Do you enjoy chasing waterfalls? The beautiful Columbia River Gorge in Oregon practically brings them to you. We will outline nine breathtaking Columbia River Gorge waterfalls you can quickly see in a day.
Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge, located in the Pacific Northwest, has been carved out by the Columbia River. It is 80 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep in some areas. The gorge is part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
As the river snakes its way through the valley, you can see magnificent cliffs, ridges, and spires. On the Oregon side alone, there are more than 90 waterfalls.
Along the horizon, you can see the alluring Cascade Mountain Range. The beautiful gorge is a National Scenic Area.
A particular section of the Columbia River Gorge has a high concentration of waterfalls in a small area. These waterfalls are conveniently located close to the road, allowing easy access.
The scenic area has been dubbed the “Waterfall Corridor.” Some prefer to call it “Waterfall Alley.”
Where can you find this fantastic place? It is about 30 miles east of Portland.
The Waterfall Corridor sits along the Historic Columbia River Highway, U.S. Route 30, between exits 28 and 35. You can start your journey by taking the exit at either end of the corridor.
The corridor passes through lush green forests. It is a lovely drive. The waterfalls are well-marked with signs.
Six of the waterfalls on our list have designated parking areas and only require a short walk. We will also tell you about some bonus waterfalls in the area. You will have to do a little work for the other three, but your views along the journey are rewarding. Let’s dive into the list.
1. Horsetail Falls
Your first waterfall will be Horsetail Falls, starting from the east end of the corridor. Free parking is available across the street.
The gorgeous waterfall has a 176-foot drop, which looks like a horsetail when viewed from the side. You can cross the street from the parking lot to see it.
There are steps if you want a closer look below. The area is rocky, but you gain a fantastic view of the water spilling into the plunge pool.
Bonus waterfall: With an 0.8-mile round-trip hike, you can see another waterfall called Upper Horsetail Falls or Ponytail Falls. The trail is steep at first but levels off. It takes you behind the 88-foot cascading Ponytail Falls.
Between Horsetail Falls and Multnomah Falls, you will see a stop for Oneonta Gorge. You can walk through a tunnel and see where the gorge is fenced off. Unfortunately, the trail is closed due to damage caused by the Eagle Creek fire in 2017.
This is one of the most celebrated natural wonders along the Columbia River Gorge. It is a slot canyon where bright green lichens and moss coat the walls. The creek bed water is crystal clear and serves as a plunge pool to the 100-foot Lower Oneonta Falls.
Hopefully, this will open in the future, and we can add a tenth waterfall to our list. It saddens me to know such a beautiful area is inaccessible.
2. Multnomah Falls
To say Multnomah Falls is popular is an understatement. It is the crown jewel of Waterfall Alley. Multnomah Falls draws more than 2 million visitors a year.
The area is very nice. Multnomah Lodge has a visitor center, gift shop, restaurant, food concessions, and restroom facilities.
Although the parking area is considerably larger than the other waterfalls, it can still get full. During summer, you must obtain a timed use permit to see Multnomah Falls. The permit does not guarantee parking. Visit the Multnomah Falls site for information on timed use permits.
Multnomah Creek, formed by the underground springs of Larch Mountain, feeds Multnomah Falls. The spectacular waterfall totals 620 feet and is the second-highest year-round waterfall in the country.
It consists of two falls. The upper tier plunges 543 feet, while the lower tier drops 69 feet. There is an 8 feet elevation drop between the two falls.
You can view the falls:
- From the base
- On a bridge between the upper and lower falls
- From above
To reach Benson Bridge, you will walk along a 0.2-mile paved path. Although short, it is steep.
The bridge gives you a delightful view. You gain a closer and different perspective of both the upper and lower falls. As you can imagine, Benson Bridge is an excellent spot for photos.
Multnomah Falls Hike
You will have to earn the rewarding view above the upper falls by completing a 1.0-mile hike. The trail is paved but steep and has 11 switchbacks. It is a workout.
The path includes breathtaking views of the forest, mountains, and the Columbia River. At the top, you can peer down at Multnomah Falls.
I prefer viewing waterfalls at the base. With an aerial view, it isn’t easy to see beyond the first several feet in many cases.
Looking up from the base, you can see more of the waterfall. You can feel the power and taste the mist if you are close enough.
Although the view of Multnomah Falls from the top is excellent, the real treasure is the view of the scenery along the Columbia River. It is gorgeous!
If you have no interest in a challenging hike, the views from the base and the bridge are excellent. To see the following three falls on our list, you must do the climb. Very few visitors do so. It is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy nature’s solitude.
3. Dutchman Falls
If you did the climb, view the top of Multnomah Falls before heading to Dutchman Falls. Instead of going down to the Multnomah Falls Lodge, you will cross a beautiful stone bridge over the creek and continue on Larch Mountain Trail #441. There is signage to guide you.
About 0.25 miles on the trail, you will find a series of three small waterfalls nearby. It is nearly impossible to see all three at once due to shrubs.
Although not significant, Dutchman Falls is pretty. The waterfall sounds more like a babbling brook transitioning to rushing water. It brings a soothing sense of calm.
