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Multnomah Falls Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

TKO put tools to trail here.png
Multnomah Falls from the lower viewing deck (bobcat)
The Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls is a recognized piece of Oregon history. (Steve Hart)
The top tier of Multnomah Falls ("Little Multnomah Falls") (bobcat)
Viewpoint at the top of the falls (Steve Hart)
Little-leaf montia (Montia parvifolia), Multnomah Falls (bobcat)
Approximate track of the trail

Contents

Hike Description

Only the I-84 parking area can be used at this time. More information can be found at the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area website

TAKE CARE OUT THERE: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, this trail is experiencing extremely heavy use. Be prepared to wear a mask during the many portions of this hike where physical distancing is not an option.


DO YOUR PART: Services are extremely limited at this time, so please bring a trash bag with you so you can pack out what you pack in, including any dog poop from your four-legged hiking buddy.

Multnomah Falls, which includes three separate drops (the upper falls, the main falls, and the lower falls) for a total of 635 feet, is without doubt Oregon's most recognizable waterfall and arguably its most awe-inspiring. It is also the tallest waterfall in Oregon. However, local boosters like to bill the waterfall as one of the highest waterfalls (second highest? fourth highest?) in the United States. Alas, according to the World Waterfall Database, Multnomah Falls is the 156th tallest waterfall in the United States (that statistic includes some seasonal waterfalls). Nonetheless, the falls are an impressive sight, especially when they are a thundering plunge deep into the wet season or a muted ice-encased column in the throes of a freezing spell. The paved trail to the top of the falls involves threading through crowds of visitors from around the world: come before 9:00 a.m. if you want to experience a relatively people-free passage. At viewpoints along the way, you can experience different perspectives on the waterfall, which plunges from a hanging valley left high above the river bottom after the Columbia River carved its way through layers of basalt as the Cascade mountains began their period of uplift during the Pleistocene.

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, poison oak flourishes along the base of a rock face and cable-linked bollards keep you from tumbling over the cliff. 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 although some of the logged trees seem to point dangerously down the steep slope. 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 new 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.

Consider hiking further on the Larch Mountain Trail up Multnomah Creek to view Wiesendanger Falls and Ecola Falls. Details are listed under the Larch Mountain Hike.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

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
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Zigzag Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Multnomah County SAR map

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider, revised by Jim Yuskavitch
  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • Oregon: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Best Short Hikes in Northwest Oregon by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • The Columbia Gorge: Short Trips and Trails by Oral Bullard & Don Lowe
  • Hiking Oregon's History by William L. Sullivan
  • Waterfall Lover's Guide: Pacific Northwest by Gregory A. Plumb
  • Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest by David L. Anderson
  • Waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge, Volume One: Oregon by Zach Forsyth
  • 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
  • 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

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.