hike: Tamanawas Falls

A Native American word, Tamanawas means “friendly spirit guide.” It’s not hard to imagine friendly spirits enjoying the breathtaking scenery here. Highlights include the mossy green Cold Spring Creek canyon and 100 ft. tall Tamanawas Falls.

distance: 4.2 miles (loop)
elevation gain:
 900 ft.
difficulty: easy
best season: summer (typically June to November)
drive time from Portland: 2 hours
parking pass: NW Forest Pass

The Hike

Most people begin at the East Fork trailhead for a shorter hike, but for a longer and much less crowded hike, begin at the Elk Meadows/Polallie trailhead to the north, parking at the Polallie picnic area. The trailhead is not well marked, but is easy to find. Look directly across the highway from the parking lot for a trail heading uphill.

Tamanawas Falls hike

For the first 1.5 miles, travel through heavy forest with a mix of western red cedar and Douglas fir. Occasionally, the forest opens enough to catch a peek of Mount Adams to the north.

Tamanawas Falls hikeTamanawas Falls hike

After 1.3 miles is a trail junction with the Tamanawas Falls Tie Trail (#650B). Turn here and descend for just over .25 miles to a junction with the Tamanawas Trail (#650A).

Tamanawas Falls hike

Turn right and pass through an area filled with extra large boulders, following the trail to Tamanawas Falls (100 ft.). Traversing across a steep talus slope, it is possible to reach a small amphitheater behind the falls.

Tamanawas Falls hike

From the falls, return to the junction and stay on the Tamanawas Falls Trail as it meanders along Cold Spring Creek, a tributary of the East Fork Hood River. This section of the hike is the prettiest, with plenty of spots to access the mossy banks of the creek.

Tamanawas Falls hikeTamanawas Falls hike

For the return loop to Polallie trailhead, turn left at a junction just uphill from a rustic bridge crossing the creek. This section of trail traverses up and down the hillside several times parallel to the highway, although it is far enough above it to feel somewhat secluded. There are a couple of small creek crossings, and waterproof boots will be handy during higher water levels.

Tamanawas Falls hike  Tamanawas Falls hike  Tamanawas Falls hike

For a shorter hike, park at the East Fork trailhead located about a mile south of the Polallie picnic area. From here, it’s just over half a mile to the Tamanawas Trail, and includes a footbridge over the raging waters of the East Fork Hood River.