Story and Photos by Lois Sturdivant
April and May are the perfect months for exploring the Columbia River Gorge. Spring rains and snowmelt swell waterfalls, and wildflowers begin their annual show, making the Gorge a photographer’s paradise. An easy day trip along the Oregon side of the Gorge takes you past six waterfalls and an array of spring wildflowers. How many you see is limited only by how far you want to walk.
On a waterfall “test trip” March 25, my hubby and I took exit #18 just past the bridge over the Sandy River. This section of old Hwy 30 winds past the river and eventually up the hill to Corbett, Oregon. You can take the Corbett exit #22 from I-84 to the East Historic Columbia River Highway, also called Crown Point Highway. Be sure to stop at the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint for a fantastic view of the Gorge, including Crown Point and Beacon Rock. The view is impressive even if it is overcast.
Although not a waterfall, a stop at Crown Point presents phenomenal views and a wonderful gift shop in the Vista House. Be prepared for strong winds. Crews are currently working on the road that loops below Crown Point, with flaggers on each end. The parking lot is partially filled with construction equipment.
Latourell Falls 224 feet • 1 drop
Latourell Falls are located in Guy W. Talbot State Park. A moderate trail leads to the base of the Falls, and a steeper one to a viewpoint. A fork to the left continues to Upper Latourell Falls, but the loop trail back to the highway is no longer open for safety reasons. The Falls were named for Joseph Latourell, who was appointed postmaster of the Rooster Rock Post Office in 1887. The land’s original owner, Guy W. Talbot, donated the land and falls to the Oregon State Parks system in 1929.
Shepperds Dell Falls
220 feet • 8 drops
Shepperds Dell State Park is about 1.75 miles west of Bridal Veil Falls. There is parking on the east side of the bridge, with a 4/10-mile trail leading to a viewpoint by the lower portion of the Falls. Though not an official name, Shepperd’s Dell was named for the wife of pioneer George Shepperd, who in 1915 donated the land that later became the state park. The bridge spanning the gorge dates back to 1913, when the original Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway was constructed, and it is registered as a National Historic Landmark.
Bridal Veil Falls 118 feet • 2 drops
Bridal Veil Falls is accessed from Bridal Veil Falls State Park. A trail winds 1/3 of a mile to the viewing decks overlooking the Falls, including a series of steps. The park also offers views of the Gorge both East and West from rocky bluffs.
In the twentieth century, the Falls were quite different in appearance than today, with the upper tier about 30 feet taller and the lower tier about half its current size. The creek squeezes through a narrow notch, which has been filled with debris, changing the height of the waterfall’s tiers.
Across the road from the entrance to the park is the Bridal Veil Lodge B&B, which dates from 1926.
Wahkeena Falls 242 feet • 2 drops
Wahkeena Falls are about a half mile west of Multnomah Falls. Originally known as Gordon Falls, after the completion of the original highway in 1915, the falls were renamed Wahkeena (a Yakama Indian word meaning “most beautiful”). Wahkeena Trail #420 leads to a stone bridge at the base of the Falls. The trail starts at a wooden bridge over Wahkeena Creek; stay right, turning left will take you to Multnomah Falls. A steep 3.7 mile loop trail continues to Fairy Falls.
635 feet • 3 drops
Members of the Lewis and Clark expedition were the first whites to see Multnomah Falls as they floated down the Columbia River in 1805. The name has been in use since at least 1860, possibly as an attraction for Steamboat tours of the Columbia Gorge. Climb to the Benson bridge for a view of one of the best falls in Oregon. If you happen to make this stop around lunchtime, the Multnomah Lodge restaurant serves great food along with views of the waterfall. Plus, an espresso stand is a welcome sight on cool spring days!
Although Oneonta Creek does not offer a waterfall viewable from the road, it is worth stopping to view the narrow gorge the creek flows through. Also, a tunnel on an old section of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway has been reopened next to the viewing bridge. The Oneonta trail leads to Triple Falls, 3.2 miles roundtrip.
Horsetail Falls 214 feet • 1 drop
Less than a mile after Oneonta Creek, Horsetail Falls is impossible to miss. There is a parking area across from the falls. For the more adventurous, Ponytail or Upper Horsetail Falls is located on Horsetail Falls Trail #438. Follow the steep trail for about 4/10 mile, then take a right at the junction. The falls is formed where Horsetail Creek is shot through a narrow crack into a large pool in front of a deep recess, allowing the trail to pass behind the falls.
Lois Sturdivant has been part of Columbia River Reader since before the first issue. A skilled wordsmith, layout assistant, photographer and bookkeeper, she also brings her love of rhododendrons, quilting, and Northwest natural history to the mix. She lives in Lexington, a suburb of Kelso, Wash.