Curious about the Multnomah Falls Hike? I’ve been going since I was a kid. Here’s everything you need to know!
Located 30 miles east of Downtown Portland lies one of Oregon’s most spectacular natural attractions. You can find the magnificent Multnomah Falls along the Historic Columbia River Highway, and with over 2.5 million viewers a year, chances are you won’t be the only visitors, but if you can’t beat them, join them!
About Multnomah Falls
In a state where waterfalls are as common as towns, it is hard to stand out from the crowd. Multnomah Falls, however, has certainly achieved that. Towering at 620 feet, it is Oregon’s tallest waterfall, which is quite a claim to fame in itself.
The waterfall falls in two distinct falls, the upper falls plunging a powerful 542 feet, and the lower falls, much smaller at 69 feet.
Both snowmelt and rainwater feed Multnomah Falls, and because of this, it flows throughout the year, so no matter what season you visit, the waterfall looks spectacular!
One of the most well-known aspects of the waterfall is the picturesque bridge that sits at the base of the first tier. Benson Bridge is named after the builder of the bridge, Simon Benson, and helps visitors cross over Multnomah Creek. It also provides an incredible viewing platform for looking up at the upper tier and down over the lower tier.
Do note that a waterfall shower can occur here depending on the winds and the power so be prepared to get sprayed a bit!
Seeing Multnomah Falls
One of the best things about Multnomah Falls is that you can walk right up to it without having to hike and feel the power of this icy cascade.
It is very close to the road and has easy parking. It has the best of all worlds, with a wheelchair-accessible viewing platform and incredible Multnomah Falls hikes that allow you to see even more falls.
Multnomah Falls Lodge sits at the base of the falls. The lodge was built in 1925 and contains a restaurant, gift shop, espresso bar, and a U.S. Forest Service interpretive center. The center is open daily and is a great place to grab a snack and rest for a while before tackling one of the Multnomah Falls trails.
There are a number of ways to see the falls, depending on whether you want to see the waterfall itself or are up for a bit of a hike to see the other waterfalls in the area. Whichever hike you choose, rest assured the Multnomah Falls hikes are some of the best in the Columbia River Gorge!
Multnomah Falls Hikes: You Have Options!
Some of you might just want to see the falls and then dip out to the next thing to do around Portland. We get it! But if you want to add in some bonus waterfalls, or if you’re looking for the best Multnomah Falls hike in the area, you’ll want to pay attention to ALL the options you have here…
There are four options depending on how “deep” you want to go. We explain each one in depth below for you to choose. Spoiler alert – #4 is our favorite!
1. Just Seeing Multnomah Falls
If you literally just want to see the waterfall and nothing else, there is an easy way to do this. It is as simple as parking and walking right up to the waterfall’s base.
This main viewing deck is called the Lower Viewing Deck and gives you a clear view of the two distinct tiers of the waterfall and the iconic bridge. You will be sharing the view with countless others, as this is one of the busiest sections, but the deck is big enough for you not to feel too crowded and for everyone to find their spot.
Even if you don’t like walking, you should at least walk to the bridge between the fall’s tiers to get a very different perspective. The bridge is known as Benson Bridge and is almost as famous as the waterfall itself, located 105 feet above the base of the lower falls.
It is about 0.2 miles from the lower viewing platform to the bridge and is uphill all the way, but it is worth the short walk to get a different perspective, and you will be much closer to the upper falls. It is also a good vantage point to gaze down over the lower 69-foot drop.
Not really a Multnomah Falls hike, but if you are just in it for the falls and walking isn’t really for you, this is the option you should go for.
2. The Multnomah Falls Hike That Heads to the Top
Distance: 2.6 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Elevation Gain: 813.65 feet
Seeing Multnomah Falls from near its base is incredible, but seeing it from the top gives you some scale of just how incredible this waterfall really is. Thankfully, there is a very easy way to reach the top of the waterfall via this hike, although, as you can probably guess, it is uphill the entire way! (Our calves were burnin’!)
It is about one mile from the lower viewing deck to the top of the waterfall, and you will follow a marked path via a series of switchbacks.
There is no denying it is quite a climb, but the reward is worth the effort, as the viewing deck at the top lets you overlook the top of the waterfall, and there are some incredible views out over the gorge and beyond.
