The tallest waterfall in Oregon, Multnomah Falls, is just east of Portland off I-84. This majestic waterfall is one of the main attractions for those visiting the Portland area. A drive in the Columbia River Gorge should definitely include a visit to the falls. And, for those with an adventurous spirit and a little time, a hike to the top of Multnomah Falls will give you a great perspective as the water cascades down the hillside.
A Day in the Columbia River Gorge
Multnomah Falls is a quick drive from east Portland via the interstate, but for a leisurely trip into yesteryear, consider driving the Historic Columbia River Highway. Take exit 17 From the town of Troutdale. The highway recently celebrated its centennial.
Once you leave little Troutdale, you’ll soon cross a bridge over the Sandy River and enter the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area. Enjoy the woods and the drive past farmers’ fields. In Corbett, you’ll find a great scenic stop. Park at the Portland’s Women’s Forum overlook for a grand view of the Columbia River Gorge and Crown Point in the distance.
The winding road will then take you to the Vista House and Crown Point. The round Vista House was built in 1917. It’s often windy there but the view is worth peering over the railing. On blustery days be sure and take refuge inside the beautiful building where you’ll find informational displays, a gift shop, coffee shop and restrooms.
As you make your way from Crown Point down to Multnomah Falls, you’ll be enticed to stop at several more waterfalls. Many of these pull-offs have good parking and picnic tables. They are all worth a stop and you’ll find the falls visible from the parking lot or within a short hike. You can return via the old highway or zip back to Portland via I-84.
Multnomah Falls Shuttle Bus from Portland
Although Multnomah Falls is only one of the waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge, it is the most well known. During peak tourist season, the parking lots fill up rather quickly. You can go early in the day or take the new shuttle.
The shuttle bus, dubbed the Columbia River Gorge Express, runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday during peak season. The bus runs between the Gateway Transit Center in northeast Portland and the Multnomah Falls visitor center, with one stop at Rooster Rock State Park on the way. The fare is $5 for a round-trip ticket. You can also bring your bike.
Things to Do at Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls is the most breathtaking waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge. The first time you visit, you’ll approach the falls and find yourself stopping suddenly to take in the immensity of the watery vista.
The falls drops in two major steps, split into an upper falls of 542 feet and a lower falls of 69 feet, with a gradual 9 foot drop in elevation between the two. The total height of the waterfall is listed as 620 feet making it the tallest waterfall in Oregon.
It is best to go early in the day or on a weekday for the greatest access. The falls are beautiful in any season. In the winter, if you are lucky, you can see the falls iced over.
There are several ways to see the falls, based on your activity level. Of course you can visit from the base and take a photo of the double falls. Most take a short hike along an asphalt path to the bridge spanning the falls. This is the bridge seen in most photos. When you are there, be sure and look for the huge boulder in the pool. On Labor Day in September 1995, a 400-ton boulder, loosened by erosion, fell 225 feet from the face of the falls into the upper pool. Fortunately no one was hurt!
But to get a true sense of the majesty of Multnomah Falls, take an hour to hike the well-maintained trails to the top. There are switchbacks and the hike is up, up, up…. but it is well worth the climb to walk out onto the observation deck and look down as the falls go over the edge of the mountain. You can walk along the creek, the source of the falls. Interestingly, it is not a large creek that feeds these beautiful falls. The descent takes much less time than the walk up.
Dining and Shopping at Multnomah Falls
Be sure and stop into the well-stocked gift shop and bookstore at the base of the falls. You can get souvenir items with the pictures of the beautiful falls or select that “been there – done that” t-shirt.
There is a restaurant at the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, a beautiful stone day lodge designed by noted Portland architect Albert E. Doyle and opened in 1925. The restaurant features traditional Pacific Northwest fare. In the summer you can dine on the patio with a view of the falls. In less ideal weather, enjoy the dining room with atrium views. It’s a cozy place for a glass of local wine or a microbrew on a rainy day.
The Multnomah Falls Dining Room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers a delicious Sunday brunch, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Check their website for special events and, in tourist season, be sure and make a reservation by calling 503.695.2376.