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Franklin Ridge Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

TKO put tools to trail here.png
Pre-fire view to Nesmith Point from the Franklin Ridge Trail (bobcat)
Wiesendanger Falls, Larch Mountain Trail (bobcat)
The Larch Mountain Trail squeezes between a wall of andesite and Multnomah Creek (bobcat)
The big talus slope, Larch Mountain Trail (bobcat)
Footbridge over West Multnomah Creek, Multnomah Creek Way Trail (bobcat)
Oneonta Trail sign at the junction with the Franklin Ridge Trail (bobcat)
Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), Franklin Ridge Trail (bobcat)
The loop down Franklin Ridge using the Larch Mountain Trail (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Multnomah Falls TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Oneonta-Multnomah Spur Trail Junction
  • Hike type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 11.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3205 feet
  • High point: 2,930 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Mid-spring - fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Not above the Wahkeena Trail junction

Contents

Hike Description

This is a good early or late season loop that takes you away from crowds and yet encompasses the series of waterfalls on Multnomah Creek that the crowds come for. Higher up, you’ll encounter fewer people on the Larch Mountain Trail, a route constructed in 1915 by members of the Trails Club of Oregon. You’ll pass under some magnificent old-growth Douglas-firs, and then turn off the main trail to cross the East and West Forks of Multnomah Creek to enjoy what will probably be a solitary descent of Franklin Ridge. When the Franklin Ridge trail was originally constructed, it offered open views across the Oneonta Creek drainage to points north and west, but decades of healthy forest growth left these vistas very restricted. Ironically, the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire that burned across this ridge opened up some views again. Bear in mind, however, that the Franklin Ridge Trail, although cleared by Trailkeepers of Oregon crews, was neglected for a couple of years after the fire, and the trail tread saw a healthy regrowth of brush that can only be contained by constant foot passage.

The trail begins at Multnomah Falls Lodge, a historic building built to serve early automobile travelers in 1925. From a photographer's viewpoint, get a head on vista of both the lower and main tiers of Multnomah Falls and the picturesque span of the Benson Bridge. From here, the trail is a gently sloped 2/10 mile paved path to the Benson Bridge, put in place in 1914 by Simon Benson, one of the builders of the old highway. This part of the trail has one switchback, although one small flight of a few stairs blocks the way to wheelchairs beyond the lower falls viewpoint. You'll pass below a rock net and can look up to see the seasonal Shady Creek Falls, which splash down a cliff just west of Multnomah Falls.

Beyond the bridge, the asphalt trail switches up steeply for another mile to a ridgecrest (there are 11 switchbacks to be exact). At the first switchback, you'll come to the Larch Mountain-Gorge Trail Junction. After the Eagle Creek Fire, logging crews cut many of the trees on this slope and the views are more open. At the third switchback, a once shaded viewpoint with a bench offers a view to Multnomah Falls. At the fourth switchback, a scree slope shelters a busy colony of pikas, which tend to disappear when the midday crowds show up. As you ascend higher on the slope, look for Columbia River views. Post fire, the trail seems more precipitous and the drop-offs more lethal as much of the buffering understory was incinerated during the blaze. At the crest, you'll see a few trees that were killed by the 2017 fire. From the top, the trail drops slightly to a signed junction where you'll go right for the Multnomah Falls Viewpoint. The asphalt follows a side path that switchbacks down twice to the Multnomah Falls Upper Viewpoint, a balcony of sorts at the lip of the falls looking down on the lodge and the less motivated visitors below. A ten-foot uppermost tier of Multnomah Falls splashes down into a shady pool encased by columnar basalt here.

On returning to the main trail, turn upcreek and cross a rock-faced culvert over Multnomah Creek. Pass the old junction with the Perdition Trail, a lower link to the Wahkeena Trail across the face of the Gorge that was severely damaged by the 1991 Multnomah Falls Fire and permanently closed. The next three miles of the Larch Mountain Trail parallel Multnomah Creek offering numerous scenic views. The trail passes Lower, Middle and Upper Dutchman Falls, followed by a unique trip through a creek-washed overhang called Dutchman Tunnel. Just beyond the tunnel, you'll come to Wiesendanger Falls. (A plaque honoring Albert Wiesendanger, a Forest Service ranger, can be found in Dutchman Tunnel.) The trail switchbacks four times above Wiesendanger Falls, and soon passes the lip of Ecola Falls. The tread is rocky in places, but the climb isn't nearly as steep as it was in the beginning. Views up Multnomah Creek from here reveal a scorched understory and blackened tree trunks. Another quarter mile brings you to a trail junction with the Wahkeena Trail and then another creek bridge, this newest version made of steel and installed post-Eagle Creek Fire in 2018.

