Experience Waterfall Bliss in Columbia River Gorge


by Debbie Stone

I’ve had a love affair with Oregon for decades. The state’s scenery is a magnet for me, from its rugged beaches and sentinel lighthouses to its verdant forests and snow-capped peaks. And I could wax rhapsodic about the waterfalls.

Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge is waterfall nirvana. It has the greatest concentration of high waterfalls in North America. There are close to fifty of these beauties in this wondrous and wild area and many can be seen along the Historic Columbia River Highway’s “Waterfall Corridor.” Several are right off the road or require a short walk. Others take more effort, as they can only be reached via a hike.

Here are five of my favorites:

Multnomah Falls is the mother of them all. It’s the tallest and most popular natural destination in Oregon, and it’s only about a half hour from Portland, which means it can also be very crowded. Visit early or later in the day to avoid the masses.

The water in these falls drops a whopping 635 feet in a pair of tiers, crossing beneath the iconic Benson Bridge. Peer up from the base, then climb to the top for the full experience. You’ll definitely feel the spray from this one, so I recommend wearing shoes with some traction, as the area is always slick.

For food, drinks, souvenirs, and the U.S. Forest Service interpretive center, check out the Multnomah Falls Lodge at the bottom of the falls. Built in 1925, this historic stone and timber building was designed by noted Portland architect Albert E. Doyle and constructed at a cost of $40,000. It’s a great place to warm up on a damp, Pacific Northwest day, and the views are grand.

I’ve heard Multnomah can partially freeze in winter, creating an especially stunning scene for photogs. Note to self: return in winter!

About two miles east of Multnomah Falls is the historic Oneonta Tunnel. First opened in 1814 as part of the legendary highway going through the area, it was restored in 2009 for use as a biking and walking path. When fire swept through the Gorge in 2017, one of its casualties was this tunnel. Closed for four years, it has since been reopened. Stroll through it to revisit the past.

Magnificent Misty Wahkeena Falls drops 242 feet in two horsetail-shaped cascades. Wahkeena is a Yakima tribe word that means “most beautiful.” And that’s a perfect description for these falls. You can see them from the road and there is a small platform for better viewing, or you can hike halfway up for an even better vantage point. If you’re feeling energetic, take the Wahkeena Falls Trail, a three-mile hike that leads you through fairytale forests, over charming footbridges, and past several small waterfalls for a truly magical experience.

Another highlight is photogenic Latourell Falls. This 224-foot, single-plunge creation was named for Joseph Latourell, a well-known 19th-century settler in the region. You can access the viewpoint from a short trail or take a slightly longer trek to the base and top of the waterfall. Admire the vibrant lichen which contrasts with the dark basalt columns.

Horsetail Falls lives up to its name, which describes the waterfall’s characteristic form. This column of white water plunges 176 feet down cliffs of volcanic rock into a pool. Though Horsetail is visible from the road, it’s so much better if you get out of your car and admire it from the designated viewing area. Then step down to the boulders at the edge of the pool and look up for another perspective.

Then there’s Bridal Veil Falls, which drops 118 feet in two cascading tiers. The half-mile overlook trail here offers vistas of the Columbia River via a paved loop, along with some unique rock formations. Signs point out native wild plants, such as lupine and trillium. You can also take the lower trail, which entails a steep third of a mile descent to the base of the waterfall.

After you’ve had your fill of waterfalls for the day, head to Portway Avenue in Hood River, where the brewery scene is lively. Try Ferment, where you can drink your British style and farmhouse ales in a modern, industrial facility with views of the river and a direct view of the brewing operation below. And if you’re hungry, food options include such items as hummus and flatbread, a salmon burger, kraut, kimchi and pickles plate, and a fried chicken sandwich.

Down the street is award-winning pFriem Family Brewers, honored as Brewery of the Year, Best of Craft Beer, and Best BrewPub Experience. The company produces artisanal, European-inspired, Pacific Northwest beers and has a spacious tasting room across from the river. Accompany your drinks with a charcuterie platter, quinoa salad, brat plate, or mussels and fries.

There’s also good coffee at nearby Stoked, killer pizza at Solstice, and more libations at Camp 1805 Distillery & Bar.

Grab items to go for a picnic across the street at Hood River Waterfront Park. This lovely green space has pedestrian paths, plenty of benches, and even a lower beach area. Take in the picturesque scene, as you watch the river traffic go by, along with the windsurfers and kite boarders gliding across the water.

Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness, and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries and all.

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