As with most “top of the waterfall” views, you can’t really see much of the falls, but it’s still a great feat with views of the gorge and a beautiful creek. Plus, you might have the energy to continue and we hope you do, because it gets more beautiful…
3. Multnomah Falls Hike to Ecola Falls (4 Waterfalls in One)
Distance: 3.2 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Elevation Gain: 1115.49 feet
Although Multnomah is a destination in itself, there is actually a lot more than meets the eye just behind the waterfall. If you are willing to take a short Multnomah Falls hike up behind the falls, you will see three other incredible waterfalls hidden upstream, ending in Ecola Falls.
Word of warning, on this epic hike, there are 11 switchbacks in total, nine are uphill, and two are downhill, so do your stretches before you ascend!
To reach Ecola Falls, you will be hiking on the Larch Mountain Trail that leaves from Multnomah Lodge. Sure, it will seem like a never-ending climb, but the many waterfalls on the trail make it so worth it, and you have plenty of time to pause at each of the falls along the way to catch your breath. In fact, there hardly seems to be a point where it flattens out at all.
You will be following the course of Multnomah Creek, past the top-of-the-falls viewpoint we talked about above.
After that, the first falls you reach will be Dutchman Falls, a smaller waterfall than Multnomah, yes, but nice to see nonetheless. After this, you will walk under a basalt overhang, and the next waterfall along the hike is the Weisendanger Falls, also sometimes known as Upper Multnomah Falls.
Ecola Falls is the last major waterfall found along this Multnomah Falls trail at 55 feet and is your turning-around point. The falls are also sometimes dubbed as Hidden Falls and are a beautiful grand finale of what is a pretty challenging but rewarding Multnomah Falls hike.
4. Multnomah Falls Hike PLUS Wahkeena Falls (OUR FAVORITE OPTION!)
Distance: 5.1 miles
Type of Trail: Loop
Elevation Gain: 1640.42 feet
You will be pleased to know that Multnomah Falls doesn’t have to be the only waterfall you see on your day trip. You can also extend the Multnomah Falls hike and take in some bonus waterfalls. If we were to give you one piece of advice, it would be to do this hike, it is so worth it!
The hike is a loop, and along the way, you can see Dutchman Falls, Weisendanger Falls, and Ecola Falls, as mentioned above, but also—Fairy Falls and Wahkeena Falls! That’s a lot of waterfalls for a relatively short loop hike, plus there are a few creeks, pools, and an incredible view of the gorge thrown in as a bonus.
Start this hike with the crowds at Multnomah Falls Lower Viewing Deck, which is likely to be full of other people, but don’t worry, it won’t be long before the crowds start to thin out.
Follow the path first up to the bridge viewing point and then up again, following the switchbacks up to the top of Multnomah Falls and taking in the views from this viewing deck. It is a cool view as you get to see the very top of the waterfall, so high you can’t even see the bottom.
– Heading Past Multnomah:
Up until now, you would have been following a paved trail, but this is where the paved Multnomah Falls trail ends and the trail gets a little more rugged, made up of dirt and rocks. You will walk alongside the river through a small canyon, passing several smaller waterfalls. Before long, however, the big waterfalls start.
Weisendanger Falls is beautiful, with almost a sandy, pebbly area where you can sit and have a snack. It also makes a good lunch stop. If you’d like, you can walk up almost to the base of the falls, and at 50 feet high, it is quite impressive.
Shortly after Weisendanger, if you follow the trail, you will stumble upon Ecola Falls. At 55 feet, it is a similar size to Weisendanger. Although beautiful, you can really only see it from the trail looking down, with no real way to get to it. Chances are this is why this waterfall is also known as Hidden Falls.
Now on the other side!
– To Wahkeena:
Follow the forested, mostly shaded trail from here until you reach the next waterfall. At this point, you will be making your way almost parallel to the road far below you, and rather than going continuously up, you will start to head towards the Wahkeena Falls side of the trail. Before long, you will come across the next stunning waterfall on the trail.
Fairy Falls is a small waterfall at 20 feet, but its smaller size makes it no less beautiful. The water cascades down the boulders in a picturesque fan shape. Someone has strategically placed a wooden plank down so you can cross right over it.
After seasonal rains, the waterfall can be extremely powerful, and sometimes, when the sun hits the water just the right way, the whole waterfall is said to glow. We will leave that for you to decide.
What must come up must also come down. After Fairy Falls, the trail starts to descend again, back down to Wahkeena Falls, the last waterfall on this trail, before heading back to Multnomah Falls. Wahkeena is a very different type of waterfall again, a vast cascade that runs over the mossy rocks in a mighty plunge.
