Multnomah and Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls

Easy (to top of falls)

2.2 miles round trip

700 feet elevation gain

Open all year

Moderate (from Wahkeena Falls)

5.4-mile loop

1600 feet elevation gain

Oregon’s tallest waterfall, Multnomah Falls was the state’s most popular tourist attraction until it lost that title to a casino. Still, lots of visitors pull off the freeway each day to snap photos of the 620-foot, two-tiered cascade. Hundreds of them continue up the paved 1.1-mile trail to the top of the falls—a classic little hike. To beat the crowds here, consider the longer, even prettier loop that begins at the quiet Wahkeena Falls trailhead nearby.

For the short hike to the top of Multnomah Falls, drive Interstate 84 east of Portland to Multnomah Falls exit 31, park, and walk under the overpass. The historic stone lodge on your right was built in 1925 for the grand opening of the scenic Columbia Gorge-Mount Hood highway loop. Walk straight toward the falls to find the paved trail switchbacking up to a stone bridge between the two segments of Multnomah Falls’ long cascade.

The trail here has seen more than its share of natural drama. In 1991 a forest fire swept across the path, stopping just short of the lodge. In 1996 a bus-sized chunk of the waterfall’s cliff broke loose, landed in the splash pool, and sprayed rock splinters past the bridge. In 1998, torrential rainstorms launched a gigantic landslide of rocks, mud, and trees that wiped out the trail and kept it closed for a year. If your courage holds, continue on the reopened path past the stone bridge. Keep right at junctions to climb to a fenced overlook on Multnomah Falls’ lip. The dizzying view aims down the cataract to the toy-sized lodge and its ant-like crowds.

If you have the time to try a quieter, prettier route to the top of Multnomah Falls, start at the Wahkeena Falls trailhead instead. To find it, drive the freeway to Bridal Veil exit 28 and turn left along the old Columbia River Highway 2.6 miles to the Wahkeena Falls Picnic Ground pullout on the right.

The Wahkeena Trail starts at a footbridge and climbs to the right 0.2 mile to an elegant stone bridge below Wahkeena Falls, a 242-foot triple cascade in a sculpted chute. Continue on the unpaved, steep path 2.6 miles up to the Larch Mountain Trail. Then turn left along Multnomah Creek for 0.7 mile, passing many smaller falls on the way down to the Multnomah Falls viewpoint. After marveling at the view, continue down the 1.1-mile path to the lodge and turn left along the old highway, where you’ll find a return trail back to your car.

Other Options

Devils Rest is a more challenging goal from Wahkeena Falls, requiring a 7-mile round trip and 2400 feet of elevation gain. Although the summit of this forested knoll has no views, a side trail 0.2 mile before the top leads to a Gorge overlook. Ascend the Wahkeena Trail 1.9 miles until it levels off, and then take the marked Devils Rest Trail to the right.

An even tougher climb is the 13.6-mile round trip from Multnomah Falls to the panoramic view atop 4055-foot Larch Mountain (see Hike #43).

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes: Northwest Oregon.

Multnomah Falls