail.
The farther we walked away from the parking lot, the more profound the sound of the falling down water was.
Sure enough, in about 5 minutes, we came across a wooden footbridge. To the right of it, the Columbia River Gorge set a roaring, two-tiered waterfall. Bridal Veil Falls dropped 120 feet over a bluff and spilled into Bridal Veil Creek. The views from the footbridge, however, were still obscure.
The jaw-dropping vista opened up from a wooden observation deck nestled just beyond the crossing over the creek. The both tiers with their powerful currents that couldn’t wait to join the creek finally came into full view.
You can get a little bit closer to the waterfall if you scramble over the rocks and walk along the banks of Bridal Veil Creek. But in most cases, the views from the viewing platform are quite satisfying.
2. Shepperd’s Dell Falls
Viewing the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge is not devoid of contradictions. Some of the prettiest and easiest to reach falls sits right along the scenic highway. Your first instinct says that the places are busy all the time. In reality, though, these overlooked roadside waterfalls often see a few to no visitors.
Shepperd’s Dell Fals is one of these hidden gems, enjoyed mostly by locals. The 220-foot waterfall consists of several sections – upper and lower falls – that tumbles into Young’s Creek.
The dense forest conceals most of the upper tiers of the waterfall. What you can see are the 45-foot leg towering above an arched bridge built in 1914 and two drops below the historic structure. The spectacles of the waterfalls along with the second oldest bridge constructed in the Columbia River Gorge are part of the easy, 0.2-mile walk.
3. Latourell Falls
Latourell Falls immediately became one of my favorite. Not many waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge allure you from afar, right from the highway, and completely captivate you once you get closer, after all.
The 249-foot giant is a showstopper. Surrounded by moss-covered trees, the single-tiered waterfall plunges over a cliff into a rocky ground at the bottom. The forceful drop lands on the basalt amphitheater.
A teeny pool forms where the plunge meets the ground. But the water doesn’t linger here for long. Instead it carries on flowing into Latourell Creek.
This tiny part of the Columbia River Gorge bestows on the waterfalls’ seekers another beautiful site. A wooden footbridge, built around 1915, crosses over the creek in front of Latourell Falls. The structure fits the dreamy surroundings perfectly.
TIP: Photographers often stop farther behind the bridge to get both the waterfall and the rustic footbridge in the frame.
If you need to stretch your legs, walk across the footbridge and follow the 2.4-mile Latourell Loop Trail. The path is fairly easy and allows for spectacular views of – what’s called – Lower and Upper Latourell Falls.
4. Wahkeena Falls
Some waterfalls along the Columbia River Highway share the same hiking trails. You go to one falls and get the second as a bonus. The 2.8-mile Wahkeena Trail is one of such waterfall-infused hikes. The path is on a steeper end and might be not an ideal place to explore on a rainy day.
Luckily, the 242-foot waterfall can be seen from a bridge, nestled 0.2 mile from the Columbia River Highway. One of the highest waterfalls near Portland, Wahkeena Falls cascades down into short, less than a mile, Wahkeena Creek.
The stone bridge over the creek is the closest you can get to the plunging section of the waterfall. So be ready to brave spray and mist that the waterfall so generously pours on the Columbia River Gorge’s visitors.
5. Fairy Falls
Those who continue their search for the epic waterfalls, rain or shine, are rewarded with the views overlooked by many. About 1 mile into the Wahkeena Falls hike, these nature lovers get to see Fairy Falls.
A 20-foot cascade is one of the best examples of a fan waterfall you can ever find in the Columbia River Gorge Area. The site is a part of a tributary of Wahkeena Creek. It’s located upstream from Wahkeena Falls and is one of the first stops along the Wahkeena Trail that you can’t miss.
6. Multnomah Falls
There is no bad weather for Multhomah Falls. The highest waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge gathers big crowds year round. The site consists of two parts that together reach a height of 620 feet.
No hike is required to feast your eyes on the forceful stream, dropping steeply over basalt rocks. Just walk across the road from the parking lot and head over to an observation deck, located right near historic Multnomah Falls Lodge. A few food stands also sit along the rim, for the convience of the waterfall’s hunters.
READ MORE: 12 Best Historic Buildings in the American West: Monuments, Castles, and Lodges
As popular as the waterfall itself is the Benson Bridge. This stone footbridge visually separates the upper and lower sections of the falls. It can be reached via a 0.2-mile well-trodden path, generously adorned with moss-covered trees along it.
More challenging hikes are also available. Some of the most popular are the steep 2.4-mile Multhomah Falls Trail and the Gorge Trail. The latter takes you all the way to Oneonta Gorge and Triple Falls. These waterfalls are not particularly easy to reach, but are certainly worth visiting when in the Columbia River Gorge.
7. Punchbowl Falls
Small, according to the area’s standards, but with a twist, Punchbowl Falls sits on Eagle Creek that eventually drains into the Columbia River. The waterfall is only 35 feet high. But what it’s missing in the height, it gains in the width. At 10 feet wide, it’s one of the most dramatic and photographed waterfalls in the entire Columbia River Gorge Area.
Punchbowl Falls empties into a large pool that resembles a punchbowl. Although the hike is rather long (3.4 miles), the place is ideal to take a summer dip. And yes, swimming is allowed here.
8. Rodney Falls
Rodney Falls is another easy to reach waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge. The 80-feet, two-tiered site sits along Hardy Creek at the southern part of Hamilton Mountain.
The cave-like enclosure, known as Pool of the Winds, obscures a part of the upper leg of Rodney Falls. Hiking that some can consider a strenuous activity here is necessary to gaze at the waterfall from the top down.
The lower section, which cascades over a 45-foot cliff face, is one of the most photogenic areas in the Columbia River Gorge Area. It’s nestled behind a long wooden footbridge you walk across on the way to Hamilton Mountain.
9. Horsetail Falls
As we drove along the Columbia River Highway on – what it looked like – the rainiest day of the year, we couldn’t appreciate the convenient locations and dramatic appeals of the roadside waterfalls such as Horsetail Falls.
The cascading giant that plunges over a 176-foot cliff empties into a shallow pool with rocky shores. Paved trails on both sides of the adjacent parking lot descend to the waterfall’s base, ensuring that you get a good, up-close view of the site.
If you are one of those people who are never satisfied with just the dramatic vistas, hit the 0.8-mile Horsetail Falls Trail that takes you behind Upper Horsetail Falls.
10. Wahclella Falls
The hike to Wahclella Falls is short, but strenuous. The reward at the end of the 1-mile trail far exceeds the challenging walk. Wahclella Falls is one of the most unique waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. It changes its height depending on the season.
The lower tier that serves as a dramatic backdrop for landscape and special events photographers is fairly predictable. It can be seen throughout the year. The upper drop favors solitudes. Almost entirely hidden, it presents itself in full glory only to those who hike until almost the end of the trail.
The third tier is a season attraction. The waterfall claims its rights on this tiny part of the Columbia River Gorge only during the rainy winter months.
The height of Wahclella Falls ranges from 120 to 250 feet.
Waterfalls near Portland – The 10 Best Waterfalls to See in Columbia River Gorge: Map
Other Waterfalls to Visit in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
- Triple Falls
- Metlako Falls
- Dog Creek Falls
- Starvation Creek Falls
- Elowah Falls
- Ponytail Falls
- Tunnel Falls
- Dry Creek Falls
- Eagle Creek
- Hole in the Wall Falls
- Mosier Creek Falls
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