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Ponytail Falls Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Ponytail Falls (Steve Hart)
Six-spotted sexton beetle (Nicrophorus defodiens) and dead shrew on the Horsetail Trail (bobcat)
Behind Ponytail Falls in winter, Oneonta Natural Area (bobcat)
Stonework at Horsetail Falls (Jeff Statt)
Horsetail Falls at the end of summer (bobcat)
The short route to Ponytail Falls (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Horsetail Falls TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Ponytail Falls
  • Trail Log : Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 0.8 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 320 feet
  • High point: 350 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Year-round except during winter storms
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes
Falling

Contents

Hike Description

NOTICE: This trail was impacted by the Eagle Creek Fire in 2017. The Forest Service has reopened the trail, but warns hikers to enter at their own risk because of hazardous conditions, including loose rocks, falling trees and limbs, debris flows, and damaged or blocked trails. There may be vegetation carpeting the trail tread in places. Less experienced hikers should consider an alternative to this hike while these conditions exist, and all hikers with dogs or small children should consider safer alternatives.

This is the easiest waterfall hike in the gorge. You get a stunning waterfall at the trailhead and a second one less than half a mile up the trail. As of Summer 2019, however, you cannot hike much past Ponytail Falls as the Horsetail and Oneonta Creek drainages are still closed to hikers in the aftermath of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. Both Ponytail Falls and Horsetail Falls are part of the Oneonta Natural Area, designated for its "dramatic chasms" and unique flora.

The trail begins at Horsetail Falls, one of the most scenic trailheads anywhere. Plan on a little time before or after you hike to view and photograph the falls. The Horsetail Falls Trail #438 begins climbing two easily graded switchbacks with beautiful rock walls. Some tall old-growth trees scorched by the Eagle Creek Fire were cut down in the area, so the slope is more open than it used to be. Burned maples are coming back from their lignotubers, and thimbleberry, snowberry, trailing blackberry, and phacelia exhibit rampant growth in the wake of the fire. Soon, you'll pass your first trail junction, where the Gorge Trail #400 heads east.

Keep right at the junction and, after four more switchbacks, the trail levels out to traverse below basalt cliffs. You'll get views to the Oneonta Wetlands across the railroad. After 4/10 of a mile, the trail suddenly turns into the small ravine containing Ponytail Falls. In literally a few steps, you leave the modern freeway noise and enter a different world as you pass an unmaintained user trail that clambers up the roots of a Douglas-fir on your left. The main trail passes behind Ponytail Falls in a cavernous overhang eroded beneath a lava flow. Turning big-leaf maples and vine maples make this a beautiful hike in the autumn, specifically late October through early November. Forty yards beyond Ponytail Falls is the closure gate where you'll have to turn back.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • 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

Fees, Regulations, Facilties, etc.

  • Picnic tables, information kiosk

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Oregon: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider; revised by Jim Yuskavitch
  • Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon by Adam Sawyer
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Trips and Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Columbia Gorge Getaways by Laura O. Foster
  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker
  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook
  • Portland Hikes by Art Bernstein & Andrew Jackman
  • Columbia River Gorge: 42 Scenic Hikes by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 35 Hiking Trails: Columbia River Gorge by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 100 Oregon Hiking Trails by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Short Trips and Trails: the Columbia Gorge by Oral Bullard & Don Lowe
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Waterfall Lover's Guide: Pacific Northwest by Gregory A.Plumb
  • Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest by David L. Anderson
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan

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.