4. Wiesendanger Falls
Continue along the path another 0.25-mile from Dutchman Falls. Note that the trail is rugged with many protruding rocks. It is also steep in some sections. Take it slow and be aware of your surroundings.
You will walk under a basalt rock overhang called Dutchman’s Tunnel. On the tunnel wall, you will find a plaque for Wiesendanger Falls. You are nearly there.
Wiesendanger Falls is a 50-foot waterfall. Beyond Dutchman’s Tunnel, the real beauty is getting such a close view. Plus, you are not surrounded by tourists jockeying to get the perfect picture.
5. Ecola Falls
Continue uphill on the trail for 0.1-mile, and you can view Ecola Falls from above and to the side. The waterfall is listed at 55 feet tall. It is worth a little more effort to survey another waterfall from a unique perspective.
Admittedly, Dutchman Falls, Wiesendanger Falls, and Ecola Falls are not nearly as spectacular as Multnomah Falls. After hiking to the top of Multnomah Falls, I believe it is worth your time to chase three more waterfalls within another half mile. Each one is unique, and I think you will appreciate its beauty.
6. Wahkeena Falls
After visiting Multnomah Falls, continue westward on the Historic Columbia River Highway. You will see signs and a parking area for your next destination.
Wahkeena Falls is 242 feet high but does not have a single plunge. It subtly cascades downward in a series of twists and turns.
You can see the waterfall from a lookout area just off the parking lot. However, an easy 0.2-mile walk brings you to a stone footbridge where you are close enough to feel the spray on your skin. It is wonderful!
Bonus waterfall: If you are up for a 2.2-mile round-trip hike, you can see Fairy Falls. Just continue along the trail beyond the footbridge. Fairy Falls is only 20 to 30 feet high but is a unique fan waterfall. It is narrow at the top, fanning out to a much broader base.
7. Bridal Veil Falls
You cannot see Bridal Veil Falls from the road. An easy 0.6-mile round-trip walk leads you to the base of the 118-foot waterfall. You can use the lookout deck or walk below the deck to a rocky area for an even closer view.
Bridal Veil Falls is a two-tiered fall that spills over the basalt cliffs. It is the only waterfall located below the Historic Columbia River Highway.
There is parking at the trailhead and clean restroom facilities. The area is well-maintained.
The walk to the small viewing deck is easy and well worth your time. Bridal Veil Falls was Julie’s favorite waterfall in the corridor.
Your view at the base is spectacular. Not only can you see the beauty of the waterfall, but you can also feel its power.
8. Shepperd’s Dell
There is more to see here than a waterfall. Parking is available in a well-marked pullover area.
After a short hop and a skip across the road, you will find a set of stairs leading you to a path. The beautiful stone guardrail along the way is coated with lichens and moss. It just sets the tone for the gorgeous setting.
Your walk is short and easy. After descending the steps, the trail levels out and takes you around a slight bend. Here you have a fantastic view of the waterfall and a pretty arched bridge spanning the 100-foot canyon.
The waterfall at Shepperd’s Dell totals 220 feet, but you cannot see it in its entirety. You can view a 45-foot drop above the bridge and two 20-foot drops below. The path’s stonework and the arched bridge make this a beautiful and unique setting.
9. Latourell Falls
Our last waterfall is just down the road. Latourell Falls is a 224-foot single-plunge waterfall. Lichens shine like a yellow neon light against the dark rock at the top of the cliff. It makes for fantastic photos.
A viewpoint sits next to the road. I encourage you to take a short walk to the base of the falls. Here you gain a superior perspective of the waterfall’s size, scope, and beauty. It is outstanding!
Fees and Permits
In the summer of 2022, Oregon conducted a pilot program to provide visitors with a safer, more enjoyable experience. The project required a timed use permit and a $2.00 entrance fee for personal vehicles visiting the Waterfall Corridor.
The program is currently being evaluated. My best advice is to visit the Oregon site for updates when planning your trip.
The Multnomah Falls timed use permit is separate. The fee for that permit is also $2.00. Visit the Multnomah Falls site for updates when planning your visit.
If timed use permits are not being utilized, I recommend that you arrive early to beat the crowds. Multnomah Falls gets very busy. The other waterfalls draw many visitors as well.
Other Things To Do
Oregon is a beautiful state with many things to see and do. While visiting the Columbia River Gorge area, you may want to consider these additional things to do:
- Visit Crown Point Vista House – It is a museum that honors Oregon pioneers and serves as a comfort station for travelers.
- Visit Hood River – The city offers terrific wineries, breweries, hiking, and fishing.
- Cross the Bridge of the Gods – The bridge spans the Columbia River, connecting the states of Oregon and Washington. You get a great view and officially enter another state.
- Drive the Oregon Coast – If you have time and want to see more of the state, drive the Oregon Coast. You will observe rocky shorelines, lush forests, and beaches with massive boulders. The entire coast is stunning!
- Visit Redwood National Park – Continue your coast drive into northern California to see the world’s tallest trees.
Wrap Up: Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls
Columbia River Gorge is alluring with lush green forests and cascading waterfalls. Do yourself a favor and visit the Waterfall Corridor. Whether you want a leisurely drive with short walks or challenging hikes, the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls are a treasure with their beauty and power.
About the author
We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.