A short drive outside of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge is a stunning area full of beautiful trails and waterfalls, located along the scenic drive of Historic Columbia River Highway. Having so many waterfalls and hiking trails all in a row is a great opportunity for a full day of hiking and exploring while being just half an hour from the center of Portland.
Planning to Visit Columbia River Gorge:
This is a big hiking itinerary! We did it all in one day, from 11:30 to 7, but if you’re staying in the Portland area, you can easily split this into multiple hiking excursions and finish some of the trails that we didn’t complete. There are so many things to do in the Columbia River Gorge, you could spend a whole week hiking here!
Bring plenty of water and snacks with you. Multnomah Falls Lodge has a restaurant and snacks for sale, but if the parking lot is full, you won’t be able to stop.
Speaking of parking issues, if you’re planning to go during peak season, an early or late arrival is can make all the difference. You might also consider one of the local trolley or bus tours where you hop on and off at the waterfalls instead of worrying about parking.
Top Things to Do in the Columbia River Gorge:
Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint
Columbia River Gorge Vista House
The trail to Latourell Falls is a loop, so there are two points in the parking lot to choose from. We went to the left, the trail farthest from the road, which starts with a steep incline. You’ll see the waterfall in just a few minutes, so you have the option to turn around or to continue down the 3 mile trail.
Bridal Veil Falls
This trail was one of our favorites, with the bridge over the rocky creek, a wooden viewing platform, and multiple places to climb on rocks closer to the falls. It’s also a great place to play with some longer exposure water shots. Half mile out and back hike.
Less than half a mile into the trail, you’ll find the best viewpoint of the falls and a stone bridge crossing right in front of the falls. The trail continues to Lemmons Viewpoint.
Multnomah Falls is the most famous and most popular of the falls on this route. The waterfall is a very short walk from the lodge. The first viewing platform is ideal for photos with the bridge and the two tiers of the falls lining up. Follow the path up to the bridge and beyond. We were there on a Sunday in July, so it was very difficult to find parking. Because of the congestion, we drove past and returned to this waterfall last. Multnomah Falls Lodge has a restaurant as well as snack and ice cream stands, a restroom, and a water bottle filling station. A timed use permit may be required seasonally.
Horsetail Falls is the easiest waterfall to see. It’s right alongside the road and has plenty of sidewalk viewing space. You can also descend the steps to the rocky area below. If you’d like, dip your toes in and take a few minutes to cool off and rest.
Upper McCord Creek Falls
If you’d like to include a little more hiking in your day, continue another 4 miles down the highway to the Elowah Falls Parking area. When we were there in July of 2021, some of the trails from this trailhead were closed, but we were able to hike to Upper McCord Creek Falls. There are a number of switchbacks on this trail, offering a beautiful view of the Columbia River. Continue past the waterfall viewing point to the top of the falls to cool off a bit in the river before heading back down.
Accessibility note: Multnomah Falls and Horsetail Falls are both accessible locations. At Multnomah, the first viewing platform is fully accessible, but the trail beyond it includes some stairs. Both scenic viewpoints listed are accessible as well.
Those are the 8 places we would recommend stopping on your day trip to the Columbia River Gorge. If you’d like to make this into a road trip, check out our 4 day Oregon itinerary below.
See more of our Oregon Series:
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