Must-See Waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
This is a list of the easiest waterfalls to access on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. A few of them are also among the area’s most impressive. While there are many gorgeous and amazing waterfalls in the gorge, and we think you should go see them all, this list summarizes seven that are very simple to get to; consider it the list of awesome waterfalls for lazy people. (Really lazy people may even want want to scratch #2, but don’t.) They’re listed below in order from the closest to the furthest from Portland. Time your adventure just right and you can catch a beautiful gorge sunset at the Crown Point Vista House, or better yet at the Women’s Forum State Park a little farther up the road. We like the state park because it’s less crowded than Crown Point, and you can capture the Vista House in your photos from there.
The Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge has nearly 100 waterfalls! In fact, many of the waterfalls on this list are located at a trailhead with access to even more waterfalls, which we’ve also included below for the more adventurous folk. No joke, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is a waterfall chaser’s dream, or heaven maybe. When I first moved to Oregon I spent almost every weekend in the gorge chasing as many waterfalls as we could find; I was OBSESSED. We’ve never hiked more in a summer than that one! There are a million things I love about Oregon, but it was the gorge that hooked me with the endless waterfalls, views for miles and moss on moss—seriously, there’s so much moss and greenery, it’s reminiscent of Jurassic Park (minus the dinosaurs). We can’t get enough of this place! (But dinosaurs would be cool too.)
Where to Find the Waterfalls
If you’re visiting Oregon we highly recommend reserving at least a day for exploring the Columbia River Gorge. It truly is one of the state’s most scenic places, which is why it made the cut for Oregon’s Seven Wonders. (Fact: Oregon has way more than seven wonders!) You can certainly see all of these waterfalls in a day trip from Portland; the National Scenic Area is only a 30 minute drive from the city. If you’re planning to visit the seven waterfalls featured on this list, we recommend going to Starvation Creek Falls first, then to Wah Gwin Gwin, and from there drive back towards Portland on the Scenic Highway to hit Horsetail, Multnomah, Wahkeena, Bridal Veil and last but definitely not least, Latourell Falls.
The access to Starvation Creek Falls is at Exit 55 on Interstate 84 driving eastbound. There is no exit traveling westbound, which is why we suggest stopping there on the way to Wah Gwin Gwin Falls. It takes nearly one hour to drive from Portland to Starvation Creek, and from there to Exit 62, where Wah Gwin Gwin is located, is only 7.5 miles away. After visiting this waterfall on the grounds of the Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa, jump back onto I-84 traveling westbound. Drive for about 30 miles/30 minutes and exit at Ainsworth (35) to access the Scenic Highway for the remaining waterfalls on the list. If the timing is right, head to Vista House or the Women’s Forum for sunset after visiting Latourell.
If you plan to start at Latourell Falls, take Exit 22 off the I-84 at Corbett (about 30 minutes from Portland) to reach “waterfall alley” on the Historic Columbia River Scenic Highway.
Visit these Seven Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls with Little Effort
Most waterfalls featured below are located on paved universal access trails. The first five waterfalls listed are in Waterfall Alley on the Scenic Highway, Historic Route 30. The last two waterfalls are accessed from I-84.
1. Latourell Falls
This mesmerizing 249 foot waterfall is one of the most impressive in the Columbia River Gorge. There’s a parking lot and restroom at the trailhead, and from there lower Latourell Falls is only a short, easy five minute walk down a paved trail. If you’re feeling a little wild, complete the two-mile loop hike and make a trip to visit Upper Latourell Falls. It’s a cute little waterfall that’s rarely ever crowded, as the majority of people who stop by here don’t venture beyond the lower falls.
Location: Guy W. Talbot State Park
2. Bridal Veil Falls
The 139 foot tall Bridal Veil Falls is relatively quiet compared to many of the falls along waterfall alley. For the best views we recommend the easy 1.4 mile out-and-back hike down to the falls viewing platform. This is a gravel trail down a hill with a couple of switchbacks—it’s probably the most “difficult” hike of the seven we’re featuring on this list. But as you can see from the photos, the juice is worth the squeeze. There is also an easier half-mile overlook trail here, a paved universal access loop with awesome views of the Columbia River Gorge. There’s a pretty large parking area and restrooms located at the trailhead.
Location: Bridal Veil Falls State Park
3. Wahkeena Falls
This view of Wahkeena Falls, a 242 foot banger, is only a short 0.4 mile roundtrip hike on a paved trail. You can continue upwards on the trail, still paved, to admire the falls’ top tier, called The Necktie. For expansive, jaw-dropping views of the gorge continue a little further to Lemmon’s Viewpoint, a 1.4 mile roundtrip hike from the parking lot. OR, you can keep going until you reach one of my personal Columbia Gorge favorites, Fairy Falls. At only 20-30 feet it doesn’t compare to the magnitude of many neighboring waterfalls, but it’s special for other reasons. The trail crosses directly in front of the falls so you literally feel like you’re standing in it. Be warned, the two mile roundtrip out-and-back hike to Fairy Falls is a real butt buster! There are somewhere between 10-12 switchbacks just to reach Lemmon’s Point. The pavement ends at Lemmon’s and there are still about six more switchbacks on the way to Fairy Falls. If you’re up for hiking five miles, keep reading on for our preferred route to see Fairy Falls (and a bunch more!).
