The Columbia River rages widely across much of the Pacific Northwest and is dotted with endless alluring waterfalls to explore.
Most notable are the spectacular Columbia River Gorge waterfalls that are found on the Oregon side of the Washington/Oregon border. This portion of the Columbia River is appropriately named the “Waterfall Corridor.”
The Waterfall Corridor along the Columbia River Gorge is popular because of its jaw-dropping waterfalls, scenic highway, short travel distance between waterfalls, and easy accessibility.
Within 70 miles of the river, you can see 90 waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge. So exactly which ones are worth visiting? I will share my Columbia River Gorge itinerary that lists the nine best waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge.
In this guide, I will reveal the 9 best waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. Along with exactly how to get to these falls and what to expect, I will share valuable visitor information and insider tips relating to the Columbia River Gorge.
So whether your road trip is taking you along I-84 near the Washington-Oregon border, you’re galavanting around Portland for a weekend, or your sole intent is to explore every inch of the Historic Columbia River Highway, I will be listing nine of the must-see Columbia River Gorge waterfalls that are all within a mere eight-mile driving distance of one another.
What is the Columbia River Gorge?
The Columbia River flows from British Columbia, Canada, snakes through Washington, and carves through the Oregon-Washington border before emptying into the Pacific Ocean.
The river unfurls approximately 1,243 feet from headwaters to mouth, earning it the title of “longest river in the Pacific Northwest” and “seventh longest river in North America.”
The Columbia River Gorge contains the highest concentration of waterfalls anywhere in the USA – over 90 waterfalls along 70 miles of river.
From Portland, Oregon, cruise east on I-84 and take exit 35 onto Historic Columbia River Highway.
In this Columbia River Gorge waterfall guide, I list the falls from east to west, beginning near Ainsworth State Park and heading back to Guy Talbot State Park, just a half-hour from Portland. This should make it super simple to plan your Columbia River Gorge road trip itinerary!
As always, adjust the route based on your timed permit (info in the next section), the location you’ll be coming from or heading toward, and any additional falls or stops you wish to add.
In May 2022, a timed entry system was implemented to reduce the staggering foot traffic that both the “Waterfall Corridor” – the stretch of Historic Columbia River Highway between exits 28 and 35 that grants entry to many stunning waterfalls – and Multnomah Falls experience seasonally.
While all visitors needed both a Waterfall Corridor Timed Use Permit and a Multnomah Falls Timed Use Permit in 2022, you’ll only need a Multnomah Falls Timed Use Permit in 2023. Waterfall Corridor Permits are no longer required.
A $2 Multnomah Falls Timed Use Permit is required for each vehicle to visit Multnomah Falls off exit 31 between 9:00 AM and 6:00 PM from May 26 through September 4, 2023.
If you arrive before 9:00 AM, after 6:00 PM, or in the “off-season,” a permit is not required.
✨ I will continue to update this blog once the 2024 permit dates are announced – if they are announced!
Parking is not guaranteed at Multnomah Falls, even with a permit. If you are worried about securing a spot, review the live cameras located at the parking lot or consider alternative transportation, such as a shuttle or bicycle.
PRO TIP: To sidestep the permit system and minimize run-ins with hordes of visitors, arrive outside of the 9 AM – 6 PM timeframe or visit in the off-season (October through April).
Tips for Visiting the Columbia River Gorge
Parking is never guaranteed, even with a permit. In the summer months, the parking areas can fill up by 9:00 AM.
Multnomah Falls is the most popular waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge and the most famous waterfall in Oregon, so I’d check this one off first thing in the morning (if your permit timeslot allows) or hit it later in the evening when the crowds begin to dissipate (maybe after 6 PM when permits are no longer required).
→ READ NEXT: How to Avoid Crowds on Trails
Bring a Rain Jacket
You’re in the PNW, after all, so rain is often inevitable!
It’s good to always have a rain jacket in your backpack, no matter where you are, but you’ll want to make sure you don’t forget this on your Columbia River Gorge road trip.
→ READ NEXT: 5 Tips for Hiking in the Rain ☔️
Wear Sturdy Shoes
Terrain can be rocky and uneven on the hiking trails to the waterfalls. Also, all trails can become slippery after rain and snow, so that could make the steep trails a bit more dangerous.
While some of the falls just have paved overlooks, when you stray from the pavement and hit the rocks or dirt paths, you may find that you lose your footing.
A nice pair of boots with plenty of traction is the solution!
Be prepared for slow traffic, pedestrian crossings, and ticket checkpoints in peak hours and prime months.
Use extra caution on the road, as there are narrow sections and blind corners.
9 Best Waterfalls Along the Columbia River Gorge
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own. Thanks so much for your support!
Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Map
1. Horsetail Falls
The first Columbia River Gorge waterfall you will reach after exit 35 off I-84 when making your way west along the waterfall corridor is Horsetail Falls.
Horsetail Falls, a twisty plummet resembling a stallion’s wild tail, plunges 176 feet right alongside the Waterfall Corridor.
This waterfall comes into view just mere steps from the parking lot, and the boulder-littered base makes for an ideal spot to stop for a snack, lunch, or cup of coffee, or to dip your toes in along the rocky shoreline.
