At 620 feet, Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Oregon, and the second tallest year-round waterfalls in the United States. The waterfall is grand, beautiful, and easy to reach, making it one of the most popular outdoor attractions in the Pacific Northwest. Located in the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington – Oregon border, 30 miles east of Portland, Multnomah Falls offers something for hikers of all abilities. Whether you walk to the base of the falls, hike 0.2 miles to a scenic footbridge, 1.2 miles to the top of the falls, or explore more waterfalls in the area on Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop, your visit will be memorable.
Begin from a parking area just off Interstate 84 and follow a walkway alongside a calm stretch of Multnomah Creek to Multnomah Lodge, a historic stone building with a restaurant, cafe, gift shop, and visitor center – all the things you would expect in a heavily touristed area. Continue up the walkway to the left of the lodge toward the waterfall itself, which resides in a lush canyon shaded by firs, cedars, maples, and alders. Multnomah Falls is split in two tiers. The upper tier is 542 feet tall, while the lower tier is just 69 feet tall. The lower tier makes a swift plunge into a pool in front of the viewpoint. A picturesque footbridge straddles the two tiers, providing an intimate experience amidst the waterfall. The bridge is designed elegantly enough not to detract from the waterfall’s beauty. Behind the bridge, the upper tier makes a long, long drop down a sheer rock wall with many interesting layers.
Next to the viewing area below Multnomah Falls, Larch Mountain Trail begins with a short staircase. To reach Benson Bridge, continue up this paved trail through a few switchbacks. Views of the waterfall become obscured by the forest, but you’ll catch some nice profile views of the lower falls.
In less than 0.2 miles you will arrive at the short but memorable bridge spanning a gap in the canyon on top of the lower tier. Look over the railing for a dizzying perspective straight down the lower falls. Below that, you’ll see people looking up from the lower viewpoint where you just stood. In the other direction, you get an even better perspective of the upper tier of Multnomah Falls than you had below. A widening cord of white water falls down an enormous cliff. Tilt your head up to see the top of the waterfall, where the creek pours out of the forest above. Moss and ferns line the vertical rock wall, adding Oregon charm to this must-see waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge.
The bridge is named after Simon Benson, a lumberman and philanthropist who donated land along the Columbia River Gorge for preservation, including the land around Multnomah Falls. Before turning around, it’s worth crossing the bridge and hiking a short way farther up to a viewpoint at a sharp bend in the trail. You are now even closer to the waterfall and can get hit by spray when gusts come in your direction. Watch as water is swept away from the rock at the bottom of this enormous drop. If you hike higher than this bend, recognize that the best views of Multnomah Falls are behind you.
The upper tier of Multnomah Falls from Benson Bridge
Larch Mountain Trail continues from here and becomes more serious, with eleven numbered switchbacks on the trail up to an overlook at the brink of Multnomah Falls. After all that effort, the view from the top of the falls may actually underwhelm you, so there’s no shame it turning around at Benson Bridge or just above it.
Larch Mountain Trail remains paved as it ascends the side of Columbia River Gorge toward Multnoma Falls. At 0.2 miles above Benson Bridge, pass through a junction with Gorge Trail, which heads east toward Oneonta Gorge. At the next switchback (#3) you’ll find a viewing area with between-the-trees views of Multnomah Falls. Break here if you wish or continue up the trail. You’ll spot the waterfall again after switchback five, but then it disappears completely.
Switchbacks on Larch Mountain Trail
Look out over the Columbia River through gaps in the forest as the trail continues to ascend. Pass through switchback after switchback as the numbers keep going up. Finally at switchback number nine, you will reach a crest in the trail. You have now ascended 700 feet from the bottom of the trail in under a mile. That takes effort. The trail heads downhill now, coming to a junction with a trail to Multnomah Falls Overlook.
Turn right to hike down the 0.2-mile long spur out to the brink of Multnomah Falls. Switchbacks bring you down alongside Multnomah Creek, where the tentative water seems to have no idea what’s in store. A narrow staircase between stone walls leads to a small round viewing area (with highly necessary safety railing) that is right alongside the top of Multnomah Falls. Look over the lip of the waterfall, where the the creek takes a massive 542-foot leap down the upper tier of Multnomah Falls. It’s a long way down. At the bottom of the waterfall, you’ll see the viewing area near Multnomah Lodge. You can also look out past Interstate 84 across the Columbia River Gorge. The overlook allows you to safely stand where it would otherwise be perilous and the viewpoint is well integrated into the landscape so that it is not noticeable when looking at the waterfall from below.
Looking over the brink of Multnomah Falls
After bagging this top-down view, return to Larch Mountain Trail. You could turn left to hike right back down the trail. Alternatively, turn right up Larch Mountain Trail where the pavement ends leading to a canyon filled with a few more waterfall, like Weisendanger Falls, which is 0.35 miles up the trail. You put in a lot of effort to get to the top of Multnomah Falls, so why not enjoy some of the lovely canyon above? Alternative, you can avoid going up the steep trail, and hike down past Multnomah Falls instead on Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop, a tremendous waterfall-filled hike that incorporates Larch Mountain Trail.
No fee or permit is required to visit Multnomah Falls and dogs are allowed on leashes. From the viewing area below Multnomah Falls, it is 0.4 miles round trip to Benson Bridge, 2.4 miles round trip to the top of the falls, and 13.6 miles round trip to the top of Larch Mountain. Even if you do not wish to hike a great distance, do not miss Multnomah Falls. It is a magnificent sight.
To get to the trailhead: Take Interstate 84 to exit 31 (30 miles east of Portland and 50 miles west of The Dalles). The exit is well marked for Multnomah Falls and leads right to a large parking area. Walk south from there toward Multnomah Falls, passing below the freeway.
Alternatively, there is parking along Historic Columbia River Highway near Multnomah Lodge. From Portland, take Interstate 84 to exit 28 for Bridal Veil. Go east on Bridal Veil Road for a quarter mile to Historic Columbia River Highway. Continue east for 2.9 miles to Multnomah Lodge, where there is parking on the left.
Trailhead address: 53000 Historic Columbia River Highway, Corbett, OR 97019
Trailhead coordinates: 45.5777, -122.1173 (45° 34′ 39.72″N 122° 07′ 02.28″W)
Use the map below to view the trail and get directions:
This 6.05-mile loop uses Wahkeena Trail and Larch Mountain Trail to visit six glorious waterfalls (Wahkeena Falls, Fairy Falls, Ecola Falls, Weisendanger Falls, Dutchman Falls, and Multnomah Falls) as well as many fine cascades along Wahkeena Creek and Multnomah Creek in two beautiful canyons off Columbia River Gorge.
|Latourell Falls Trail|
This 2.3-mile loop explores a canyon with two beautiful waterfalls, attaining great views of both.
|Oneonta Gorge to Lower Oneonta Falls|
This 0.8-mile trek follows Oneonta Creek between the tall, mossy cliffs of a wild and beautiful gorge to the base of an enchanting 100-foot waterfall.
|Horsetail Falls Trail – Oneonta Trail Loop|
This 2.85-mile loop starts at Horsetail Falls, passes beneath an overhang behind Ponytail Falls, and crosses a bridge by Middle Oneonta Falls to hit three waterfalls and viewpoints looking out over the Columbia River Gorge.
This 2-mile visits a sublime waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge.
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