Most Worth-It Hike Near Multnomah Falls:
If you don’t want to move your car, then the next most worthwhile hike while you’re in the area is the Wahkeena Falls Trail! You have a few options here as well, but here’s the low down on the hike:
Wahkeena Falls Trail
Distance: 3.11 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Elevation Gain: 941.60 feet
Wahkeena Falls is another spectacular waterfall near Multnomah, the problem is that parking anywhere near it is all but impossible. The largest nearby parking lot is the one at Multnomah, so many people park here and go to Wahkeena via the Wahkeena Falls Trail.
Park at Multnomah and either head to the viewpoint before your hike or save the full viewing until afterward. Follow the trail that runs adjacent to the road all the way to the Wahkeena picnic site and then up to Wahkeena Falls.
Take in the stunning tumble of Wahkeena Falls. The falls are a powerful 242 feet and fall in two tiers. You can get a great view from the base from the stone observation platform.
You can continue the hike even further, up a series of switchbacks to Fairy Falls. This is the highest you will climb on this hike, and once you have caught your breath, taken a few snaps, and enjoyed the fresh mountain air, you can turn around and go back down the way you came.
READ MORE: Wahkeena Falls: 2 Trails to Choose From!
The Best Way to See These Falls AND Multnomah Falls?
The Quick Way: If you want a quick reward and you’re on the run, then you can easily see Multnomah Falls from below without a hike, and then Wahkeena Falls just next door, too, with a very short walk! You can see the BEST two waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge this way with minimal walking.
The Worth It Loop: Rather than just heading from Multnomah to Wahkeena, we recommend doing the above 5-mile-loop Multnomah Falls hike instead! You get to see five incredible waterfalls rather than just two, plus the loop means you won’t have to backtrack. Scroll back up to #4!
The Parking Situation
Let’s talk a little about the parking situation. There are two parking lots for the falls. The first is the closest yet the smaller of the two, located across the street from the lodge, with room for around 50 cars. There is a good chance this will be full when you arrive. You won’t need a permit to park here either, making it an even more desirable spot to park at.
The larger two lots can be found at junction 31, just off of I-84. This parking lot for the falls is huge, but despite its size, it still gets very busy, especially during the summer months.
You shouldn’t worry too much about getting a place during the off-season, plus there is no fee. During the summer, it is a different matter. You will need a timed use permit from the end of May to the start of September. Here are your options.
1. Buy a permit available 14 days from the date you want to visit.
2. If you don’t know the day you are visiting and like to play things more on the riskier side, several timed reservation permits are available on the same day, which you have to pick up in person.
There is a small fee of $2 for a reservation per car. Once you have secured your permit, you must visit at the time stated on your reservation, and you only have an hour’s grace period, so make sure you are on time. Once you are there, however, you don’t have to worry about how long you stay.
To reach the waterfall from this parking lot, a clear path leads you down under the highway.
Best Time to Visit Multnomah Falls
Different times of the year come with various positives and negatives when visiting Multnomah Falls, so it depends on your priorities! Let’s take a look…
Winter – Winter is when you have the best chance of viewing the waterfall without the crowds, and it can look beautiful in its icy state. However, there is a good chance the path up to the bridge will be shut at this time of year. The spray from the upper falls covers the bridge and turns to ice, making it inaccessible to visitors.
Spring – The falls start getting a bit busier in the spring, but it is nothing compared to the summer months. Spring can be great, as the falls are in peak flow, and the rushing cascade of water is a sight to see. It can still be chilly at this time of year, so wrap up warm!
Summer – During the summer, you have the best chance of getting some great weather. However, at this time of year, you are almost guaranteed to have to barter your way through crowds of camera-welding tourists. At this time of year, you will have to pay for a parking permit, and although the falls will still be spectacular, they will have started to dry up a little bit.
Fall – Fall can be a good time to visit, as the crowds start to thin slightly, but you are around before the icy weather arrives. Remember that the waterfall is not in peak flow but looks incredible, surrounded by golden leaves.
If possible, try to avoid weekends and holidays. As one of the most popular waterfalls in Oregon, it gets its fair share of visitors no matter the day, so anything you can do to limit the crowds, the better. There are some incredible waterfalls near Portland, but it is safe to say that most of the visitors flock to Multnomah!
We hope this helped you decide which Multnomah Falls hike to tackle!
Oregon native and explorer at heart. Loves tackling expeditions around the world and drinking a good beer at the end of the day. PNW obsessed, VW nerd, and surf or snow riding fanatic.