The Columbia River Gorge is home to some of the best waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest with too many to choose from, use this guide to find out which are the best to visit!
About the Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge is a canyon that stretches eighty miles as far east as the Portland metropolis area and it separates the state of Washington from the State of Oregon.
The gorge is home to many tributaries that flow into the Columbia River making it a prime area for many waterfalls in Oregon. The state designates this area the 'Columbia River Gorge Natural Scenic Area' and it's actually the largest scenic area in America!
The majority of the waterfalls in this scenic area are fed by underground springs making anytime of the year perfect to visit the waterfalls in Oregon.
When I visited Oregon in September of 2021, Oregon was in a drought but you wouldn't even be able to tell from looking at the falls.
Eagle Creek Fire of 2017
The Columbia River Gorge was home to the devastating forest fire that claimed over 50,000 acres of forest in 2017.
Many of the scenic spots and trails have since reopened, however a number still remain closed.
When hiking this area you'll be reminded of the fire from the damage and burnt trees along the trails. It's important to obey closed signs because of the danger that unmaintained and damaged trails pose.
The Best Waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge
1. Tunnel Falls
Tunnel Falls isn't only the best waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge, they're some of the best falls in the entire world. These falls are a massive 200 foot waterfall that plunges down the cliffs of a gorge where a trail is dug through the cliffs behind it.
Yes! That's right you can walk from one side of the falls, through a tunnel, and be on the other side of the falls. The trail is spectacular and not to be missed when visiting Oregon.
What I consider to be one of the best parts of these falls is the fact that it requires a 6-mile hike to get to. That means 12 miles round trip! That may seem like a lot but it's one of the most beautifully built trails and you get to see many other great waterfalls on the way including Punchbowl Falls.
The 12-mile trek gets rid of the tour buses and retirement groups on tight schedules. These falls remain secluded and serene because of that fact. A waterfall with a tunnel like this would be ruined if it was along a highway like the one of the Columbia River Gorge so I thank the fact that it takes the willing to make it here.
You can read more about these falls and the Eagle Creek Trail hike here!
2. Wahclella Falls
These are my second favorite falls in the Columbia River Gorge Natural Scenic Area because of how thunderous they are. I watched these falls for an hour as I shot photography and became so immersed by the sound of rushing water blocking out all other sounds.
The falls require only a 2-mile loop in a great area of the gorge to reach and I think this helps to mitigate crowds while keep you moving on a tight schedule. An hour or two is all that is required for visiting these falls.
I also admire the fact that these falls are over 300 feet high but that we are only able to see the bottom 60 feet because of the narrow slice in the basalt gorge above.
You can read more about Wahclella Falls and the hike to them here!
3. Multnomah Falls
Although these are the most popular destination of any scenic spot in the Pacific Northwest, receiving over 2 million visitors a year, they are still that miraculous and deserve to be ranked as high as number 3 on this list.
Multnomah Falls are an incredible set of natural falls towering over 600 feet with a majestic bridge crossing over the lower section. I'd like to visit these in every season possible to see how the beauty of them changes through the seasons.
Multnomah falls require no hiking to reach the base making them a popular stop for all tourist in Portland and the northern Oregon area.
A short hike will take you to the bridge which I recommend anyone visiting to do, the hike to the top of the falls is strenuous but rewarding if time permits.
Pro Tip: The falls open at first light and from this time until about 9am the crowds will be almost non-existent.
You can read more about visiting Multnomah Falls in my blog post here!
4. Latourell Falls
Latourell Falls was the first waterfall that I visited when road-tripping around Oregon. I got to the falls a little after sunrise and was the only person around. They were reminiscent of the waterfalls I had seen years ago in Iceland with the long plunges and dark gray basalt columns.
Latourell Falls are popular due to their close proximity to the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway. The falls have a trail that loops up to the top of them which will keep you away from most of the crowds if your time permits.
You can read more about these falls here!
5. Horsetail Falls
I stumbled upon these fails when trying to get to the closed Oneonta Gorge and Triple Falls along a similar path. Horsetail Falls has an upper and lower section with the lower being located right at the designated parking area to the falls.
The Upper Horsetail falls or Ponytail Falls are about a half-mile hike up from the parking lot. The upper falls remain mostly secluded with only a few visitors strolling through at peak times.
The Upper Horsetail Falls have an awesome trail that goes behind the falls and under the basalt rock cliffs giving great 360-degree views.
Read more about the Horsetail Falls here!
6. Bridal Veil Falls
In comparison to the other falls in the scenic area I found Bridal Veil Falls to be less exciting. Anywhere else in the world they would be a total show-stopper which makes them worth your while for a visit.
The trail is well built and well travelled with a parking area directly on the historic highway. The total mileage is about three-quarters of a mile out & back. The forest and bridges along the trail are pretty and did make the hike exciting.
Similar to Wahclella Falls, the majority of these falls are above the viewing platform and mostly obstructed.
Read more on these falls in a blog post here!
Waterfalls to Keep an Eye On
As previously mentioned, a number of falls were closed when I visited in September 2021. The list of falls below are waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge area that were on my list to visit but was unable to.
Make sure to check out these falls if they're open when you're visiting the area!
1. Oneonta Gorge and Triple Falls
2. Elowah Falls and Upper McCord Falls
3.Wahkeena Falls and Fairy Falls (These may have been open)
Have you been to any of these falls or are planning a visit? Drop me a comment below, I'd love to here your experience!
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