The loop hike from Horsetail Falls up to Triple Falls in one of the premiere hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. Six large waterfalls are visible from this trail and you get to look down into the Columbia River Gorge’s famous slot canyon, Oneonta Gorge. Like much of the Oregon side of the gorge, this area was torched by the Eagle Creek Fire in 2017, but recovery is occurring and it has made it easier to see through the forest, without all those pesky branches and leaves and things obscuring your view.
Begin your hike from the Horsetail Falls trailhead and catch an eyeful of one of the prettiest waterfalls in the gorge without having to even step foot on the trail. Horsetail falls plunges 176 feet over a mossy cliff, twisting as it falls, resembling its namesake. The trail begins just to the left of the waterfall as it begins to switchback up the cliff.
After about a third of a mile from the trailhead, the trail will reach the top of Horsetail Falls and then turn and head up the gorge containing Horsetail Creek. Just a short distance up the valley and you will find yourself at beautiful, Ponytail Falls. This small version of Horsetail Falls shoots out of a narrow slot in the cliff face and plunges 88 feet to a plunge pool below. But the coolest aspect of Ponytail Falls is that the trail heads behind it, passing beneath an overhang where some softer rock has eroded away over time. Standing behind a waterfall is always a magical experience.
The trail continues on past Ponytail Falls as it makes its way to Oneonta Gorge. This slot canyon cuts a narrow swatch over 100 feet deep for almost half a mile. From this vantage point, you can also see Oneonta, Middle Oneonta, and the top of Upper Oneonta Falls as Oneonta Creek cascades down the canyon and ultimately, as it drops over 100-foot-tall Lower Oneonta Falls, into the gorge.
As you head up the trail above the gorge, you will pass a weeping wall and then begin swichbacking down towards the creek. Be sure to keep checking downstream as you go, because you will it one spot where you can look down the entirety of Oneonta Gorge, and it is pretty cool. Soon, you will reach a metal bridge that passes over the creek right near the base of 24-foot Middle Oneonta Falls. Head over the bridge and make the quick climb up the hillside until you reach the intersection with the Oneonta Trail.
Once on the Oneonta Trail, make a left and continue your journey up the creek. This section of trail was really hit hard by the Eagle Creek fire, and little vegetation is left. The trail can also be extremely rocky in places, and the drop offs down towards the creek are steep, so if you don’t like heights, you may get a little nervous here. Along the trail, as you keep your eyes on the creek, watch for the top of Upper Oneonta Falls as you can see the creek drop even deeper into the gorge. From the intersection, its 0.7 miles and a 300 foot climb to the lookout over Triple Falls.
Triple Falls is an amazing and unique waterfall that will make all the work worth it. Here, the creek divides itself into three different segments and drops 64 feet into the creek below. There is a perfect place, complete with a little bench/log to sit on, to view the falls and rest, located just below the trail. The viewpoint is straight at the falls and totally unobstructed, so you can enjoy it to the fullest.
Once you are done, this makes for a perfect place to turn around. Head back down the Oneonta Trail but this time, stay on it and continue downhill, not making the turn towards Oneonta Gorge. You will head down the west side of the gorge and then head to the west as you pass below some beautiful rock cliffs. During the spring, flowers can line this portion of the trail. About a third of a mile after turning away form Oneonta Gorge, you will reach another intersection with the Gorge Trail. Make a right and start heading down to the Oneonta Trailhead.
When you find yourself at the trailhead, you have to do about half a mile of road walking to reach the Horsetail Falls Trailhead. Most of it isn’t too bad though. Walking along the road also gives you the ability to appreciate the amazing cliff formations that are difficult to see from the car while driving. As you head down the road, you will soon pass over the bridge the crosses the mouth of Oneonta Gorge. You can kind of look up it, but the chain link fence blocking the entire gorge kind of obscures the view. They will reopen it someday.
After crossing the gorge, head through the old highway tunnel that passes through Oneonta Bluff, which was restored in 2020 after being ravaged by the Eagle Creek Fire. Once through he tunnel, the road narrows as barricades have been placed along the shoulder to catch rockfall. Tread carefully and watch for traffic, but it is only a few hundred feet from here back to the Horsetail Falls Trailhead.
To reach the Horsetail Falls Trailhead, head Take exit 35 on I-84 onto the Historic Columbia River Highway, 18 miles east of Troutdale or 8 miles west of Cascade Locks. Follow the historic highway for 1.6 miles and the trailhead will be on your right, right across from Horsetail Falls.
Passes: Between late May and Septmeber, permits will be required for all vehicles accessing this area. A permit allows vehicle access to the Historic Columbia River highway between the Bridal Veil and Ainswroth Exits. Permits can be purchased on recreation.gov up to two weeks in advance and are $2. Another option is to take a shuttle bus into the area, as permits are only required for vehicles.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times.
Open Season: Open and accessible all year. Winters can be very wet and don't be surpries to find some snow or ice along the trail.
Flowers: Flowers can be found along some sections of the trail during the spring months.