Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls


Rte. 35 ends at the Columbia River.  Jump onto I-84 heading west, until you see the signs for the scenic route, which will take you back to Portland.

You can stop briefly to check out the Bridge of the Gods, which crosses over into Washington.  The name comes from a landslide, that blocked the Columbia River some 1,000 years ago.  The dam gave Native Americans a way to cross the river, and since it was created naturally, they named it the Bridge of the Gods.

Pressure from the river eventually washed away that natural dam, but the modern manmade structure kept the ancient name.

The Bridge of the Gods doesn’t just carry vehicle traffic.  It also allows hikers along the Pacific Crest Trail to cross the Columbia River into Washington.

Horsetail Falls

The Columbia River Gorge is home to the greatest concentration of waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s easy to visit them, thanks to a tiny two lane road, designed specifically for scenic drives. The Historic Columbia River Highway is a narrow two lane alternative to I-84, which passes by one scenic wonder after another.

Parking is limited at each waterfall. Use extreme caution if you park at the edge of the road, and try not to park on a blind curve.

Once you exit the interstate, heading west, the first falls you’ll find is Horsetail Falls: a tall, narrow waterfall, just a stone’s throw from the edge of the road.

This section of old US 30 was designed to complement the natural beauty of the area. Take a look at the concrete bridge above… arched concrete walls like this one line the entire route.

I re-visited this area in 2006, on my Northern Rockies trip.  Check out Crown Point, Multnomah Falls, and Sheppard’s Dell.

Oneonta Gorge

The next attraction you’ll reach isn’t a waterfall, it’s a narrow gorge. To experience it, you’ll have to climb over a huge log jam at the mouth of the gorge, which can be treacherous.

Once you’ve made it to the other side of the log jam, you can continue easily up the gorge, for as far as you’d like. Expect to get your feet wet though, since there’s very little dry ground.

Here’s a closer look at the log jam you must climb over, to enter the gorge. It’s especially dangerous once your feet are wet, since the moisture makes the weathered logs slippery. If you fall, you’ll find yourself wedged between the logs, so if you’re not up to the challenge, don’t tackle it.

Multnomah Falls

The most impressive of the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls is Multnomah Falls. The tall stream drops behind a concrete foot bridge onto a middle step, then over another cascade, down to street level.

You can reach Multnomah Falls by way of the scenic road, or an exit off of I-84.  This is the most developed stop along the scenic byway, with a restaurant, gift shop, and restrooms.

A short but steep .25 mile trip takes you up to the foot bridge. From there, you can continue your climb to the top of the falls.


Wahkeena Falls

Continuing westward, the next falls you’ll encounter is Wahkeena Falls. From the lower viewpoint, you don’t have a good view of the best part of the falls. For that, you’ll need to climb another trail.

Like Multnomah Falls, a small concrete foot bridge also spans Wahkeena Falls. The view from the bridge is much better than from below.

Latourell Falls

Unlike the other paths to waterfalls along the Historic Columbia River Highway which take you uphill, you must go down a slope to view Latourell Falls. From the parking area, the path drops down to the base of the waterfall, then eventually loops back to the road.

The lower section of Latourell Falls is a narrow stream falling nearly 250 feet over a sheer face of volcanic rock. You can also take the trail to the upper portion of the falls, which plunges nearly 100 feet.

If you’re adventurous and surefooted, you could walk underneath and behind the falls. You have to leave the path, though, and the rocks all around the base of the waterfall are coated with a mossy, slimy substance, that makes standing upright almost impossible.

I ventured about halfway around for this shot of the falls, then decided it too risky to go any farther.

Crown Point

Crown Point may indeed be the crowning jewel along the Columbia River Scenic Highway.  The road winds its way up to, then curves around, this lofty perch above the river.  Right in the middle, there’s an old visitor’s center, which was in the middle of remodeling during my visit in September, 2004.  I think that’s why I didn’t take a picture of it.

Above is the view looking back east.

Stonework along the side of the road.

West of here, the Columbia River Gorge isn’t as deep.  Portland isn’t far away.

From here, I jumped back on I-84, then I-205 North, which leads to I-5.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.

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