Above this bridge, the trail follows Multnomah Creek a short distance up the hillside. You'll cross a wide creek: it's hard to keep your feet dry here in the wet season. When the trail drops back to creek level, it splits into two trails. The main trail runs right alongside the creek under an overhang of platy andesite, an outflow from the Larch Mountain shield volcano. During the summer, it's a beautiful walk next to the creek. In the spring, this area floods, so hikers will need to take the alternate route signed as the "High Water Trail" to switchback up the ridge. The two trails come back together opposite the place where Big John Creek flows into Multnomah Creek from the west.

Now you'll enter a patch of lush, mossy forest undamaged by the 2017 fire. Cross Multnomah Basin Road, which leads east towards Nesika Lodge, and enter the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. (This western section of the wilderness was added in 2009.) Soon pass the Franklin Ridge Trail #427, your point of return on the lollipop loop. You'll see the confluence of the East and West Forks of Multnomah Creek and cross the East Fork of Multnomah Creek and then the West Fork, both on single log bridges with handrails.

The trail switchbacks up from the creek in a scorched understory and traverses a long ridge up the west side of the Larch Mountain Crater. The Eagle Creek Fire was especially harsh on this slope, and hundreds of blackened, dead conifers are the vestiges of this intense conflagration. Cross an open talus field, and pass two massive Douglas firs. Hiking higher, you'll finally pass out of the 2017 fire zone. The verdant understory overflows with wood fern, deer fern, twin flower, foam flower, bleeding heart and huckleberry. There are more big trees as you hike up past a mossy boulder field to the Larch Mountain-Multnomah Creek Way Trail Junction, where you should turn left. (If you want to include an in-and-out trip to the top of Larch Mountain from this point, it will add four miles round-trip and 1,120 feet of elevation gain - see the Larch Mountain Hike.)

On this next short section, you will be sharing the trails with mountain bikes. The Multnomah Creek Way Trail #444 switchbacks down among huckleberries and hemlocks and past a campsite to a few gnarly cedars in the salmonberry bottom of West Multnomah Creek. Cross the one-log footbridge, and turn left at the Multnomah Creek Way-Multnomah Spur Trail Junction. Then follow the Multnomah Spur Trail #446 on a rising traverse up through a carpet of bunchberry and false lily-of-the-valley. The trail passes over a forested ridge crest of western hemlock and silver fir and traverses down to a bridgeless crossing of the East Fork Multnomah Creek. Then the route ascends a slope and shortly comes to the Oneonta-Multnomah Spur Trail Junction.

Make a left here on the Oneonta Trail #424: it’s 0.6 miles to the junction with the Franklin Ridge Trail, and you'll soon be seeing scars and burned snags from the 2017 fire. Drop slightly, and then traverse up to a crest through a recovering understory. Descend again as the path winds down among older trees, many snapped off by winter storms. The trail rises to reach the Oneonta-Franklin Ridge Trail Junction.

Keep left here, and make a gently descending traverse in an open understory to a ridge crest. As you begin dropping down the ridge, which narrows very quickly, you'll notice that most of the trees here experienced crown fire. This is also where the trail tread has provided purchase for regenerating post-fire shrubbery, including Scouler's willow, thimbleberry, trailing blackberry, and snowberry. You’ll pass above some very steep talus slopes above the Oneonta Creek drainage. At one viewpoint, you can see across Yeon Mountain to Nesmith Point, with Palmer Peak in the forbidden Bullrun Watershed Unit to the right. Next, a short diversion leads to a resprouting maple above a talus slope. From here, you can get a view to Table Mountain and Mount Adams. Continue hiking down the ridge through a thicket of burned vine maple. Then, depending on the time of year, you may have to swish your way through a dense thimbleberry/cow parsnip thicket and follow the spine of the ridge past summer-blooming poison larkspur, tiger lilies, and pathfinder. Reach another tall thimbleberry thicket and the unsigned Franklin Ridge-Nesika Lodge Trail Junction: the little-used path going right, if indeed it can still be seen, heads down past a former helispot to the Trails Club’s Nesika Lodge perched above the Oneonta Creek valley.

Make a sharp left here to make a gradually descending traverse along a burned slope above the Multnomah Basin. Mountain beaver burrows mine the trail tread in places. The terrain flattens, and then you’ll make a single switchback to reach the Larch Mountain-Franklin Ridge Trail Junction. Go right here to head back home down Multnomah Creek.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • No fees
  • Wilderness rules apply
  • Share trails with mountain bikers around Larch Mountain
  • Restrooms, restaurant, Forest Service information at Multnomah Falls Lodge

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Trail Maps (Friends of Multnomah Falls)
  • Green Trails Maps: Bridal Veil, OR #428
  • Green Trails Maps: Columbia River Gorge - West #428S
  • Geo-Graphics: Trails of the Columbia Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management: Columbia River Gorge
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Zigzag Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker
  • 35 Hiking Trails: Columbia River Gorge by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 70 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.