The Columbia River Gorge waterfalls are among some of the most impressive on the planet, and this special area between Oregon and Washington has the greatest concentration of high waterfalls in North America. Many are located right off a historic highway, including Horsetail Falls and Ponytail Falls.
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Found just down the road from Multnomah Falls which is one of the best waterfalls near Portland, the aptly-named Horsetail Falls plunges 176 feet out of a steep front of columnar basalt just steps from the roadway. This makes it one of the most accessible Columbia Gorge waterfalls since you can see it without even getting out of the car, and it’s a quick walk up to another set called Ponytail Falls.
How to get to the Horsetail Falls hike
The so-called ‘waterfall corridor’ is a great day trip from Portland, since it’s only a one hour drive from the city heading east down I-84. From Hood River, it takes about 20 minutes to get to the Horsetail Falls parking lot.
Parking is free, and there’s also a picnic area to the left with great views of Horsetail Falls.
The Horsetail Falls Trail
While some are content to marvel at Horsetail Falls and dip their toes into the cool plunge pool below, it’s well worth heading up the Horsetail Falls Trail to see the second set of falls.
The well-marked trail follows a series of switchbacks dotted with moss, fern and wildflowers. While the dirt pathway is slightly steep, it’s only 0.4 miles to Ponytail Falls and is mostly-shaded. There are also great views of the Columbia River, Beacon Rock and Hamilton Mountain.
About 10 minutes in, you’ll round a bend to find a half walled, low-ceilinged rock chamber, and Ponytail Falls gushing over it. Also known as Upper Horsetail Falls, it’s a surreal scene and those who are brave enough can stand underneath for an exhilarating experience.
The pathway actually continues behind the falls, and if you follow it you’ll be on the Horsetail Falls Loop Hike which is one of the best waterfall hikes near Portland. The 2.6 mile trail continues to the Oneonta Gorge, which was badly scorched during the devastating Eagle Creek fire in 2017.
While much of the area reopened in 2020, the gorge remains sealed off due to damage from landslides. This loop hike is one of the only ways to see it, since hikers can peer down at the waterfall from above before heading out through the restored Oneonta Tunnel and heading back down to the historic highway.
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