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Latourell Falls Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

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Latourell Falls (Steve Hart)
Hiking above Latourell Creek (bobcat)
Oregon wood sorrel (Oxalis oregana), Latourell Creek (bobcat)
Lower tier of Upper Latourell Falls in winter (bobcat)
The 1914 bridge over Latourell Creek, Guy W. Talbot State Park (bobcat)
At the base of Latourell Falls (bobcat)
The loop hike to Latourell Falls and Upper Latourell Falls (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Latourell Falls TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Upper Latourell Falls
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 2.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 625 feet
  • High point: 620 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Year round except during winter storms
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes
Nettles

Contents

Hike Description

Latourell Falls is the closest of the major Columbia River Gorge waterfalls to Portland, and it's also one of the most photogenic. A tall single-plunge waterfall of 224 feet, it spills over the lip of an undercut amphitheater of tall pillars of columnar basalt. An eye-catching splash of chartreuse-colored golden cobblestone lichen (Pleopsidium flavum) adorns the upper amphitheater and contrasts with the dark basalt walls. You can view these lower falls from a point just above the trailhead, but the loop hike here takes you up Latourell Creek to see two-tiered Upper Latourell Falls before winding down to the state park picnic area below the highway. Then you can hike up under the highway bridge to the base of Latourell Falls and admire the plunge and basalt columns from below. Between them, the two waterfalls and Latourell Creek flow over three different flows of the Columbia River Basalts, which backfilled this valley between 15.5 and 14 million years ago. The waterfalls are beautiful in all seasons, but in the summer, the water flow is very low, creating near misty conditions; in the winter, the splash can freeze dangerously across the trail.

The falls are named after Joseph Latourell, a 19th century settler of the area who became postmaster of the Rooster Rock Post Office in 1887. The Latourell family had a house, now abandoned but still standing, near the current state park picnic area. The land around Latourell Falls was donated by Guy W. Talbot (and the state park named after him) in 1929. This parcel is adjacent to the George W. Joseph State Natural Area, where you'll encounter Upper Latourell Falls.

Beginning from the Latourell Falls Trailhead, follow the paved viewpoint trail up to the Latourell Falls Viewpoint. From the viewpoint, a wide dirt path leads makes two short switchbacks up under cedars and mossy maples. Pass above a devil's club thicket where seeps trickle onto the trail tread. Look for a side view of Latourell Falls, particularly in the winter when the alders and maples have lost their leaves. Pass a large Douglas-fir, and switchback twice above the lip of the falls. There's a side trail here that drops down to an unimproved log that functions as a slippery bridge to connect with the loop trail on the other side of Latourell Creek. This side trail shaves about a mile from the trip.

The main trail continues beside the creek. Pass another connector to a log crossing of the creek. The trail here is rocky in places, and the undergrowth next to the trail is very thick, blocking most views in the summer. Some large cedars tower overhead as you hike up through a layer of the Frenchman Springs flow of the Columbia River Basalts. The trail crosses four small wooden bridges, passing into a second state park, the George W. Joseph State Natural Area, much of which was gifted by members of the Joseph family to the state in 1934 and 1942. The star attraction of this state property is Upper Latourell Falls. This waterfall is a two tiered drop, first a block fall that's almost hidden and then a plunge into a pool (An older trail once led behind the lower tier of the falls, and there was once even a footbridge that crossed in front of the upper tier!)). This layer of the Priest Rapids member is, at 14 million years, the second-youngest of the Gorge basalt flows. The trail crosses Latourell Creek at the base of the falls and heads back down the west side of the creek.

Gradually descend a salmonberry/sword fern slope under moss-draped big-leaf maples and tall Douglas-firs. Switchback down twice where the creek plunges through a small chute. Admire a cedar "arch" next to the remains of a bench. Then pass the connections with the trails from the other side of the creek, and head up under overhanging vine maples. A spur leads off down to a high and exposed perch at the lip of Latourell Falls' amphitheater. The main trail climbs to another bench at a cable-protected viewpoint. From here, you can get views to the Young Creek bottomland, Rooster Rock, Cape Horn, Hamilton Mountain, and Table Mountain. Irises bloom trailside here in spring. Descend into a mixed forest bowl with thimbleberry and nettles in the understory. Switchback at an arched maple, and wind down to a short paved stretch of trail that reaches the Historic Columbia River Highway.

Across the road, there's a trail that drops down into the picnic area for Guy W. Talbot State Park. Descend some stone steps and, past a big Douglas-fir, make a right to follow the loop trail under the 1914 highway bridge. The bridge is interesting in its own right, with special lightweight construction due to the unstable soils in the area. Hike along a steep slope above Latourell Creek on a trail that needs constant bolstering, and cross the footbridge near the base of Latourell Falls. Take a moment to admire the overhang here, with its array of broken-off columns from 15.5 million-year-old Grande Ronde basalt flows. Then hike up the slope to the parking area and another viewpoint.

Maps

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Day-use only: 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
  • Restrooms, picnic tables, interpretive signs
  • Dogs on leash

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon by Adam Sawyer
  • Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Take a Walk: Portland by Brian Barker
  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider; revised by Jim Yuskavitch
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • Best Easy Day Hikes: Portland, Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • Day Hike! Columbia Gorge by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Oregon: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker
  • Best Short Hikes in Northwest Oregon by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Columbia Gorge Getaways by Laura O. Foster
  • Oregon's Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • 35 Hiking Trails: Columbia River Gorge by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Columbia Gorge Hikes: 42 Scenic Hikes by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • The Columbia Gorge: Short Trips and Trails by Oral Bullard & Don Lowe
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan
  • Hiking Oregon's Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Fire, Faults, and Floods: A Road & Trail Guide Exploring the Origins of the Columbia River Basin by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge, Volume One: Oregon by Zach Forsyth
  • Waterfall Lover's Guide: Pacific Northwest by Gregory A. Plumb
  • Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest by David L. Anderson
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Best Hikes With Dogs: Oregon by Ellen Morris Bishop

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.

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