Multnomah Falls is an icon of the Pacific Northwest, drawing in more visitors than any other natural recreation site in the region. The two-tiered, 635 foot drop, is the tallest perennial waterfall in Oregon and the scene, the green grotto and beautiful Benson Bridge spanning the lower tier, make for something straight out of a storybook. Just be prepared to share it with the more than 2 million annual visitors who stop by each year to take in the views.
Begin your hike at the viewing area of Multnomah Falls, near the lodge. This lodge offers a variety of things, such as gifts, snacks, restrooms, and even a restaurant, if you feel like sitting your sweaty, post-hike butt down and grabbing a tasty dinner or lunch. The pool below the lower falls and the viewing area used to be a swimming hole, with kids collecting coins from all over the world at the base of the falls. All this ended in 1995 when a 400 ton boulder the size of a school bus broke free from the cliff and came crashing down to the pool below, resulting in a splash that was 70 feet high.
The trail up to the top of Multnomah Falls is paved for the majority of the climb. It begins climbing immediately as it switchbacks up behind the lodge. Soon, in less than a quarter mile, you will come to Benson Bridge. Cross over the bridge as it passes above the lower falls, right at the base of the upper one. Then pull up your big girl panties cause you got some climbing to do.
The next ¾ of a mile will march you up through 11 numbered switchbacks as you climb almost 650 feet to the top of the falls. The views of both the falls and the Columbia River are breathtaking as you make this climb, but the drop-off off the side of the trail is extremely steep. Soon (it won’t feel like soon), you will reach the junction with the Larch Mountain Trail and the Multnomah Falls viewpoint. Its only .15 miles to the viewpoint (although you do have to descend about 100 feet, which means you have to climb back up again. More climbing!!) but the opportunity to stand over the lip of the tallest falls in Oregon is not something one should forgo.
Once you’ve had enough of the dizzying experience of peering down the falls, head on back and prepare your knees for the steep downhill trek to the lodge. However, if your feeling invigorated and have about 4 more miles left in you, and have the desire to see five more named waterfalls, check out the Multnomah – Wahkeena Falls loop.
On I-84, take exit 31 towards Multnomah Falls. This parking area is located between both east and west bound lanes and can be accessed from either direction. However, because of the popularity of the site, the parking lot is oftentimes full, and when it is, automatic gates will close on the freeway exits. If the lot is full, you can try parking at either Multnomah Falls or the Wahkeena Falls Trailhead on the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway, but both these parking areas are very small and also likely to be full.
One final option is that you can continue past exit 31 if the gates are closed and to head to either exit 44/Cascade Locks if you are headed Eastbound or exit 25/Rooster Rock if you are headed westbound. At Cascade Locks, you can park in town somewhere and board the Columbia Gorge Express at WaNaPa Street. The shuttle will take you to Multnomah Falls and back for $1 per trip. From Rooster Rock, you can pay $5 to enter the park and then ride the free shuttle to Multnomah Falls.
Passes: Between late May and Septmeber, permits will be required for all vehicles accessing this area. One permit will allow access tot he Multnomah Falls parking area off of I-84 and a second 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 each. 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.
Open Season: All year. Winter storms may result in ice and make the trip very unpleasent.