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Multnomah Falls


Hiked:   Numerous Times
Length:   2.2 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain:   700 feet
USGS Quad:   Multnomah Falls
GPS Coordinates:    N: 45 34' 34"
 W: 122 06' 51"
Photo Gallery:   Multnomah Falls Photos

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To Reach (From Portland):

Take I-84 eastbound to exit 31 (Multnomah Falls).  You'll be emptied into a massive parking lot in the middle of the freeway, where you will have to wait in line to park during peak times.  Walk under the freeway overpass, and you'll find yourself at Multnomah Falls Lodge.  As an alternative, you can take Columbia River Highway to another parking lot just south of the freeway.  

The Trail:

As you enter the parking lot, the 542-foot waterfall, the highest in Oregon, looms above you.  At it's foot, you can dine in the Multnomah Falls Lodge, or pick up ice cream, espresso, or a sno-cone from the snack bar and a few items from the gift shop after you've snapped off  a few photos.  The Lodge, built in 1925, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and holds every type of stone found in the Columbia River Gorge.

The trail up is paved, and most tourists venture up only to Benson Bridge, erected in 1914, between the two cascades of the falls.  The trip up to the bridge is about a half-mile, and very achievable for most people.  You'll still get to feel the mist in your face, and gaze down at the crowds below. 

If you decide to venture past the bridge, the paved trail switchbacks up another 0.6 miles or so to a viewpoint above the falls.  There is a fenced overlook, where you can't quite look down the falls, but you can see it go over the edge, and look down on the ant-sized people at the lodge.

The trail has taken a beating over the years, with forest fires, rock slides, and floods washing out the trail.  In 1998, the Forest Service declared the trail to the top of the falls closed for good due to unstable conditions.  After over a year of closure, they changed their mind and rebuilt the trail, which used to be dirt, and paved it and spent quite a bit of money in bank stabilization.  They must have recognized the financial impact on Oregon's biggest tourist attraction.

Our Take:

If you are a tourist, and just passing through, or simply would like  a quick photo of the falls, this is the place to do it.  The parking area is packed most of the time, and the lodge area swarms with tourists in the summer months.  The hike up to the top of the falls seems odd, since it's all paved and covered with people, but it does require a bit of exertion.  Climbing 700 feet in about a mile isn't all that easy. 

The falls is stunning, especially in those rare winter moments when it freezes over, making colossal icicles.  This must be the most-photographed waterfall in the country, except perhaps Niagara Falls in New York.  The trail is unique in the Columbia River Gorge, as it is the only trail where you can cool off with a Sno-Cone and an Iced Latte after your hike. 

The trail to the top is less climactic than it used to be before the flood year, as you can't really see the falls from the top.  However, it is still fun to see the people in the parking lot milling around from high above. 

For a quieter, more scenic route, try starting from Wahkeena Falls and walking about 5 miles round-trip, climaxing at Multnomah Falls.  You'll have an easier time parking, and you'll get to see about five additional waterfalls.

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