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Oneonta-Multnomah Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

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Middle Oneonta Falls, Horsetail Falls Trail (bobcat)
Behind Ponytail Falls (bobcat)
Violet cortinarius (Cortinarius violaceus), Oneonta Creek (bobcat)
Campsite at the junction with the Horsetail Creek Trail, just below the Oneonta Trail (bobcat)
Pre-fire view to Nesmith Point from the Franklin Ridge Trail (bobcat)
The Larch Mountain Trail squeezes between a wall of andesite and Multnomah Creek (bobcat)
Wiesendanger Falls, Larch Mountain Trail (bobcat)
Archer Mountain from the Gorge Trail (bobcat)
The loop up Oneonta Creek and down Multnomah Creekl (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS


Hike Description

A classic Gorge loop, this is the waterfall hike if you will. The two lovely creeks you'll be hiking along, Oneonta and Multnomah, share eight waterfalls between them, and this hike adds the two spectacular falls on Horsetail Creek. The 2017 Eagle Creek Fire did a number on this area, but it is well into recovery, and you'll experience unburned sections of old-growth forest as well as a welcome degree of solitude as you ascend Oneonta Creek and descend Franklin Ridge. Trail conditions in the Gorge fluctuate wildly during winter and spring, but on occasion this hike can be done early in the year. On the other hand, frequent slides during the rainy season can sometimes close sections of trail.

The loop begins at one of the most scenic (and crowded) trailheads anywhere, where Horsetail Falls plunges over a basalt cliff. A stone-walled viewing area, constructed in the 1980s from the demolished Rocky Butte Jail, adds to the ambience. The Horsetail Falls Trail #438 begins climbing some easily graded switchbacks with beautiful rock walls. You'll pass your first trail junction here, where the Gorge Trail #400 heads east. After five switchbacks, the trail levels out and heads west high above the bottomlands below. Soon, the trail suddenly turns into the small ravine containing Ponytail Falls. (A rooty user trail here leads steeply up to the Rock of Ages Arch.) The trail passes behind Ponytail Falls in a cavernous overhang at a soft layer between Columbia River Basalt flows.

The trail continues west, maintaining a level path along the bluff. Rockfall here supports moss, ferns, and a few large maples. A side trail leads to Oneonta Bluff's clifftop viewpoints over the Oneonta Bottomlands below and then east to Beacon Rock and Hamilton Mountain. Directly across the Columbia River is the large forested bowl formed by Indian Mary, Duncan, and Woodward creeks, with Archer Mountain just to the west. Take care and don't step too close to the edge: a plaque memorializes a teen that fell to his death near here.

The main trail continues into Oneonta Gorge, where the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire scorched hillsides in a raging conflagration. Look up the narrow valley and, especially in winter, you'll get some good views of parts of all three lower falls on Oneonta Creek: Oneonta Falls, Middle Oneonta Falls, and the spout of Upper Oneonta Falls in the distance. Just past a weeping wall, the trail begins to switchback down, and you'll see into the narrow slot of Oneonta Gorge. A few nails in a tree at the viewpoint are all that remain of the incinerated sign. The trail crosses Oneonta Creek on a metal bridge. Just above the bridge is Middle Oneonta Falls, a 15-foot drop. Just below the bridge, the creek disappears over the brink of Oneonta Falls into the Oneonta Gorge. The bared slopes above Middle Oneonta Falls bloom with yellow monkey flower in late spring. Beyond the bridge, the trail switchbacks twice up to a junction with the Oneonta Trail #424.

Turn left on the Oneonta Trail to pass a wilderness permit box and a sign indicating entry to the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. A substantial seasonal waterfall appears across Oneonta Creek. You'll cross another slide gully, which may necessitate some care if it has been recently active. The trail climbs to a pair of switchbacks as it traverses high above the amphitheater of Upper Oneonta Falls, erroneously marked on topographical maps as Oneonta Falls. You can see the very top of these falls from the trail. Above the falls and across the creek, a steeply plunging stream disgorges into its own debris fan. You'll switchback up twice under a dripping rock face and traverse a steep slope high above Oneonta Creek. Across the creek, you can see the crest of Horsetail Ridge, totally scorched during the 2017 fire.

A short side trail breaks left and descends to a clifftop view of Triple Falls. Keep your kids and dogs in hand as you gaze across to the three plumes of the waterfall, with the hiker bridge crossing Oneonta Creek just above it.

You can angle left coming up from the viewpoint to rejoin the main trail. The Oneonta Trail will take you down almost to creek level and the new bridge, installed in 2021, across the creek. Follow the east bank of Oneonta Creek, which tumbles and braids around large, mossy boulders. There is much blowdown from the 2017 fire, both in the understory and in the creek itself. After you switchback up twice, you'll find yourself under a conifer canopy again in an area affected by ground fire. Two more switchbacks take you past a couple of seasonal waterfalls. Everything becomes lush, shady, and carpeted with bright green moss. The trail crosses a couple of small creeks, one with a waterfall upstream. A single log (but railed) footbridge takes you back over to the west bank of Oneonta Creek. A couple of short switchbacks lead you into a large boulder field and the junction with the Horsetail Creek Trail #425. Below, you can see a mossy campsite, and the Horsetail Creek Trail heads above this to a ford of Oneonta Creek.

From the junction, the Oneonta Trail switchbacks and then makes a long traverse across a slope of lightly burned forest with an open understory supporting Oregon grape and sword fern. Another switchback leads to the next traverse before you ascend in four shorter switchbacks. You'll also begin to get views of the mostly unburned canopy across Oneonta Creek and the deep incision of Bell Creek up the valley. The parapets of a rock formation loom above, and bear-grass appears alongside the trail. You'll cross and recross scree slopes in two more switchbacks reentering a zone of crown fire and crossing over the crest of Franklin Ridge to reach the Oneonta-Franklin Ridge Trail Junction.

