The Most Magnificent Waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge
Portland, Oregon is a city surrounded by natural beauty. There are many gorgeous waterfalls within a half hour drive of downtown. The beautiful Columbia River Gorge stretches for over 80 miles along the border of Washington and Oregon. This breathtaking canyon is home to over 70 waterfalls on the Oregon side alone, with 5 of the best being located within an hour from the city. If you love waterfalls, you are in luck, as the Columbia River Gorge is home to the highest concentration in the US.
Although Portland tends to get much more press regarding its’ strong foodie scene & eclectic offerings, the nature surrounding the city is really its’ best asset. And, the best part of all, is that the natural offerings are easily accessible, even for tourists limited on time. Most of these falls can be viewed via a short hike or a scenic overlook, although hiking is a great way to get an upclose look at these natural wonders.
For tourists who want to save time and the extra costs associated with a car rental, I recommend signing up for a Half Day Gorge tour through Wildwood Adventures. This tour is super convenient for tourists staying downtown as the company conveniently picks you up from your hotel and takes you on a relaxing ride to 4 of the best area waterfalls, as well as the picturesque Vista House overlook. The guides are very friendly and knowledgeable about the Portland area in general, and go of their way to recommend various attractions & activities to incorporate into your trip itinerary.
Although you could spend weeks viewing all of the waterfalls in the area, the tour is the best way to view the best-of-the-best in a short period of time. Here is a brief overview of the 4 waterfalls you will visit during your tour.
Multnomah Falls is the most spectacular of all the falls, standing tall at a whopping 627 feet. It is the tallest in Oregon and the 2nd tallest (year-round) waterfall in the US (although this fact is debatable and purportedly was embellished in the past to draw more tourists to the area – regardless it is a stunning waterfall). The falls are fed year-round from underground springs from Larch Mountain, and thus, it maintains a constant water supply which varies in intensity throughout the year. Unfortunately, some recent wildfire damage has made the trail to the falls inaccessible, however, you can still enjoy a decent view near the entrance gate.
The 2 tiered falls consists of an upper falls which drop about 500 feet into a pool and a second set of falls which comes forth from the pool and flows beneath a beautiful stone footbridge which was constructed in the early 1900’s. The falls are rightfully so the most visited national recreation site in the Pacific Northwest. Truly a mesmerizing sight, and an even more memorable experience if you are able to hike the 1 mile trail to get a better look at the falls. Spring and winter are typically the best time to view the falls due to increased water flow.
Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls, although not the tallest at a mere 120 ft, is probably the most gorgeous waterfall near Portland. The beautiful secluded setting within the lush Bridal Veil State Park cannot be topped. The 2 tiered beauty is located on Bridal Veil Creek in the Columbia River Gorge. There are a few short trails which lead you to an observation deck with picture-perfect views of the falls, although our tour guide took us on a shortcut trail to save time. The falls are named as so as the smooth cascading flow of water resembles a bride’s veil, and not surprisingly, the falls are a hotspot for wedding photography.
Like Multnomah, Bridal Veil is also located on the Columbia River Gorge highway. Because this hike cannot be viewed directly from the highway, it seems to maintain a quieter ambiance and sees much less tourist traffic. The area has a less commercialized feeling with the woodsy setting and serene sounds of the rushing creek taking the place of tourist traffic. Lots of great photo opportunities here due to the lack of crowds.
Shepperd’s Dell is another gorgeous, secluded waterfall located along the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway. This one is commonly known as the Bowtie Falls due to the interesting shape that Youngs Creek makes as it curves and twists down a series of falls. The waterfall is 220 feet high, although not all of it is visible due to the hefty tree coverage. However, this does not at all take away from the beauty of this natural wonder, and if anything, the lovely isolated natural surroundings make it even more majestic.
Across the street is a wonderful overlook of the Columbia River. This waterfall is just minutes from Bridal Veil and the drive over is just as gorgeous as the falls itself. As of 2018, the short trail to the falls is closed due to rock slides, however, you can still enjoy a nice view from the bridge. It is more of a quick roadstop in an area filled with fantastic waterfalls, this being just one of many worth going out of your way for.
Latourell Falls is yet another very impressive waterfall along the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway. This single plunge waterfall stands at 224 feet tall and is really unique compared to others on this list due to the super straight drop of the water over a basalt cliff. Latourell is really amazing to see in person and pictures really do no justice for this one. There really are no trees in the way so you will have a perfect clear view of this one. Here, you can get so close to the end of the falls that up you can feel the fresh mist, although it’s often freezing cold even through the late spring/early summer months.
There is a short 2 mile loop to the upper falls, although we parked at Guy Talbot State Park and hiked a really short .25 mile alternative path to the Lower Falls.
As Latourell Falls is one of the most well-known & popular of the Columbia Gorge waterfalls, you can expect large crowds here at any time. Although you could be waiting a while to get your picture, it’s worth the wait for the gorgeous photo opportunities.
Vista House at Crown Point
In addition to viewing the marvelous waterfalls, you will also make a stop at Crown House Vista Point. On the drive from Portland to the Columbia River Gorge area, you will notice a magnificent house upon a cliff overlooking the river. At exit 22 near Corbett lies the historic Vista House, built in 1916 at the same time as the Columbia River Gorge scenic highway. While it is often too cloudy, rainy, or windy (winds frequently exceed 100 mph) to get out of your vehicle, if you happen to visit on a nice day, the views are truly incredible.
The house was built on a cliff 723 feet above the river and the views are breathtaking. Although originally constructed as a place where visitors could use the restroom & grab a few refreshments before continuing on, it’s now more popular for the extraordinary vistas. The inside of the house is beautiful too as it is was constructed almost entirely of marble, thus earning its’ one time nickname of the “100,000 Outhouse.” While residents were once shocked over the hefty price tag, recent renovations have cost upwards of 4 million!
*Overall, this tour is a great way to explore some of the tremendous nature surrounding the city. Although the city of Portland is home to all sorts of eclectic restaurants, shops, museums, and attractions, it’s nice to escape the clutter for a few hours to explore the natural wonders of the area. The $60 per person price tag is definitely a great value considering you are provided transportation, a knowledgeable guide, and not to mention a convenient way to see the best waterfalls near Portland.