Just 30 minutes outside of Portland is a waterfall that rivals the best in the United States. Multnomah Falls is a thundering, awe-inspiring waterfall of icy water that drops 611 feet. Visiting the falls is a great way to feel the majesty and grandeur of nature without having to travel too far. It’s only a five-minute stroll from the parking lot off of I-84 to the thrilling splash at the bottom of the falls.
Native American legend has it that Multnomah Falls was built to seduce a young lady by providing her with a secret spot to take a bath. The upper section of the falls can be seen from the freeway, but to see both levels, visitors will need to travel to the observation location, which is situated in a cutout in the rock wall.
If you stand on the narrow ledges of the rocks and tilt your head up, you can take in the stunning scale of the waterfalls below you.
Benson Bridge, which crosses the falls at the misty base of the first tier, is a few hundred feet further up the paved path and offers a closer look. When you’re standing on the bridge, you’ll have an unobstructed view of the entire 542-foot height of the upper tier and a spine-tingling perspective of the 69-foot descent of the lower tier.
The falls were purchased by a wealthy Portland businessman called Simon Benson in the early 20th century, so the bridge is named after him. Multnomah Falls was a gift from Benson’s estate to the city of Portland before his passing; Portland then gave the property to the USDA Forest Service.
The Multnomah Falls Lodge, constructed in 1925 to accommodate the growing number of visitors to the Columbia River Gorge, is a great place to stay and relax after a day spent exploring the area’s natural wonders.
The historic site (constructed from every kind of rock in the canyon) now serves as a gift shop, an eatery serving Northwest cuisine, and a US Forest Service information service where visitors can pick up trail guides. In the warmer months, merchants set up shop in front of the cabin selling ice cream, coffee, sodas, and other fast bites.
More than 2 million tourists visit Multnomah Falls every year to take in the scenery. The Larch Mountain streams that feed the water over the falls have different peak flows throughout the year. When it comes to studying bedrock that has been revealed by floodwaters, this is one of the finest spots in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area to do so.
The spray from the waterfall makes the entire area chilly and slick, so be sure to dress warmly and wear shoes with fine grip whether you plan on climbing to the summit or looking up from the bottom. If storm clouds form over the Columbia River Gorge, you can rest assured that you will be adequately attired for the wet weather.
Facilities available at Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls Lodge, a historic structure at the foot of the falls, features a cafeteria, gift store, and hiking information for guests. To get to the summit of the falls from Benson Bridge, you have to walk another mile up a very steep trail. If the weather cooperates, you can look out over the Columbia River from here.
Before setting out, it’s a good idea to double-check with the rangers to see if the path has been blocked due to unsafe circumstances. (This path poses risks to minors due to steep drop-offs and unstable or slick walking surfaces.)
If you leave the cabin and follow the signs, you can get to Wahkeena Falls in about a mile. The Yakima word for “loveliest” is Wahkeena. Wahkeena Falls is not as tall as Multnomah Falls (just over 240 feet) or as well-known, but it still has plenty to offer in terms of scenic splendor. Locals rave about the views, wildflowers, and relative dearth of tourists on the steep one-mile path from the foot of the waterfall to the summit.
How to get to Multnomah Falls
The quickest route, taking only 30 minutes, is westbound on I-84 from Portland. Parking can be found off of I-84 at exit 31, which is a left-side departure route. To get to the overlook of the falls, take the trail that goes under the freeway.
From Portland, follow the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Freeway three miles to the east. This route is scenic and takes about 45 minutes. Exit at 28 (Bridal Veil). On your travels, you will come across additional waterfalls.
Extremely scenic, lasting an hour or more with detours: Get off at the Troutdale exit on westbound I-84. You should take the Scenic Circle, as indicated by the signage. Take a trip down the historic Columbia River Highway, the very first road in the United States to be designated a National Historic Monument. The drive to the Multnomah Falls parking area offers spectacular vistas of the Columbia Gorge, Mount Hood, and a number of other well-known waterfalls.