The Columbia River Gorge — full of beautiful waterfalls — is so close to the Portland, Oregon area. Many of the waterfalls only require a quick, easy hike to get to. Here are 3 easy Portland waterfall hikes you can plan on your next Portland adventure.
These trails are currently closed due to the Eagle Creek fire that damaged much of the Columbia River Gorge in September, but will hopefully reopen this summer (2018). You can stay up-to-date with this list of closed trails provided by the Friends of the Columbia River Gorge. There is also a list of trails that aren’t closed that are available to explore.
3 Easy Portland Waterfall Hikes
1. Elowah Falls
I fell in love with Elowah Falls in 2016. When I reached the falls, I felt like it was a little piece of heaven, and totally felt like it was straight out of the Lord of The Rings.
- Distance: 1.5 miles round trip, can be combined with the Upper McCord Creek Falls for 3 miles round trip
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead coordinates — Latitude: 45.6124, Longitude: -122.00428 (the John B Yeon Trailhead)
Follow the trail from the John B Yeon trailhead parking lot. Once you reach the junction, veer left to the lower trail, which will take you directly to the base of the 289-foot waterfall. The trail does get a little steep, as there is an elevation gain of 260 feet. However, it’s a pretty easy, quick hike and is appropriate for most beginning hikers and is kid friendly.
Elowah falls is made up of McCord Creek, and crashed into a basin surrounded by a lush, green amphitheater. There’s a cute little wood bridge that you can stand and take pictures on. Be prepared to get sprayed, though!
2. Horestail Falls
You can actually just drive to this waterfall! You can park in the ADA accessible parking lot and then just walk across the street to Horsetail Falls. This one is perfect if you don’t have time for a hike. It’s also great if you’ve already been on a hike and needed another waterfall fix. 😉 However, you can hike the Horsetail Falls loop. It will take you right behind the base of the Upper Horsetail Falls (aka Ponytail Falls). You will continue into the Oneonta Gorge and have the chance to see the Middle Oneonta Falls and the Lower Oneonta Falls. You will also have the option of extending your hike to see Triple Falls (adds about another mile).
- Distance: 2.6 miles round trip
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead coordinates — Latitude: 45.59044, Longitude: -122.06857
The trail is suitable for children, but be extra careful after passing behind Ponytail Falls, as it can be wet and there are a few steep cliffs.
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3. Wahclella Falls
Wahclella Falls might have Elowah Falls beat for me.
The hike is short, but gets your heart rate up. And it’s one of the most beautiful hikes in the PNW I’ve been on. You’ll start at the Wahclella Falls trailhead, which first takes you past a dam used by the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. You’re lead to a bridge that takes you over where Munra Falls empties into Tanner Creek.
The trail goes up the side of the canyon, so again, watch out for your kids. The trail forks, and it loops so you can end up hiking both sides. But the lower trail provides better views of Wahclella Falls as you approach it, and is a safer option for littles. The two-tiered waterfall plunges 350 feet into a huge basin and is surrounded by a beautiful grotto.
- Distance: 2.0 miles round trip
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead coordinates — Latitude: 45.63060, Longitude: -121.95382
- Fees: A NW Forest Recreation Pass is required at the Trailhead. You can purchase day passes ($5) or annual ones
The one downside to Wahclella Falls is that it can get crowded, especially in the summer. It’s also a hot spot for photographers, so you might have to be patient to get your shot.
What the Columbia River Gorge means to me
The Gorge is probably my favorite place on earth — no joke. Whenever I drove into Oregon while coming home for a visit from college in Idaho, I’d enter the Gorge and always instantly felt like I was home. It was also where I had a very distinct spiritual impression in the spring of 2016 while visiting (I was living in Utah at the time) that I needed to be in the Pacific Northwest. So much so that I started looking at jobs. I felt like I was crazy. I thought, “do I need to BE here?”
Something like three months later was when I got my husband Cristian’s apology letter, after 5 years apart. And three months after that he was coincidentally transferred to Portland for work, I quit my job at a newspaper in Utah, and we were married in the Portland, Oregon LDS temple. We’ve called Portland our home ever since.
What’s your favorite Columbia River Gorge hike? I’m always looking for more places to explore, and easy Portland waterfall hikes are great for that. Tell me in the comments!