hike: Multnomah-Wahkeena loop
Six waterfalls, including Oregon’s highest, two cascading spring-fed creeks meandering through lush greenery, and old-growth Douglas fir make this a spectacular loop hike.
distance: 5.4 miles (loop)
elevation gain: 1,600 ft.
drive time from Portland: 40 minutes
parking pass: none
hike description: OregonHikers.org
My preferred route for this classic loop hike is to park at Wahkeena Falls and take the return trail next to the road to Multnomah Falls. This way, the most crowded part of the hike is completed at the start. The return trail segment is just under a mile from the Wahkeena trailhead to Multnomah Falls.
A two-tiered waterfall, Multnomah Falls (620 ft.) is the highest waterfall in Oregon. With five different flows of lava visible in the rock face of Multnomah Falls, this is a good place to see evidence of the Gorge’s geological history. At the base of the falls is the historic Multnomah Lodge, built in 1915 around the same time as the Historic Columbia River Highway.
After completing a series of switchbacks on paved trail, reach the top of Multnomah Falls. A side trail leads to an overlook where you can look down as the waterfall plunges down towards the lodge and parking lot.
Back on the main trail, cross a small rock bridge and begin hiking next to Multnomah Creek.
Just ahead on the trail is Dutchman’s Tunnel, an overhang of basalt that creates a cave-like structure with tiny plants hanging down from the rock crevices. Dutchman Falls is a succession of three short falls along the creek.
Return to the Wahkeena trail and head uphill, crossing a heavily wooded slope for about 1.5 miles before reaching the canyon of Multnomah Creek. The first waterfall along this section is . Continue on the trail to Wiesendanger Falls (50 ft.), which drops over a flat ledge of the creek into a rocky bowl. The next waterfall viewed from the trail is Ecola Falls (55 ft.).
Turn left on the Wahkeena Trail and hike through forest for 0.9 miles to a junction with the Vista Point Trail, continuing straight on the Wahkeena Trail for another 0.4 miles to the Angels Rest trail junction.
To see Wahkeena Springs, which appear from underground and are the source of Wahkeena Creek, turn right at the Angels Rest trail junction and continue for about 100 yards. A side trail on the right leads to a scenic area with the springs bubbling up from below ground, then pooling and meandering beneath large trees before heading downhill.
Head back to the Wahkeena Trail and turn left to continue the loop hike. In just under half a mile, reach delicate Fairy Falls (20 ft.), a lovely waterfall that cascades over a blocky basalt rock wall.
The trail now parallels Wahkeena Creek as it rushes downhill, cascading through mossy rock next to ferns, berries and many wildflowers in the spring.
In about 0.4 miles, take the short side trail to Lemmon’s Viewpoint, with views of the Columbia River and across to Washington. In another 0.4 miles, reach the base of Wahkeena Falls (242 ft.). The height of the falls can seem deceptive because instead of falling in one plunge, it falls in a series of tiers, some of which are difficult to see from the trail. Wahkeena is a Yakima Native American word meaning “most beautiful,” which is quite appropriate for this creek and waterfall. From here, it’s a short 0.2 mile walk back to the parking lot.