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Multnomah Falls in Oregon is one of the most-visited waterfalls in the United States. Standing 620 feet / 190 metres tall, surrounded by the most lush green landscape as far as the eye can see, and only 30 minutes from Portland, it’s no wonder why.
The first time I visited Multnomah Falls, I was in high school. I had such low expectations for Oregon, to be completely honest. But I wound up absolutely falling in love with the laid back atmosphere and how incredibly green it was everywhere. The lumberjack-meets-hipster city of Portland is still one of my all time favourite places I’ve ever been, so much so that when I had friends get married in Tahoe, I made a point to do a whole road trip through the Pacific Northwest, just so I could go back through Oregon!
If you’re planning to visit Portland, visiting Multnomah Falls is a no brainer. You can spend a quick hour or two and make a quick trip with incredible scenery at the tallest waterfall in Oregon, or you can make a day of it. Multnomah Falls is appropriate for all levels of skill, too. Take the day — or just part of the day — to see the misty wonder that more than 2 million people visit each year.
Bonus! Dogs are allowed on the trail at Multnomah Falls, so if you like to travel with your dog, bring your little furry friend along! Just be careful if you go all the way to the top of the falls as the trail gets fairly narrow.
Easy Post Navigation
- 1 When to Visit Multnomah Falls
- 2 How to Get to Multnomah Falls
- 3 Hiking the Lower Falls
- 4 Hiking the Upper Falls
- 5 Continuing Your Columbia River Gorge Hike
- 6 Other Things to See at the Columbia River Gorge
When to Visit Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls is pretty great regardless of the time of year, but personally I think Spring is best.
The falls are fueled by rainfall, underground springs, and snowmelt. This means that when the snow melts at the end of winter, it feeds excess water into the falls, so they are fullest in the early Spring. Plus it’s not too hot, and the crazy summer crowds won’t have started.
Autumn is also a great time to visit, again because of the temperate climate and summer crowds having dwindled down. Autumn in Oregon in general is pretty spectacular, though. Visiting Multnomah Falls at this time year will likely come with beautiful displays of fall colour.
A trip to Multnomah Falls in Winter can also be an amazing experience. The snow lines the frosty forest green landscape and parts of the water starts to freeze over. It almost makes the falls look perfectly black and white, and it certainly will make for stunning photos. Just make sure to check road conditions, and be safe in slick conditions.
The only time I’d say not go to go Multnomah Falls is in the Summer. It’s just too crowded. And if you want to do the full hike, the heat makes it a lot less pleasant. Whereas in the Spring and Autumn — and certainly in the Winter — it might only get crowded on days with amazing weather or weekends, the Summer is packed. All. The. Time. If you’re visiting Oregon in the summer, though, don’t skip it based on what I’m saying. Just try going super early in the morning or wait until later in the afternoon.
How to Get to Multnomah Falls
Getting to Multnomah Falls by car
If you’d prefer to drive, I’d first highly recommend visiting in the early morning, particularly if it’s summer or on a weekend. The parking lot is relatively small, and it will easily fill to capacity. Once the lot is at 90%, it closes all together.
The parking lot is also relatively confusing if you’re not prepared for it. The lot is located quite literally in the middle of the highway. There are exit ‘ramps’ from the left lane (both eastbound and westbound) from which it can be accessed. If the ramp gates are down, that means the lot is at capacity and closed. If this happens, please don’t slow down and try and figure out what to do next! Traffic is still coming behind you in the fast lane, so it could be rather dangerous to hesitate or drastically reduce your speed. Of the times I’ve been to Multnomah Falls, the lot has been full around 50% of the time.
If you are able to park your car in the lot, there will be an entrance to a tunnel on the south side. The tunnel entrance is easily spotted, and it will take you underneath the highway. Once across, you’ll walk past the Multnomah Falls Lodge (where you can later buy souvenirs, snacks, etc), and the start of the hike will be just past that.
In the event the lot is full, you’ll have to keep going on I-84. If you’re headed eastbound, turn around at the next exit (35 / Ainsworth) to head west. From the west, drive 6 miles past the falls, and take exit 25 (Rooster Rock). There will be a lot at Rooster Rock in which you can park for $5 per car and a free bus will drop you off at the falls entrance. (Or you can save yourself the hassle and do this to the get go!)