Location: Wahkeena Falls Day Use Area
4. Multnomah Falls
The most famous and tallest waterfall in Oregon, the majestic Multnomah Falls measures 620 feet high. It is the crown jewel of the Columbia River Gorge, and the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest. It’s typically pretty busy, and stopping there is often an annoying experience. But if you’re visiting Oregon or you’ve never been there, you should still visit at least once. There’s a reason it’s so popular—it’s BEAUTIFUL.
The view above is only a short walk up to the main viewing platform, which is also right next to the Multnomah Falls Lodge. We usually need to swing by the lodge to use the restroom, and it also has a gift shop, espresso stand (with huge cookies, fudge and other treats), and restaurant. From there, the paved trail ascends 1.1 miles and 11 switchbacks to the very upper viewing platform at the top of the waterfall. If you aren’t feeling that adventurous, walk the 1/4 mile to the Benson Bridge instead. For all you waterfall chasers, we suggest that you pack your hiking boots and keep on going. The pavement ends after the upper platform, and from there to the intersection of Trail #420, a 3/4 mile trek, are three waterfalls—Dutchman Falls, Weisendanger Falls, and Ecola Falls. This five mile loop hike, that starts and ends at Multnomah Falls, is one of the best hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. After hiking on Trail #420 for 0.8 miles you come to a three-way intersection; there are a few detours you can take here, or turn right and walk about two miles down to the highway. Along the way you pass by Fairy Falls and Wahkeena! At the bottom of Wahkeena Falls, Trail #424 stretches 0.5 mile back to Multnomah Falls. While this hike can be completed counterclockwise, beginning and ending at Wahkeena, I think the switchbacks are tougher going that way.
Location: Multnomah Falls Recreation Area
PRO-TIP: Don’t visit Multnomah Falls by taking Exit 31 off I-84 and parking in the center lot. The parking area is always packed and often closed because it’s so full. From there, only a foot path leads over to the falls and lodge. If you want to visit other waterfalls in the gorge, take Exit 22 at Corbett or 28 at Bridal Veil to access the Scenic Highway (waterfall alley).
5. Horsetail Falls
Next up on the Historic Highway is the 176 foot tall Horsetail Falls. There’s no restroom at the trailhead, only a parking lot on the opposite side of the road. Here you just park your car and cross the street for this amazing waterfall view! But we feel that the real magic is another 0.4 mile up the hill—the upper tier, Ponytail Falls. This is another gorge favorite, and totally worth the uphill hike to reach it. It’s a gorgeous waterfall that really does resemble a pony tail, and you can walk behind it for 360 degee views! There’s some pretty amazing hiking beyond the falls, but unfortunately the trail is still closed due to damage caused by the Eagle Creek wildfire. (We really hope it opens soon though, there are some bangers up there!)
Location: Historic Columbia River Highway
6. Starvation Creek Falls
Starvation Creek Falls is only accessed by taking Exit 55 from 1-84 heading eastbound, because there is no exit heading westbound. There’s a parking lot and restroom at the trailhead, and this large 191 foot, double-tiered waterfall is only a short walk from the parking area. At the base of the falls is a little picnic area with tables that makes for a perfect afternoon lunch stop. Adjacent to the parking lot is a universal access path following alongside I-84. To see three more waterfalls, walk 0.7 miles heading west to see Cabin Creek Falls, Hole-in-the-Wall Falls and Lancaster Falls. The lower tier of Lancaster is located off a short spurt trail, but the other two falls are along the universal access trail.
Location: Starvation Creek State Park
7. Wah Gwin Gwin Falls
We drove past Wah Gwin Gwin Falls for years without even knowing the 207 foot waterfall existed! In Native American, Wah Gwin Gwin means “place of rushing waters.” The waterfall, also known as Lullaby Falls, is located on the grounds of the classy Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa. The public is welcome to stop by to view the falls, and because it’s a hotel there’s plenty of parking available. The short trail to the waterfall is near the spa. Though you can get a decent view from the hotel, it seems as though you need to take a boat on the Columbia River to get the best views of this surprisingly large waterfall. We’ve stayed overnight at the hotel before, and had a great experience exploring the property and enjoying a nice dinner in the restaurant. We especially loved the historic touches found throughout the hotel, like the old elevator, phones, light fixtures and more. The views of the Columbia River from the hotel are expansive and stunning, and you can even see a ghost forest below if the water is low enough.
Location: Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa, Exit #62 off I-84
Thanks so much for reading this post! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or want recommendations for hikes or other things to do in and near the Columbia River Gorge.