2. Ponytail Falls
Ponytail Falls, also known as Upper Horsetail Falls, is accessible from the Horsetail Falls trailhead.
While Horsetail Falls is viewed just steps from the parking lot, Ponytail Falls involves a quick, 0.4-mile hike from the trailhead.
The trail is a short but steep hike that passes behind Ponytail Falls in a half-domed basalt tunnel before it continues on to Oneonta Trail. You can choose to continue on the trail or head back to the Horsetail Falls parking lot and move toward the next waterfall along the Gorge.
NOTE: Many of these trails along the Gorge are intertwined in a complex trail system. The adventurous can choose to tackle the trail series and trek the many miles between the different falls, or, for convenience, visitors can simply hop back in the car after each waterfall and drive the short distance to the next trail, overlook, or viewpoint.
3. Triple Falls
Triple Falls involves the longest hike – 3.6 miles roundtrip – on this list of waterfalls.
The trail starts off quite steep as the path leads hikers up the Oneonta Gorge and to the remains of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. Unfortunately, as a result of the fire, many areas of the Oneonta Gorge remain closed, even to this day, nearly five years later. In September 2017, a carelessly tossed firework landed in a dry, steep river canyon, and sadly, this fire ravaged the creek and destroyed the forest canopy.
However, the Gorge’s resilience proved to be as strong and unrelenting as a wild river’s Class V rapid; nature’s miraculous regeneration capabilities transformed terrible, heartbreaking devastation into a stunning new landscape.
Follow the scorched, forested trail all the way to the finish line, which is a spectacular presentation of three plumes, known as Triple Falls, backdropped by a newly built footbridge and the transformed landscape.
4. Multnomah Falls
Multnomah is the crown jewel of the Columbia. It is the famous waterfall in Oregon that you’ve almost certainly heard of or seen pictures of. Plunging a staggering 620 feet off basalt cliffs, Multnomah Falls earns the title of the tallest waterfall in Oregon.
You have three options to view/hike this trail. One, glimpse the tiered falls just steps from the parking lot; two, hike the 0.2 miles to the viewing bridge that stretches across the middle of the falls; or three, venture one mile up a steep trail to the top of the falls.
The best views of Multnomah Falls are from the bottom and from the bridge in the middle. The platform at the top of the falls reveals a sweeping scene of the Columbia River but obstructs the falls; the only part of the falls that is visible from that vantage point is the water that spills off the tip of the ledge.
PHOTO TIP: Arrive early. Not only will you avoid the need for a falls permit if you arrive before 9:00 AM but you will beat the crowds. This will allow you to snap a moody sunrise/early morning photo without the obstruction of other visitors on the bridge. If a person is on the bridge, wait patiently for them to move before capturing your photo. Or, if you’re super handy with Photoshop or Lightroom, edit the tourists out of your photo later!
5. Wahkeena Falls
With Multnomah Falls in your rearview mirror, you might be thinking that none of the other falls can possibly top its regal charm. Though my opinion is strictly that – an opinion – I’d have to attest to the contrary. While Multnomah is stately and impressive in its own right, the rest of the falls on this list have something equally noteworthy.
They may not be as tall or widely photographed as Multnomah, but that’s part of the allure – the charm – of these other falls. You never know what kind of emotional reaction some of these falls could elicit because they’re not painted all over the Internet, boasted about on social media, and splashed on the front pages of travel magazines. So hop back in your car and continue down to the Wahkeena Falls parking area!
The 0.2-mile path from the Wahkeena Falls parking area leads to an imposing tiered waterfall that drops 242 feet.
While only a fraction of the falls are discernable from the main platform, the sights are still spectacular, and the spray flecks that spew from the falls feel refreshing on a hot day.
CAUTION: The same spray that feels refreshing on a hot day could be dangerous on a cold, winter day. The water droplets could turn to ice, making the trail slippery and treacherous.
6. Fairy Falls
Continue past Wahkeena Falls for the next waterfall.
Wind 1.1 miles around about a dozen switchbacks before reaching Fairy Falls, a 20-foot tumbling waterfall. The veil-type cascade trickles down a mossy cliff before merging with Wahkeena Creek.
FUN FACT: Fairy Falls was originally named Ghost Falls 👻. When the summer sun hits the falls just right, the cascade is said to produce an eerie glow.
7. Bridal Veil Falls
Two-tiered, 120-foot, Bridal Veil Falls, resembling its namesake, hurtles off a cliff, gathers into a pool, and nosedives over the edge before spilling into the Columbia River.
The falls are a short 0.3-mile walk from the parking area, making it yet another easy-to-access waterfall along the Gorge.
On the trail, you’ll descend quickly to Bridal Veil Creek – the largest creek in the Larch Mountains – and within 0.3 miles, a mostly unobstructed view of the falls will be revealed.
NOTE: Don’t attempt to go down to the falls; stick to the trail!
8 & 9. Upper & Lower Latourrel Falls
Latourrel Falls is comprised of two falls totaling 359 feet in height.
The Lower Falls, a single, narrow 225-foot plunge, is viewable from both an overlook and from below, each just a short walk from the parking lot.
If you want to see the 134-foot Upper Falls, you need to hike further up the canyon.
The Latourrel Falls Trail, a 2.3-mile loop, reaches the base of both falls.
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!