Keep right here, and make a gently descending traverse in an open understory of salal and Oregon grape to a ridge crest. There are some venerable hemlocks and Douglas-firs here that survived the fire. As you begin dropping down the ridge, which narrows very quickly, you'll notice that most of the trees here experienced crown fire. Listen for woodpeckers prospecting for grubs in the burn snags. Wind down and switchback past some low rock outcroppings offering views across the Oneonta valley. Soon the dense post-fire shrubbery, including bracken, Scouler's willow, wild cherry, elderberry, thimbleberry, trailing blackberry, blackcap raspberry, and snowberry, encroaches upon the tread. You’ll pass above some very steep talus slopes in the Oneonta Creek drainage, and a rocky perch on the right offers a view of Table Mountain and Mount Adams. You can see across Yeon Mountain to Nesmith Point, with Palmer Peak in the forbidden Bullrun Watershed Unit to the right. 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 a sharp bend left in the trail at the former junction with a connector trail to the Trails Club's Nesika Lodge. The latter path headed down past a former helispot but has now been abandoned.

From the bend, you'll wind down and then make a gradually descending traverse through bracken and thimbleberry 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 unsigned Larch Mountain-Franklin Ridge Trail Junction. Go right here to head down Multnomah Creek on the Larch Mountain Trail.

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. Big John Creek flows into Multnomah Creek from the west, and a high water trail leads up to your right. (In the spring, the next section of the Larch Mountain Trail floods, so hikers may need to take this alternate route.) The main trail runs right alongside the creek under an overhang of platy andesite, an outflow from the Larch Mountain shield volcano. You'll pass the lower junction with the high water trail, and then hike up to cross a wide creek: it's hard to keep your feet dry here in the wet season. Soon, you'll cross the a bridge over Multnomah Creek, this newest version made of steel and installed post-Eagle Creek Fire in 2018. At the junction with the Wahkeena Trail, stay on the Larch Mountain Trail.

Now you'll begin seeing a lot more people again. Soon, you'll pass the lip of plunging Ecola Falls. Then the trail switchbacks down four times on a constantly eroding slope to arrive at a view of Wiesendanger Falls in its photogenic amphitheater. Continuing on, you'll pass under an overhang known as Dutchman Tunnel, where a plaque honoring Albert Wiesendanger, a Forest Service ranger, can be found. The trail then passes above Lower, Middle and Upper Dutchman Falls, each 10 to 15 feet in height. Enter a defile, and cross a rock-faced culvert over Multnomah Creek to come to a short asphalt spur that leads to a viewing platform at the top of Multnomah Falls.

From the spur, the now paved trail passes a crest to begin a switchbacking descent. Post fire, the trail seems more precipitous and the drop-offs more lethal as much of the buffering understory was incinerated during the blaze. (Be careful about dislodging rocks on oblivious hikers below.) Columbia River views open up, and a lower switchback gives a good view to Multnomah Falls. Many large trees in this area were logged post-Eagle Creek Fire. At the Larch Mountain-Gorge Trail Junction, turn right to follow a less traveled segment of the Gorge Trail, albeit enhanced by the rumble of freeway traffic.

This section was formerly known as the Ak-Wanee Trail. Hike through thimbleberry, cow parsnip, maidenhair fern, and the ubiquitous and invasive herb-Robert. There are some big Douglas-firs here, and you may notice an osprey nest perched atop a trailside snag. At a scree slope, known as the Elevator Shaft, views open up to the Cruzatt Rim and Archer Mountain across the Columbia River. You’ll see a rusting fence above that continues to the next band of steep scree, where you can look carefully for a tread that switchbacks up to the Multnomah Basin and, eventually, Nesika Lodge. Continuing on, you’ll cross a decades-old slide that needs constant trail repair and then gradually descend a rocky tread through encroaching thimbleberry bushes. Maples burned by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire are coming back from their lignotubers and herb-Robert carpets the scree on an open sunny slope that offers views across the river.

You’ll descend to the Historic Columbia River Highway at a pullout and then walk 60 yards, crossing a tumbling creek, to where the trail resumes. Head steeply up, getting views across the river to Archer Mountain. Below basalt cliffs, you’ll cross a slide below Waespe Falls (best admired in winter) and then reach the Oneonta-Gorge Trail Junction. Above the trail junction here, you'll see an old stone wall, and in the winter there's a seasonal waterfall off trail, just above the treeline. Bear left at the junction to take the Oneonta Trail down to the Historic Highway, getting views of Archer Mountain across the river.

Turn right, and hike half a mile back to your car. You'll walk below basalt cliffs and across the old highway bridge over Oneonta Creek to get a rather limited view up the Oneonta Gorge to the famous "logjam". A couple of interpretive signs tell about the restored Oneonta Tunnel and endemic plants. The 125-foot tunnel through Oneonta Bluff was gutted during the Eagle Creek Fire and was restored in 2020, the previous restoration being completed in 2009. Constructed in 1914, the tunnel operated until 1948 and was then filled with rubble as a newer version of the highway bypassed it. Beyond the tunnel is the small parking area/pullout at the Oneonta Gorge Trailhead.

Take care beyond the tunnel parking lot as the road is quite narrow. A foot trail right next to the highway serves you at first, but check carefully before you cross the bridge over Horsetail Creek to reach Horsetail Falls.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Dogs on leash in waterfall areas
  • Self-issued wilderness permit at entry to Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness


  • 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

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • 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
  • Waterfall Lover's Guide: Pacific Northwest by Gregory A. Plumb
  • Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest by David L. Anderson

More Links


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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