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Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge is famous for its spectacular waterfalls, and Multnomah Falls is the crown jewel. At 620 feet it’s the highest of the Gorge waterfalls, and the surreal sight of the water bursting out of the rocky crevasse makes this a popular day trip from Portland.
Fed by underground springs from Larch Mountain, this is one of the area’s best places to study geology exposed by floods, and if you look closely, you can see Yakima basalt flows in the falls’ mossy cliff face. Towering Multnomah can be seen right from the I-84 Highway which winds through the scenic Columbia Gorge, and those who visit are treated to astounding views of the falls, river and surrounding gorge from the walking paths.
Directions to Multnomah Falls
It takes about an hour to drive from Portland to Multnomah Falls heading east on I-84, and about 30 minutes from Hood River going west. The Multnomah Falls parking lot is a bit tricky because it’s actually in the middle of the highway, so be sure to stay in the left lane as you approach the turnoff.
No matter which direction you’re coming from the scenery is spectacular, and there are a number of other waterfalls to stop at along the way including a handful on the Historic Columbia River Highway which runs parallel to I-84.
Here’s a map of Multnomah Falls:
There’s also a Multnomah Falls shuttle service called the Columbia Gorge Express, which connects Portland, Cascade Locks, Hood River and The Dalles. From May to September, there’s also a free Columbia Gorge Express shuttle between the falls and Rooster Rock State Park which is a good option for overflow parking.
Multnomah Falls tours
Don’t have your own wheels? No problem; there are a number of companies that offer guided tours and even scenic flights of Multnomah Falls, and often combine them with wine tasting in Hood River or hikes to other waterfalls:
Best time to visit Multnomah Falls
The consistently temperate (albeit rainy) weather in the Columbia River Gorge means you can easily visit year round. Multnomah Falls looks its best in spring when the snow starts to melt and creates a big runoff that makes the falls even more powerful, and colourful wildflowers line the trails.
Of course it’s still beautiful in summer and spring and the weather is typically better, though there will be more crowds and the parking lot often fills up–after all, the site typically sees two million visitors each year, making it the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest.
Multnomah Falls in winter is spectacular, and if you time your visit for right after a big snowfall you’ll get to see white snow blanketing the rugged cliff sides and ice crystals forming on either side. Be sure to pack snow gear like footwear with good grips and hiking poles if you have them, since the snow drifts can pile up waist-high.
Keep in mind most of the Multnomah Falls hikes are closed at this time, so you’ll either have to stick to the main viewing platform at the base or scramble up to Benson Bridge.
Multnomah Falls Lodge
The lodge that welcomes visitors at the base of the falls dates back to 1925, and was designated as America’s first National Historic Landmark. Inside you’ll find a restaurant, snack bar, gift shop, washrooms and an information centre with trail maps for the falls and surrounding Gorge.
Northwest Forest Passes which are required for some area parks are also available for purchase at the Multnomah Falls visitor centre.
Multnomah Falls hours: Visitors are welcome from 9 am-6 pm daily, and there is no entrance fee.
Multnomah Falls trails
From the parking lot, visitors pass along Multnomah Creek and under the Historic Columbia River Highway to get to the entrance, where a short paved pathway leads to a lookout point which is the best vantage point for seeing the whole falls, iconic Benson Bridge and the pooling water below.
The Multnomah Falls trailhead is just off to the right, which leads to:
- Multnomah Falls Bridge: 0.2 miles
- Wahkeena Trail 1.8 miles
- Larch Mountain: 6.8 miles
The trail up to Benson Bridge is short but steep, and from there you can continue to the top of the cliff to a small viewing area that looks down on the falls (a total distance of 2.4 miles return). The most demanding Multnomah Falls hike is the nearly seven mile climb up to Larch Mountain, which winds through an old growth forest and passes tranquil cascades and Ecola Falls.
The reward at the top is panoramic views of peaks including Mount Adams, Mt Hood, Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens and Mount Jefferson.
Hotels near Multnomah Falls
There isn’t any Multnomah Falls lodging directly on site, so the closest towns to the falls are Cascade Locks and Hood River in Oregon, or Stevenson, WA.
- Skamania Lodge: This beautiful lodge is across the river near Stevenson and has plenty of fun things to do on site including a pool, hot tub, golf and a zip line course. Some rooms have great views of the surrounding Columbia River Gorge, and there are also treehouses which are perfect for some family fun or a romantic couples getaway. Click here to book
- Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn: Cascade Locks has easy access to the famed Bridge of the Gods and fantastic hiking trails, and the Best Western is in the heart of the action with a great location in the centre of it all. Amenities include a pool, hot tub, restaurant and adjoining beach with kayak rentals for paddling in the Columbia. Click here to book
- Columbia Gorge Hotel: This pretty property on the west end of Hood River has jaw-dropping views of the Columbia River, and plenty of outdoor spaces, gardens and overlooks to take it all in. There’s a restaurant and spa on-site, and guestrooms have an old world charm. Click here to book
You can also go camping near Multnomah Falls by booking a site in Wyeth, Ainsworth State Park, Benson State Recreation Area or the Eagle Creek Overlook Group Campground. All of them are a quick drive to Multnomah Falls, as well as nearby Columbia Gorge waterfalls like Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Wahkeena Falls.
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