Bridal Veil Falls

Exploring the Majestic Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls

Northern Oregon is home to the spectacular Columbia River Gorge waterfalls and should not be missed. The National Scenic Area is just 30 miles east of Portland. Whether you’re looking to combine this with one of several runs in the area or escaping the hustle and bustle of the city for a day-trip the Columbia Gorge is a must see. Many have heard of Multnomah falls and come just to see that, but what if I told you that there are a whole handful of majestic falls that can easily be seen within a few miles of there?

History of the Columbia River Gorge

Volcanic activity played a significant role in shaping many areas in Oregon, including the Columbia River. Over millions of years, the Columbia River cut a canyon through the lava and muddy remains that the volcanic activity left behind. Around the time of the last ice age there was massive flooding in the canyon leaving behind the massive gorge and it’s beautiful waterfalls we see today.

columbia river, landscape, nature-5181776.jpg

Why Visit the Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls?

Witnessing the falls is an awe-inspiring experience. Many of them are easily accessible, either from the road or after a brief hike If you love nature and seeing natural beauty this is a day trip absolutely worth the time. The gorge offers numerous opportunities for stunning photography.

Navigating Your Way to the Gorge

The nearest commercial airport is in Portland. From there, you can opt for tours departing directly from the city or drive to the Gorge, it is approximately 30 miles from Portland.

Experiencing the Sights of the Gorge

  • E-bike: I choose to rent an E-bike for the day to see the sights on my last trip. After getting a quick safety briefing and tutorial on how to use the bike, I was free to explore. This was a really enjoyable way to take in the sites, as I didn’t have to be concerned with traffic, congested parking lots, or being on the timetable of a tour as it is self-guided. The bikes made it very easy to cover a lot of ground.
  • Waterfall Trolley: The Historic Columbia River Highway Trolley (Waterfall Trolley) allows visitors to take in the sites at their own pace by doing hop on hop off stops. It stops at 10 different spots and allows visitors to see the waterfalls without the hassle of traffic and congested parking lots. The trolly operates May 27 to September 4, daily except Tuesdays. Tickets for 2023 are priced at $29 for adults (ages 13 and up), $15 for youth (ages 6-12), and free for children (ages 0-5).
  • Guided Tour: Several guided tour options are available for those who prefer a structured experience.
  • Self-drive: Traveling by car and doing self-guided is also an option. However, be aware that parking lots can get crowded. Please note that to park in the Multnomah Falls parking lot you must have reservations, be sure and book them ahead of time online as this is a very popular place and it gets very busy.

Best Times to Visit the Gorge

Every season offers a unique experience. Summer time can be very busy, but still very worth the trip. I really enjoyed my E-bike tour, as I was able to just park my bike and see the sites without worrying about parking. For peak flows and amazing wildflowers visit between April and June. Winter can be chilly, and icy paths are possible.

top of multnomah falls

The Must-See Waterfalls of the Gorge

Multnomah Falls

This is one of the most well-known falls along the corridor. Remember, parking requires reservations, May 26 through September 4, due to its popularity. It is the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon and a must see for anyone that loves chasing waterfalls and the magnificent power the falls hold. The view is 100% accessible from the parking lot.

multnomah falls

You can hike to the top of the falls if you choose, it is a moderate hike. I recommend walking at least to the bridge and taking in the views from there. Amenities include a gift shop, restaurant and snack bar here, which can make a nice stop after a day of hiking. While I’ve had the privilege of seeing this beauty many times in my life the view is always worth the stop.

Horsetail Falls

Horsetail falls can be seen from the roadway and admired with few short steps on the path. There is a parking lot to park to view the falls. If you have time there is a short 0.8 mile out and back trail that will take you to Pony Falls, where you can walk behind the falls for a unique view.

horsetail falls

Wahkeena Falls

From the parking lot, you will have a view of the lower portion of these two tiered falls, especially in spring and summer due to vegetation that grows and can obscure the view of the whole falls. To get to the upper portion take the trail to your right facing the falls from the parking lot, going left will lead you on a trail to Multnomah Falls. It is a 5-10 minute hike to the upper section and well worth it. The climb is uphill, but manageable for most if you take your time, the hike is less than a quarter mile to get to the falls. Picnic tables and restrooms are within easy walking distance from the parking area.

