No wonder that Multnomah Falls is one of the most visited natural recreation sites in Oregon. The place offers magnificent views, interesting hiking trails, and a peek into the exciting geological history of the region.
Multnomah Falls is located on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, just 30 miles (48 km) east of downtown Portland, along the Historic Columbia River Highway with an easy access from I-84 (Exit 31) and Hwy 30 (Exit 17).
Multnomah Falls owes its existence and shape to the late Pleistocene Missoula Floods, the largest floods to ever occur on Earth.
Missoula Floods were caused by a repeated breach of an ice dam, which blocked the present-day Clark Fork River and formed a huge glacial lake, known as Lake Missoula. The waters of the lake would rush down the Clark Fork and the Columbia River at the speed approaching 80 mph (130 km/h), flooding eastern Washington and the Willamette Valley up to the present-day Eugene, Oregon, and beyond.
After the rupture, the ice would reform, thus restoring Lake Missoula until the next breach of the dam. Geologists estimate that the flooding and ice dam reformation cycle lasted 55 years on average, with the existing evidence of at least 25 massive floods.
Multnomah Falls has two drops -- the upper drop of 542 feet (165 meters) and the lower drop of 69 feet (21 meters). Together with the gradual 9 foot (3 meters) cascade in between they make up the overall height of 620 feet (189 meters). This is the tallest waterfall in Oregon, and the 137th tallest among both seasonal and year-round waterfalls in the United States according to the World Waterfall Database. Among year-round waterfalls, Multnomah Falls is often regarded as the second tallest.
Multnomah Falls does not have the seasonality of the majority waterfalls in Oregon. Natural underground springs from Larch Mountains provide water throughout the year. Rainfalls and melting snow also contribute to the water flow, making Multnomah Falls larger, wider and louder during winter and spring.
Another prominent feature of the location is the 45-foot (14-meter) Benson Bridge 105 feet (32 meters) above the lower cascade. The bridge was named after Simon Benson, a prominent Portland businessman and philanthropist of Norwegian descent, who owned the land in the early 1900s and funded the construction of the footbridge in 1914. Before his death, Benson donated Multnomah Falls to the City of Portland, which then transferred ownership to the USDA Forest Service.
Multnomah Falls Hiking
In addition to the waterfall itself, Multnomah Falls is known for a scenic hiking trail. The trail starts at the base of the waterfall, goes through the Benson Bridge, and then follows up to the platform at the top of the upper cascade, where visitors can enjoy the bird’s eye view on the Columbia Gorge.
The overall length of the trail is around 1.3 miles (2.6 miles for a round trip). Once on the top, visitors can either go back or follow another trail. The difficulty of the Multnomah Falls trail is estimated as moderate, and in good weather conditions is safe for children and dogs.
Multnomah Falls | General Description
Visitor Center Hours: Everyday, 9 am - 5 pm
Managed: US Forest Service
Location: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Services: Restaurant, snack bar, espresso cart, gift shop
Activities: Hiking, nature viewing, picnicking
Accommodations: Multnomah Falls Lodge
Distance from the parking: Short
Road access: Any passenger vehicle
Day-use fees: Free
Elevation: 627 ft (191 m)
Multnomah Falls is located:
- 32 miles west of Hood River
- 31 miles east of Portland
- 75 miles northeast of Salem.
- Head east on Interstate 84 to exit 31
- Park and walk south, underneath the interstate and railroad tracks to the Lodge and Visitor Center.
From Cascade Locks,
- Drive west on Interstate 84 to exit 35, Ainsworth State Park
- Follow the Historic Highway west 4 miles to the site's parking area.
Phone: (503) 695-2372