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Multnomah Falls

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Multnomah Falls (Steven Statt)
Benson Bridge gives Multnomah Falls its distinctive look (Steve Hart)
Aerial view (Don Nelsen)


At 635 feet tall, Multnomah Falls is the centerpiece of the waterfall-rich Columbia River Gorge, standing as an enduring icon in for the Pacific Northwest. It is the tallest falls in Oregon and the most visited natural attraction in the state. Multnomah Falls is the climax of a series of large and small cascades all along Multnomah Creek, from it's spring-fed sources high on Larch Mountain to where it unceremoniously empties into Benson Lake, which issues to the Columbia River just northwest of the Multnomah Falls Lodge.

The ribbon-like 542-foot upper tier dwarfs the 69-foot lower tier, that might otherwise be an attraction in and of itself. There is a small deep pool between the two. As recently as twenty years ago, it was a swimming hole of sorts. Accounts tell of children collecting coins from from the bottom - finding representatives from four continents (no doubt, tossed by wish-casting tourists from all over the world)! In 1995, that practice ended abruptly when a 400-ton rock separated from the basaltic cliffside and fell some two hundred feet to the pool below while a nearby wedding party was posing for photos. A sign near the falls says that the rock was the size of a school bus and made a slash 70 feet high! This made for a not-so-subtle reminder that this area is a living, breathing, constantly-changing environment. In fact, the entire present-day beauty of the Columbia River Gorge can be traced back to a continual process of violent geologic events.

Most locals refer to Multnomah Falls is the second-highest continuously flowing waterfall in the United States, next to the 2,425 foot Yosemite Falls in California, but that claim is hotly debated among waterfall experts: the World Waterfall Database ranks it 156th (!) although that statistic includes some seasonal falls. There are numerous much higher waterfalls in states like Hawaii, California, Washington, and Alaska. Some even cite falls higher in its own state of Oregon. Despite these claims, the distinctive Multnomah Falls will always be tallest in the hearts of those who live in the vicinity of Portland - who proudly admire it majesty and lush, green, surroundings.

Multnomah Falls is easily accessible from Interstate 84. This, combined with its relative proximity to Portland, make this a popular tourist destination year-round. On summer weekends, the parking lot fills up early, and visitors crowd the Multnomah Falls Lodge and short paved footpath up to Benson Bridge, spanning 25 feet across just above Multnomah's lower tier. Visitors can get a bird's eye view looking straight down, or simply enjoy the ever-present mist from the upper tier.

Low flows in July and August accentuate the height of the falls, but the best time to visit is on a weekday in the cooler, rainy months, when the espresso stands and ubiquitous tripods are replaced by the quiet serenity of Multnomah, during those months accompanied by two additional seasonal falls. The frequent ice and wind-swept spray decorate the high, basaltic cliff walls making for a much different experience. To really experience Multnomah Falls, go there at dawn on a rainy Tuesday morning in March. Find a bit of solitude. Stare up and wonder.

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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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