You may wonder why I am doing all of these super popular, hella busy hikes. Why not find anything more remote? Off the beaten path? As it happens, I have tons of free time at the moment and when you are able to hit the most popular trails in the region at times when most everyone else are grabbing their first cup of Joe and logging in… well – you take advantage.
In the five years that I have lived in the PNW, I have not stopped or hiked Multnomah Falls – perhaps one of the most visited waterfalls in the area. I remember passing it at the end of my cross-country move out to Portland and thinking, “wow, this place is simply gorgeous”. But I didn’t stop. The sheer number of cars in the parking lot has kept me at bay ever since. The longest falls in Oregon, Multnomah Falls is a popular stop on Highway 84. It was intentionally designed to be a convenient stop to passer-bys so they could appreciate the sheer wonder of the falls. Luckily for me, I’ve come into some free time, so I decided that once and for all, I would check these falls out and do the very popular loop hike that includes Wahkeena Falls.
Distance: 5.2 miles
Elevation: 1,600 feet
Pass Required: Free parking at Multnomah Falls
Bathrooms: Yes, located at Multnomah Falls
Multiple Routes: Yes
Word of Warning: Be careful of stinging nettle and large crowds year round towards Multnomah Falls
I started this hike at the Multnomah Falls Lodge, avoiding the lure of the falls ahead and instead heading west (or right of the lodge) thru the parking lot. Trail #442 picks up on the left hand side of the road and runs parallel to the Historic Columbia Highway for 0.42 miles. You’ll come to the base of Wahkeena Falls, but there’s a lot more in store, so keep walking!
From here, you continue along the Wahkeena Trail #420 as it winds itself upwards along a paved path. You’ll soon come a bridge crossing the falls (photo op) and then start a switchback climb up to the top of the bluff (0.8 miles). Here the pavement ends and the trail cuts right into the forest. Before heading along, take a hot second and head to the left for a beautiful vista of the Columbia River Gorge.
The next 0.3 miles is a real treat as you wind your way along the Wahkeena falls into the canyon. This was perhaps one of my favorite stretches of this hike – the grandness and beauty of this stretch is worth the hilly climb. Take your time. Pause. Sit and listen to the sounds of the river. The hike up to Fairy Falls includes a healthy number of switchbacks, short in length so it is actually quite entertaining.
From here you have one of two options: take the Vista Point Trail along the ridge or continue along the Wahkeena Trail – both end up at the same point and vary in distance (0.52 miles on Vista or 0.64 miles on Wahkeena). I opted for the Vista Point trail as I thought it might yield some viewpoints of the Gorge, but alas, it didn’t. The trail winds in towards the forest just enough to hinder sweeping views and the understory of vegetation make any attempts fruitless. The path is well maintained and gently winds its way to the intersection with the Wahkeena Trail. Considering it was a bit of a boring stretch, I may recommend sticking to the Wahkeena Trail.
The two trails meet at an intersection of three trails: Vista Point, Wahkeena and #420C Devils Rest Trail. Continue along the Wahkeena Trail, sticking to the left of any trail intersections. In about 0.7 miles, the trail starts to wind down towards Multnomah Creek. Eventually the Wahkeena Trail intersect with the Larch Mountain #441 Trail. Hang a left to make your way down towards Multnomah Falls. The Larch Mountain Trail does lead up to the peak of Larch Mountain – but that’s a hefty hike another 5+ miles along Multnomah Creek to the peak.
You’ll descend to Wiesendanger Falls (german translation: Reported Danger Falls). It’s gorgeous and on a hot summer day, you’ll be tempted to get a little wet for a better vantage point. Be careful though – the rocks and overturned trees are slippery and I saw a girl fall 6 ft into a foot of water for the sake of a photo.
The trial follows along Multnomah Creek. In 0.5 miles, you’ll come to the trail that will take you to the top of the Falls, a neat vantage point. This is typically where it starts to get a bit busier with folks who climbed up from Multnomah Falls. The last bit of the hike is all downhill, about a mile from the Lodge. To me, this is a great way to come down along the falls, taking in all of it’s grandeur.
I highly recommend this hike during weekdays, early and not during school vacation months 🙂