Roaring, announcing of its existence from a distance, visible from the main road, requiring no hiking or almost no hiking… And yet we almost missed Latourell Falls during our visit to the Columbia River Gorge, nestled in the northern section of Oregon.
A Complete Guide to Visiting Latourell Falls in Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, in Photos and Words
After seeing a whole lot of remarkable waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfalls in Oregon, Roshan was done with sightseeing. It was raining cats and dogs and getting Dylan out of his car seat in this weather didn’t seem rational. But there was one more waterfall – Lautourell Falls – that I desperately wanted to visit.
How to Visit Latourell Falls: Location
Latourell Falls is located in Guy W. Talbot State Park along the Columbia River Gorge. It takes only half an hour to get to the site from Portland. If you drive from Hood River, continue on along I-84 and the Historic Columbia River Highway for approximately 38 miles until the single-plunge waterfall comes into view.
The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Latourell Falls: Map
A small parking lot is located across the road from Latourell Falls. The parking is free. But empty spaces may be scarce, especially during the summer months, the most popular time to visit the waterfalls in the Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.
You shouldn’t worry about missing out on the opportunity to walk all the way to Latourell Falls because of the overpacked parking lot in late fall or winter. Rains and gloomy weather settle in the Columbia River Gorge during this time, driving most of the summer visitors away.
The parking lot, including the Latourell Falls Trail, were fairly empty in the early afternoon on a rainy day in February. Almost complete tranquility didn’t leave the area the following day when we returned to the site, hoping for more sun and less rain this time around.
The sky didn’t clear up neither later that same day, nor the next day.
All about Latourell Falls
When I said missing Latourell Falls is impossible, I wasn’t exaggerating. The 224-foot (some sources say 249-foot) waterfall towers over the moss-covered trees. A lichen-plastered cliff behind the water stream instantly draws attention. Its yellowish color agains the darker surroundings looks unreal, almost like somebody painted it.
You first spot Latourell Falls from the Columbia River Highway. Plunging from the cliff with its bottom concealed by the lush vegetation, the falls is a showstopper. As you get closer and park on the opposite side of the road, the waterfall becomes almost tangible, yet it doesn’t lose its surreal magnetism.
The easiest way to feast your eyes of the gushing giant is from the Latourell Falls Viewpoint, right along the highway. I took some of the dreamiest pictures of the waterfall from this exact spot. Furthermore, with the majority of the visitors heading straight to the bottom of the falls, you can have the overlook all to yourself, at least for a short while.
History in a Nutshell
Latourell Falls was named after Joseph Latourell. One of the best-known settlers, “Frenchy” (because of this French ancestry) Latourell immigrated to the area in the 1850s. Here he married a half Native American woman and had 8 children.
In summer 1876, Latourell became postmaster of the Rooster Rock Post Office, one of the first in the area. A year later (according to some sources) the office was renamed to Latourell Falls. So it leaves you to speculate that the waterfall had adopted the Latourell’s name prior to this time. No one knows the exact date.
It speaks a lot about Joseph Latourell for the locals to rename the waterfall after him, especially when the land the site was on belonged to Guy W. Talbot. The former owner donated the property to the Oregon State Parks system in 1929. And today the area is known as Guy W. Talbot State Park.
Hike to Latourell Falls: Short Trail to the Bottom of the Waterfall
- Distance: Approximately 0.3 mile
- Difficulty: Easy
Whether you visit Latorell Falls in summer when the forest looks welcoming or embark on the waterfall excursion during the rainy winter season, you want to get closer to the falls, put your hand under the freezing stream, and feel the ever-present mist on your skin. For this, hiking is required.
But don’t worry, an easy walk downhill along a well-trodden, dirt path can be anything but a strenuous hike. The trail that sits to the right of the overlook point you’ve checked out earlier is short. It runs for approximately 0.3 mile before stopping at the tiny pool created by Latourell Falls.
The water drops over the cliff and lands on basalt amphitheater. The rocks that are quite slippery (so be careful if you want to get as close as possible to the falls) prevent the water from spilling into mini pools and rushing to feed the giant trees surrounding the waterfall. Instead, the drop runs directly into Latourell Creek.
A few feet from where the waterfall water meets the stream is nestled a narrow, wooden footbridge. The rustic structure has been assisting the visitors of Latourell Falls for years. Today, it’s one of the signature landmarks of the area.
For photographers visiting Latourell Falls, the footbridge is almost as essential as the waterfall itself. Adding a finishing touch to the image, it accentuates an invisible connection between nature and humans.
How to Hike to Latourell Falls: Loop Trail
- Starting point: Latourell Falls Trailhead
- Distance: 2.4-mile loop trail
- Elevation gain: 620 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
If walking a little bit more aligns with your physical strength, then hike along the Latourell Falls Loop Trail. Start at the Latourell Falls Trailhead near the parking lot and follow the downhill trail to the base of the waterfall. Here the trail makes a switchback and starts ascending. The path runs past an old bridge, along large cedars and takes the hikers all the way to the top of Latourell Falls.
Here I get confused. We skipped the longer hike during our visit to Latourell Falls due to the heavy rain, so I can’t speak from my own experience. Some articles I came across say that the top section of the waterfall is what it is the upper part of the waterfall you’ve seen from the “shorter trail”.
A few “visitors” insist that it’s another waterfall. I’ll leave it here for now. For all those readers who have visited Latourell Falls before, please let me know in the comments below what to expect at the end of the longer trail.
The Best Time to Visit
The winter months and early spring are the best times to visit Latourell Falls. (I took all the pictures you see here in February.) Fueled by rain, the waterfall is at its peak. The drop looks less impressive at the end of summer.
Waterfalls to Visit near Latourell Falls
- Malthonah Falls (5.9 miles from Latourell Falls)
- Bridal Veil Falls (2.2 miles from Latourell Falls)
- Shepperd’s Dell Falls (1.2 miles from Latourell Falls)
- Wahkeena Falls (5.4 miles from Latourell Falls)
How to Visit Latourell Falls: Photo Diary
We spent two afternoons at Latourell Falls, hoping the first day that the next visit would be drier. The Columbia River Gorge refused to cooperate with us. But it surely looked like a magical kingdom reigned by the waterfalls and moss-covered trees.
And although we were unable to hike the entire loop trail, the visit to Latourell Falls was well worth it. Check out this Latourell Falls photo diary and see it for yourself.
A must-see views of and from the rustic footbridge
Classic views of Latourell Falls