Getting to Multnomah Falls by shuttle
A simple way to get to Multnomah Falls is to ride the Columbia Gorge Express. This makes visiting the falls super easy for tourists staying in Portland without a vehicle. It’s also a good option if you don’t want the headache of parking your car.
To board the Columbia Gorge Express from Portland, you’ll want to head to the Portland Gateway Transit Center. The shuttle is $10 round trip, and it’s recommended to purchase them ahead of time online. If you’re visiting on particularly busy days, like midday during the summer, you may have to wait for a second shuttle to arrive before boarding.
If you’d like to visit more of the Columbia River Gorge than just Multnomah Falls, the shuttle has several other drop-off points (Cascade Locks, Hood River, and The Dalles). The roundtrip fare to ride to any of these points would be $20 instead of $10.
Hiking the Lower Falls
The first part of the Multnomah Falls is relatively easy. When I went the first time as a teenager, I was there with someone who had issues with mobility and walking long distances, and she managed just fine. Note: I am not qualified to say who will and won’t be able to complete this hike, so use caution if you have any physical concerns!
The lower falls hike is only 0.2 miles and leads you to Benson Bridge. If you are a beginning hiker, this trail should be easily manageable. The area at the bridge is the most crowded, but having a little patience to be able to look directly out over the falls is absolutely worth it.
Do yourself a favour and keep walking past the bridge for another 0.2 miles, and there will be another lookout point. To find it, look for the narrow staircase between the stone walls. It will be less crowded, and the view is spectacular!
Hiking the Upper Falls
Should you want to keep going to the top of the falls, things get a little more difficult from here. The hike to the top of the falls is another 1.2 miles with an elevation of almost 600 feet, and is considered to be moderately difficult. And note that I’m calling it a ‘hike,’ but I recall most if not all of it is paved, so it’s really more of a challenging walk.
The first time I hiked to the top of Multnomah Falls, I was definitely very mobile, but by no means in excellent shape. I had never hiked before and only had tennis shoes on, but I still managed with no problems. There were a few passes that were pretty steep and the trail is quite narrow which makes it hard to rest when it’s even minimally crowded, but if you get winded, there are frequently points at which you could ‘pull over’ and take a break.
Once you get to the top, there is a small lookout area where you have a nice view of the whole Columbia River. To be completely honest, the view of Multnomah Falls from the Benson Bridge is far better (in my opinion), though. It’s still quite an experience to make it all the way to the top, so I highly recommend giving it a go if you’re interested, but if you have other things you’d like to do or are concerned about the walk, don’t worry a bit about not going all the way up.
Continuing Your Columbia River Gorge Hike
There’s another good reason to go to the top of Multnomah Falls, and that is that there is another hike ahead. Once you’re at the top and you’ve taken your photos, turn right to go up Larch Mountain Trail. This will take you 0.7 miles (the path will no longer be paved) along the Multnomah Creek. If you’ve gotten all the way to the top, you may as well go another 0.7 miles, right?
From there, turn right to follow the Wahkeena Trail. You will go past Fairy Falls and down to another waterfall — Wahkeena Falls, which is a 242 feet drop. Once past that, you will eventually come to a parking area. Look for the ‘Return Trail,’ and take that back to the start of your Multnomah Falls journey rather than walk along the highway where the parking area is.
This loop is much longer. The Multnomah Falls hike is a total of 1.4 miles whereas the Multnomah – Wahkeena Loop is 5.4 miles, and is considered to be more challenging, although still a moderate hike.
If continuing on doesn’t appeal after you get to the top of Multnomah Falls, you can always head back down and grab lunch at the Lodge. There are also other things to explore along the Columbia River Gorge.
Other Things to See at the Columbia River Gorge
Rooster Rock State Park: If you parked you car here, you may as well stay and check it out! There are two disc golfing courses — the west is fun for all skill levels whereas the east course is more challenging. Rooster Rock also has several miles of river access, picnic areas, and is a great spot for fishing. If you’re really feeling cheeky (literally), there is actually a nude beach — well, clothing optional beach. I have not been, but I hear there’s even a spot on said beach for au natural volleyball and badminton!
Cascade Locks: There are lots of outdoorsy activities in Cascade Locks, which happens to be the only incorporated town on the Pacific Crest Trail. There are about a half dozen hiking trails, places to bike, and excellent fishing. You can also take a ride on a sternwheeler or go sailing. The center of the community features artwork from 100 different pacific northwest artists, too.
Have any questions about Multnomah Falls, or have you been and have suggestions? Let me know in the comments!