A waterfall as magnificent and memorable as any in the country is located just a 30- minute drive outside of Portland. Visiting Multnomah Falls, a 611-foot-tall roaring, awe-inspiring cascade of icy water, lets you experience the power and beauty of nature up close and with ease. From the parking area off of I-84, a 5-minute walk is all that separates you from the exhilarating spray at the base of the falls.
According to Native American lore, Multnomah Falls was created to win the heart of a young princess who wanted a hidden place to bathe. Although you can see the top portion of the falls from the highway, to view both tiers you have to walk to the viewing area located in a carved-out opening in the rock face. Tilting your head up in the narrow rocky confines of the steep cliffs, you get a mind-boggling perspective on the sheer magnitude of the falls.
For an even closer view, walk another several hundred feet up the paved trail to reach Benson Bridge, which spans the falls at the first tier's misty base. Standing on the bridge you have a perfect view of the top tier's full 542-foot height and a knee-wobbling vantage point over the second tier's 69-foot drop! The bridge is named for Simon Benson, a prominent Portland businessman who owned the falls in the early part of the 1900s. Before his death, Benson gave Multnomah Falls to the City of Portland, which later transferred ownership to the USDA Forest Service.
To make the outing complete, visit the Multnomah Falls Lodge which was built in 1925 to serve throngs of tourists who came to view the spectacular sights of the Columbia Gorge. Today, the historic structure (made of every type of rock found in the gorge) houses a gift shop with plenty of postcards, a restaurant with Northwest Cuisine and unbeatable views of the falls, and a US Forest Service Information Center where you can find trail maps. During the summer months vendors offer ice cream, coffee, sodas and other quick snacks from booths and carts in front of the lodge.
Unlike many of the West's famous falls, Multnomah Falls does not dry up in the late summer. Rainwater, an underground spring and snow melt feed the falls through all four seasons and ensure a spectacular sight any day of the year.
- Pets are allowed at Multnomah Falls, but must be controlled and on a leash at all times.
- Multnomah Falls does NOT require a Northwest Forest Pass.
- Spray and mist cause a cooler micro-climate within the falls viewing area so be sure to bring a sweater in summer or coat in winter for added warmth.
If You Still Have Time
Nestled at the base of the falls, Multnomah Falls Lodge offers visitors a restaurant, gift shop and hiking information all in one historic building.From Benson Bridge, hike another mile up a very steep path to reach the top of the falls. Here you will be rewarded, weather permitting, with spectacular views of the Columbia Gorge. The trail may be closed due to hazardous conditions so make sure to check with the rangers before embarking. (Steep drop-offs and uneven or slick walking surfaces make this trail dangerous for children.)
Follow signs just outside the lodge to hike a half of a mile to nearby Wahkeena Falls. The name Wahkeena means "most beautiful" in the Yakima language. Not as tall, at a little over 240 feet, and not as well-known, Wahkeena Falls still has much to offer in the way of beauty. The steep one-mile trail leading from the base of the falls to the top is loved by locals for its views, wildflowers, and comparative lack of visitors.
Getting to Multnomah Falls: You've got choices
Most Direct, 30 minutes:
From Portland take I-84 eastbound for approximately 30 miles. Follow signs and take exit 31 (an unusual left-side exit ramp) off I-84 to a parking area. Follow the path under the highway to reach the falls viewing area.
Scenic, 45 minutes:
From Portland take I-84 to exit 28 (Bridal Veil exit) and drive three miles east on the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway. You will pass other falls on your way.
Ultra - Scenic, 1 hour or more depending on stops:
Take I-84 eastbound to the Troutdale exit. Follow signs for the Scenic Loop drive. Follow the drive along the old Columbia River Highway, the first in our nation to be named a National Historic Landmark. On this route you can encounter breathtaking views of the Columbia Gorge, Mount Hood and several other famous waterfalls on your way to the Multnomah Falls parking area.
By Laura Schulte