Where it rains, it pours — waterfalls, that is. A great side effect of the Portland area’s wet winter weather is a steady stream of cascades running throughout the region. Get your fill of falls at these natural wonders.
Columbia River Gorge
Fed by glaciers and swollen by snowmelt and prodigious winter rains, the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area — an 80-mile-long (129 km) swath carved out by ancient floodwaters — plunge from sheer cliffs, hidden slot canyons and rock grottos rimmed by massive trees and moss in a thousand shades of emerald and jade. In all, 90 major cascades flow here, alongside countless other smaller falls. Luckily for visitors, many of these misty gems are accessible year-round, either by short hikes or from roadside pullouts on the Historic Columbia River Highway, which parallels Interstate 84.
Usually the first falls that visitors encounter in the Columbia River Gorge, Latourell Falls is just east of the must-see views of Crown Point, and along a 2.1-mile (3.4 km) loop where hikers can watch it drop straight down, 224 feet (68 m). It’s just a short walk to the lower falls, but a tougher uphill hike brings more daring explorers closer to the upper falls. Flowing strongest in winter and spring, Latourell gets a bit of sun in the summer, making for photos that are just as stunning.
Take Exit 22 from I-84 to the Historic Columbia River Highway, stopping first at the Vista House at Crown Point, then proceeding 2.4 miles (3.9 km) to Latourell Falls.
The two-tier cascade of Shepperd’s Dell has a 42-foot (13 m) upper plunge and 50-foot (15 m) lower drop that feed into the Columbia River below. Located just a mile past Latourell Falls, it’s easy to see from the highway and requires little to no hiking to enjoy. And if you refuse the short trek to falls, you’ll miss out on views of this spot’s best feature: the equally beautiful Historic Columbia River Highway bridge that carries cars past the landmark.
Proceed 1.3 miles (2 km) east on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Also accessible via Exit 28 from I-84.
Bridal Veil Falls
Located 27 miles (43 km) east of Portland just off Interstate 84, the misty, white Bridal Veil Falls consists of a pair of quick cascades that are well worth the short but steep half-mile hike to the viewing platform. An upper trail also leads to cliffs that reveal great views of the Columbia River Gorge.
Proceed another mile (1.6 km) east on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Also accessible via Exit 28 from I-84.
With a historic lodge at the bottom and steep trails that bring hardcore hikers to the top, Multnomah Falls is a favorite of locals and visitors alike, and it provides great photo opportunities year-round. Located 30 miles (48 km) east of Portland on the Historic Columbia River Highway, the two-drop cascade is fed by rainfall and underground springs and plunges a total of 620 feet (189 m), making it Oregon’s tallest waterfall, as well as the state’s most-visited attraction. Read more >>
Proceed 3.7 miles (6 km) east on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Also accessible via Exit 28 from I-84.
Lower Oneonta Falls
Just east of Multnomah Falls, Lower Oneonta Falls appeals to the adventurous: To find the 100-foot (30 m) falls, hikers must pick their way over a log jam and wade hip-deep through an icy stream in a funnel of the slender canyon walls of the Oneonta Gorge.
Proceed 2.2 miles (3.5 km) on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Also accessible via Exit 28 from I-84.
Immediately to the east, Horsetail Falls takes the distinct form of a tail as it drops 176 feet (54 m). A 2.5-mile (4 km) loop created by trails #400, #424 and #438 leads up to — and behind — Upper Horsetail (or Ponytail) Falls and takes you over Oneonta Falls before returning to the trailhead.
Proceed .4 miles (.6 km) east on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Also accessible via Exit 28 or 35 from I-84.
Families in search of falls can do no better than a trip to multitiered Wahclella Falls. Tucked into a towering box canyon, the easy one-mile (1.6 km) trail along Tanner Creek is speckled with wildflowers and small swimming holes. At the falls, iridescent lichen-cloaked boulders line the basin, and a small beach invites tykes to splash their feet.
Take Exit 40 from I-84.
Eagle Creek & Lower Punchbowl Falls
Further east on I-84, the immensely popular Eagle Creek Trail holds a trove of splendor, including springtime wildflowers, high canyon walls, huge trees and seven dramatic waterfalls. Longer hikes are required to see all the chutes, as is some fortitude: The cliff-lined path is narrow, so acrophobes should sit this one out. For a quick sample of the trail’s bounty, hike two miles (3.2 km) to sublime Lower Punchbowl Falls, which plunges 15 feet (4.6 m) into a green pool lined with sunstruck river rocks.
Take Exit 41 from I-84.
Tucked away in Mount Hood National Forest, Ramona Falls drapes like a 120-foot (37 m), near-sheer curtain over the basalt rock face beneath, a gorgeous midpoint for a seven-mile (11 km) round-trip hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Keep in mind, wilderness restrictions apply in this area, and to reach it, permits are required from mid-May to mid-October. The waterfall is located 57 miles (92 km) from Portland, attracting campers and day-trippers alike.
A 60-mile (97 km) drive south of Portland in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, Silver Falls State Park is a popular spot for hikers because of its Trail of Ten Falls. An 8.7-mile (14 km) loop, the trail is only moderately difficult, and though it can get crowded (especially in the spring when flows are heaviest) it provides 12 months of waterfall watching. With plenty of campgrounds, picnic spots, and a historic lodge that’s open 365 days per year, the park has four waterfalls that you can walk behind, so be sure to dress for warmth and wet.