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Waterfall Weekend: Columbia River Gorge

by Lauren Braden

in Camping and Outdoors, Trip Ideas

Waterfall Weekend: Columbia River GorgeI know it’s unconventional, but I don’t subscribe to the idea of “summer vacation.”

Here’s the deal: my family takes our vacations in small, weekend-sized chunks close to our home base of Seattle. With our energy-filled son in tow, we combine outdoor activities like day hiking with exploring small towns or visiting local wineries. Local, bite-sized travel saves us money, we get to know our beautiful region inside and outside, and we still get our much-needed time off together.

If you’re looking for a bite-sized springtime getaway from Seattle or Portland, I’ve got a great one: the Columbia River Gorge and its stunning waterfalls.

View Waterfall Weekend in the Columbia River Gorge in a larger map

HIKE: Wild Waterfalls

When the mighty Columbia River cut a deep canyon through the Cascades, it just wanted to get to the ocean. But hikers have been reaping the benefits for years, as the river’s urgency gave us dramatic scenery with a plethora of cascading waterfalls enveloped by mossy canyons. These waterfall hikes below are all accessible off of the Historic Columbia River Highway or its east-west parallel route, Interstate 84. Trails for all abilities lead to dramatic waterfalls that are always beautiful and occasionally frozen. In between your waterfall pursuits, rest your head on a soft bed in one of the gorge’s small-town hotels or bed-and-breakfasts. You can stay overnight on either end of this waterfall route.

For more info on these and other hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, I highly recommend you buy a copy of Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge: National Scenic Area, Silver Star Scenic Area, Portland-Vancouver to the Dalles. Authored by Craig Romano, each hike in this guidebook was thoroughly researched. Romano’s attention to detail is impeccable and his prose is inspiring.

Stay safe out there – see our hiking safety tips.

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Waterfall Weekend: Columbia River Gorge

Latourell Falls Loop

2.3 miles round trip, 540 feet elevation gain, Guy W. Talbot State Park, no day-use fee. Info: Oregon State Parks

Two falls, an upper and a lower, compete for star attraction status on this easy state park hike very close to Portland.

If “no pain, no gain” is your mantra, skip this one because you reach the Lower Falls with just a few minutes of easy hiking. A trail underneath the Historic Columbia River Highway bridge leads directly to it, plunging 250 feet off the edge of a basalt cliff into a fern-ringed pool below.

Continue on the trail another mile to the Upper Falls, a two-tiered beauty. After you’ve had enough of of the chartreuse lichen and cool mist, turn around and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

GO: Off I-84 east at Exit 28. Turn right on the Historic Columbia River Highway and head west for 3 miles to the trailhead parking lot.

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Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls by UltaHeavyBeat via Flickr Creative Commons

.7 miles round trip, 50 feet gain, Bridal Veil Falls State Scenic Viewpoint, no day-use fee. Info: Oregon State Parks

Take this quick and easy paved to-gravel path to a two-tiered cascade that is viewed from a platform.

The hike is a quick one, and popular with families and tourists looking for a picture fit for a postcard. From the parking lot, follow a paved path as it gradually descends to Bridal Veil Creek. Cross the wooden arch bridge, then climb the stairs to a lookout platform.

GO: Off I-84 east at Exit 28. In under a mile you’ll come to the Columbia River Highway–turn right (west). Look for the park entrance about .8 miles.

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Waterfall Weekend: Columbia River GorgeMultnomah – Wahkeena Falls

5 miles round trip (or less), 1,550 feet gain, no day-use fee. Info: US Forest Service

The 620-foot Multnomah Falls is the highest of the 77 waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Gorge. In just a quarter mile, you’ll be standing on the breathtaking and historic Benson Bridge, which crosses Multnomah Creek between the two tiers of the falls. To get the full view, keep hiking up to the top of the falls, a 600-foot climb from the parking lot. You can turn around here as most tourists do, or keep hiking for the Wahkeena Loop Trail and several more cascades along the way, some big and some small.

GO: Off I-84 east to left-hand Exit 31. Park and walk under the freeway to the Visitor Center and trail. Or, exit I-84 east at Exit 28 and drive the Historic Columbia River Highway east to  Multnomah Falls Lodge, where you can park and pick up the trail right there.

 

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Eagle Creek to Punchbowl Falls

Waterfall Weekend: Columbia River Gorge

7.6 miles round trip, 500 feet gain. NW Forest Pass required. Info: US Forest Service

The Eagle Creek Trail has so many waterfalls along the way that most any turnaround point will satisfy. The popular Punchbowl Falls are 2 miles in, and this makes for a satisfying shorter hike.  (Note for 2016: a trail bridge just beyond Punchbowl Falls is severely damaged and cannot be crossed. Get the latest on trail repairs here). This breathtaking route is blasted into the side of a rockface in parts and takes hikers behind the scrim of a plunging waterfall.

Safety tips: There are some steep drop-offs on this trail, of particular concern for dogs and small children. Hike with sure footing, bring hiking poles and utilize the handrails. Do not attempt to jump from the cliff into the Punchbowl Falls basin. It is extremely dangerous and doing so can result in injury or death.

GO: Take I-84 east to Exit 41, then turn right to the road’s end and parking lot.

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WHERE TO STAY

Hood River Hotel downtown Hood River OregonHood River Hotel

Stay in an historic inn right downtown with charming rooms, ensuite baths, some with kitchens. Amenities include a sauna and free wifi. Rooms start at $99.  hoodriverhotel.com

Hood River Bed and Breakfast

Want a soft bed a few blocks from the shops and brewpubs of downtown Hood River? Enjoy a hot breakfast on the house, a hammock on the deck, and plenty of room to stow your gear. The friendly owner is happy to share her knowledge of local attractions and recreation. Rooms start at $85. hoodriverbnb.com

McMenamins Edgefield

Set on a lush 38-acre parcel of farmland on the Columbia River in Troutdale, the Edgefield has its own onsite brewery, winery, distillery and spa. Live music and the onsite glassblower and potter will keep you entertained. Warning! An overnight stay here is a lively experience; bring earplugs if you head to bed early. Hostel beds available. Pet-friendly. Private rooms start at $50 for a single, $140 for a queen. mcmenamins.com

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WHERE TO EAT

Doppio Espresso and Restaurant in Hood River OregonDoppio Coffee and Lounge

Very popular with families with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, Doppio has a menu that will please everyone, from granola and chai to panini and a microbrew. 310 Oak Street. doppiohoodriver.com

Freshies Bagel and Juice

Kettle-boiled bagels are the star attraction here, whether served with cream cheese or in the form of a delicious bagel sandwich. 13 Oak Street.

Double Mountain Brewery

If you have your heart set on a Hood River craft beer (and of course you do!) you’ll have a few options. Double Mountain Brewery won’t disappoint if it’s your choice. Enjoy their delicious brick-lined oven-baked pizza alongside a fabulous pint of IPA. My mouth, it waters. doublemountainbrewery.com

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photo credits: Wahkeena Falls by cascade hiker | Latourell Falls by Zachary Zadell  | Bridal Veil Falls by UrbanHeavyBeat  | Wahkeena Falls by snowpeak | Eagle Creek by Bret Vogel

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jennifer Johnson October 22, 2012 at 9:17 am

I used to hike in the Gorge occasionally when I lived down in Oregon. Now you have me itching to go back! It sure is a unique and beautiful destination of all seasons.

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