Photo by William Sullivan
Oregon's tallest waterfall from both the bottom and the top
the Hike: Oregon's most popular trail climbs to viewpoints at Multnomah Falls,
a 542-foot, two-tiered plume that plummets into a misty, mossy forest grotto.
A moderate, 2.2-mile hike with 700 feet of elevation gain to the top of Multnomah
Falls, or a difficult 5.4-mile loop to Wahkeena Falls with 1,600 feet of elevation
Season: Open all year
There: Drive Interstate 84 east of Portland 31 miles to Multnomah Falls exit
31, park, and walk under the overpass.
When you start out from the parking area, you'll pass a historic 1925 stone lodge,
a good place to pick up a map or a quick ice cream cone. Walk to the left of the
lodge, straight toward the falls to find the paved trail switchbacking up to a
stone bridge between the two segments of Multnomah Falls' long cascade.
The trail here has seen more than its share of natural drama. In 1991 a forest
fire swept across the path, stopping just short of the lodge.
1996 a bus-sized chunk of the waterfall's cliff broke loose, landed in the splash
pool, and sprayed rock splinters past the bridge.In 1998, torrential rainstorms
launched a gigantic landslide of rocks, mud and trees that wiped out the trail
and kept it closed for a year.
your courage holds, continue on the reopened path past the stone bridge. Keep
right at junctions to climb to a fenced overlook on Multnomah Falls' lip. The
dizzying view aims down the cataract to the toy-sized lodge and its ant-like crowds.
The classic hike here
follows a paved 1.1-mile path to the top of the falls. But you can beat the crowds
and see half a dozen extra waterfalls if you have the energy for a longer loop
to Wahkeena Falls.
Sullivan is a veteran Oregon journalist and author with 12 published books
on Oregon travel, history and hiking.
hike is in the Metro
you're not yet ready to turn back, consider continuing on a 5.4-mile loop to see
the area's other waterfalls. From the viewpoint at the top of Multnomah Falls,
follow the Larch Mountain Trail up Multnomah Creek 0.7 mile. Then turn right on
the Wahkeena Trail. This path climbs for 0.9 mile and then descends past Fairy
Falls to an elegant stone bridge below Wahkeena Falls, a 242-foot triple cascade
in a sculpted chute.
down to a parking area on the old Columbia River Highway. Rather than walk back
to your car on this narrow
road's shoulder for 0.8 mile, take the Return Trail that parallels the road through
On July 6, 1915, dignitaries officially opened the Columbia River Highway by driving
from Portland to Hood River. At that time, Oregon still only had 23,000 automobiles
and Portland wouldn't have a stoplight for another 22 years.
road was designed as a tourist attraction - something for motorists from Portland
to enjoy on a day trip. A simple roadside inn stood at the base of Multnomah Falls
from opening of the historic Columbia River Highway until 1925, when a loop around
Mt. Hood was completed.
that grand opening, Multnomah County authorized renowned Portland architect A.
E. Doyle to build a lodge of stone in the style of National Park lodges.
The cliff at Multnomah Falls exposes six layers of basalt lava flows, stacked
like chapters in a stone history text. The Columbia River has been migrating northward
for the past 25 million years, shoved around by lava flows like these. Originally
the river flowed past what is now Mt. Jefferson, reaching the ocean near Salem.
the Coast Range rose, the river stretched farther west to the Newport area. Then
came the basalt lava floods, pouring west from Hells Canyon and down from the
Cascade volcanoes. The eruptions repeatedly filled the old river channel. Because
the river itself was flowing south from headwaters in Canada, it kept carving
new channels on the northern edge of the lava flows.
the Columbia Gorge is riddled with cross-sections of the river's old routes, cast