Wahkeena Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls are another magnificent stop and a two tiered fall. There is a parking lot across the street from the historic Bridal Veil Lodge. The lodge is the only lodging available directly along the waterfall corridor. To access the falls there is a trail that leads from the parking lot, to view this one it does require a bit of hiking. The trail is 0.5 miles out and back and takes about 15-20 minutes to complete. On a warm summers day you can swim in the water at the base of the falls. Picnic tables and restrooms are within easy walking distance from the parking area.

Bridal Veil Falls

Shepperds Dell

These falls are named after the family that donated the land. They are partially visible from the road and there is a turnout to park. For the best view it is recommended to hike the 0.2 mile out and back to the falls. I was short on time, buy this point in my trip and did not stop here.

Latourell Falls

This beautiful stop provides another great swimming experience in the summer time. It is a quick walk to the base of the falls where you can easily cool off. From the parking lot follow the paved trail to the lookout where you can get a spectacular view of the falls. This is a single plunge fall plummeting over 200 feet.

Latourell Falls

Continuing past the lookout on the trail you can get a different perspective on the falls. The trail continues on a 2.4 mile loop if you wish to do some more hiking. When I went I did go part way around the loop, but ultimately turned back before reaching the upper falls and completing the loop.

Latourell Falls

Crown Point Vista House

Located 2.5 miles past Latourell Falls, Crown Point Vista House viewpoint has been operational since 1918. This is one the original view points along the Columbia Gorge. It is free to visit the Vista House; it is operated on donations. Operating hours to visit are Friday-Monday 9am-5pm. It does close if winds are over 50mph. From here visitors have a vantage point 733 feet above the Columbia River that offers a perfect spot to take in the expanse of the Gorge and excellent photo opportunities. The Vista House contains several interpretive exhibits, a gift shop, and a snack bar.

Vista House

Local Communities and Cultural Attractions

After a day of exploring the Waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge make your way to one of the nearby towns. Cascade Locks is only a few exits east on I-84. In the summer time there are many Pacific Crest Trail hikers passing through here as the path crosses over the Bridge of the Gods to Washington State. The bridge is iconic and well worth a stop. There is a toll of $3 to drive across, but free to walk and take in the views of the Gorge and Thunder Island. In the town there are restaurants, local craft beer and hotels.

bridge of the gods

Another notable place to stop is the Bonneville Dam. The Bradford Island Visitor Center is on the Oregon side and open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Visitors centers are closed on Thanksgiving Day and December 24th through January 1st). It is one of the world’s largest hydroelectric systems. Tours of the visitors center are free. While there, be sure to check out the fish ladder and go inside where you can view fish swimming though large glass windows. This was a fun adventure we did every summer when I was a kid..

boneville dam

Hood River, with its plethora of wineries and breweries, is another worthy stop. If you love wine, craft beer or cider be sure to make a stop here. With over 10 local wineries and breweries you will not be disappointed.

Tips for a Perfect Trip

  • Stay Hydrated- Bring plenty of water and drink often this is especially important if you plan to do some hiking.
  • Bring a Lunch or snacks- There are places along the corridor to stop for food or snack; however there are many picnic areas to stop while adventuring. I was glad to have snacks with me while hiking.
  • Dress Appropriately- Lightweight, breathable material will help with temperature control. Hiking shoes are recommended on the trails
  • Sun Protection- A hat and sunscreen is recommended especially in the summer time.
  • Leave No Trace- Stay on the trails, respect the land, and pack out anything you bring in.

Concluding Thoughts: Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls

The Columbia River Gorge’s waterfall corridor is a paradise for nature lovers. In my opinion the waterfall corridor is a must see! The mesmerizing waterfalls and the gorge’s beauty are truly enchanting. There are many ways to see the falls, so pick one and treat yourself to a wonderful day. My tour, combined with the Bridge of the Gods half marathon, made for an unforgettable weekend. This is a must-add to any Oregon itinerary.