get a unique view from behind Ponytail Falls in Oneonta Gorge.
Photo by William Sullivan
around Oneonta Gorge
chasm with waterfalls
the Hike: Next door to busy Multnomah Falls but usually overlooked
by tourists, this delightful trail explores a cavern behind Ponytail
Falls and then loops around Oneonta Gorge, a mossy chasm so narrow
that Oneonta Creek fills it wall to wall. An optional 1.8-mile side
trip leads to Triple Falls, where three plumes of water plunge 120
feet at once.
The easy 2.7-mile loop around the gorge gains just 400 feet of elevation.
An optional side trip to Triple Falls adds 1.8 miles of distance
and 300 feet of elevation.
Open all year.
There: Drive Interstate 84 east of Portland 35 miles to Ainsworth
Park exit 35 and follow the old scenic highway 1.5 miles back to
the large Horsetail Falls Trailhead parking area.
Tips: The trail starts from the historic Columbia River Highway
beside 176-foot Horsetail Falls and climbs along a mossy slope of
little licorice ferns. In late spring tiny white candyflowers and
pink geraniums crowd the path.
0.2 mile turn right on the Gorge Trail, which soon ducks behind
80-foot Ponytail Falls (alias Upper Horsetail Falls). The lava flow
that created this falls' stony lip also buried a layer of soft soil.
The falls have washed out the underlying soil, creating the cavern.
Ponytail Falls 0.4 mile take a right-hand fork for a quick viewpoint
loop out to a cliff edge high above the highway. The view extends
up the Columbia to Beacon Rock, but keep children away from the unfenced
edge. Then continue on the main trail another 0.4 mile, switchback
down to a dramatic metal footbridge above 60-foot Oneonta Falls, and
climb to a junction with the Oneonta
Creek's Triple Falls
by William Sullivan
left here if you'd like to take the optional side trip up to Triple
Falls and the perfect spot for lunch: a footbridge in a scenic creekside
glen at the top of the falls. Otherwise continue the loop by turning
right on the Oneonta Trail for another 0.9 mile and turning right
along the road to the mouth of slot-like Oneonta Gorge. With any luck
you'll be able to rest on the creek's pebble beach here while one
of your party runs up the road another 0.3 mile to fetch the car.
best way to see the inside of Oneonta Gorge is to put on sneakers
and wade knee-deep up the creek from the highway bridge. In late
summer when the water's not too deep nor too cold, it's usually
possible to trek half a mile through the 20-foot-wide chasm to an
otherwise hidden, 100-foot falls. This adventure is not for the
faint of heart, however, because the route sometimes involves clambering
over a logjam or wading a chest-deep pool.
Originally, the old Columbia Gorge Highway crossed Oneonta Creek
and bored through the neighboring cliff in a tunnel. From the highway
bridge at the mouth of the gorge,look for the old tunnel entrance
on the cliff to the left, now filled with rubble.
Oneonta Creek has cut down through a series of Columbia River Basalt
lava layers by following a fault line - a crack in the ground that
aligns this gorge as straight as an arrow.