Did you know there are at least 238 waterfalls in Oregon? And of those, there are at least 90 waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge?!?! Thus, chasing waterfalls is one of the best things to do in Columbia River Gorge.
I think it would take a month to see every waterfall, but in one day, you can see eight of the best waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge. You will be chasing the most magical waterfalls from two-tiered to plunge and horsetail waterfalls all day long (sorry, TLC).
My guide to the best waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge includes information about each waterfall, the distance, and difficulty of the hikes, permit information, type of falls, a 1-day itinerary, and more.
Do You Need a Permit or Pass to See Waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge?
Yes, you need a permit or pass to see some of the best waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge. My list below requires three different types of permits/passes. There is a Multnomah Falls permit, Waterfalls Corridor permit, and a Northwest Forest Pass.
Northwest Forest Pass
The Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at a few waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge. It is $5 per day or $30 for an annual pass. I recommend purchasing your day e-pass ahead of time. It is super easy and convenient.
In addition to the Columbia River Gorge area, if you plan to travel to National Forests in the Pacific Northwest (Region 6) within a year, you should consider the annual pass. Here is a list of participating sites.
Multnomah Falls and Waterfalls Corridor Permit
The State of Oregon implemented a new timed-access permit system in 2022 to enter a portion of the Historic Columbia River Highway. The timed-access permit system was put into place to help reduce congestion on the scenic drive.
Before the permits, the Historic Columbia River Highway would have cars bumper to bumper for several hours. After its success in 2022, this summer permit will continue in 2023 and years to come.
Therefore, travelers visiting Multnomah Falls and the “Waterfalls Corridor” from May to September between 9 am – 6 pm will need to reserve a permit. These $2 permit tickets need to be purchased ahead of time. Same-day and on-site tickets are not available.
Please note these are two different permits – Multnomah Falls (I-84) permit and Waterfalls Corridor (Highway 30) permit. The Multnomah Falls permit grants access to park and visit the iconic Multhomah Falls. The Waterfalls Corridor permit allows access on the Historic Columbia River Highway between Vista House (near exit 28) and Ainsworth State Park to see some of the best waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge.
You do not need a permit if you have reservations to dine at Multnomah Falls Lodge. However, you will need to show proof of your reservation. So make sure you have one.
Best Waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge
Most of the best waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge require some hiking, which I will list in the information below. Some hikes may take two hours. Some may take as little as ten minutes.
There are also a few waterfalls that are so easy; all you have to do is park your car and walk across the street. So whether it takes some trekking or a leisurely walk, there are waterfalls for every type of traveler to see and experience.
Bridal Veil Falls
Type and height of waterfall: Two-Tiered Falls | 118 ft.
How to get there: 0.6 Miles Round Trip | 20 Mins | 70 ft. Elevation Gain | Easy
Bridal Veil Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge because it is only 30 minutes from Portland. It is also a stunning waterfall with a plunge pool that is easily accessible for a refreshing swim.
There are two trails at Bridal Veil Falls State Park. The Bridal Veil Overlook loop is a paved 0.4-mile (out and back) trail accessible to all users that takes you to an overlook with scenic views, but you cannot see the waterfall. The Bridal Veil Falls Trail is 0.6 miles (out and back) that takes you to the base of the magnificent falls.
The hike to the base of Bridal Veil Falls begins with a steep descent toward Bridal Veil Creek. Once you reach the creek, cross the wooden bridge and stay to the right until you reach the falls.
Another option is to go left from the bridge and take the stairs that lead up to an observation platform. You can get great views from the platform, but if you want to experience the falls, I recommend taking the trail to the base.
Permit/Pass: There are no fees for Bridal Veil Falls. However, if you visit from May through September between 9 am – 6 pm, you will need a Waterfalls Corridor (Highway 30) permit. If you are driving from Portland to Bridal Veil Falls, you will not need this permit – only if you are going east to west.
Dry Creek Falls
Type and height of waterfall: Horsetail Falls | 74 ft.
How to get there: 4.4 Miles Round Trip | 2 Hrs 10 Mins | 700 ft. Elevation Gain | Easy
Dry Creek Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge. Pictures do not do this waterfall justice, which might be why I love it so much. When we arrived at the falls, it was a refreshing surprise to see its magnitude in person.
Dry Creek Falls is a 74 ft horsetail waterfall that plunges over a moss-covered basalt wall surrounded by a natural amphitheater. Although it is one of the “smaller” waterfalls in terms of height, it makes up for its size with its thunderous roar.
Of all the waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge, this plunge falls has the loudest roar. Most likely because it’s one of the closest waterfalls you can touch and the natural amphitheater amplifies the sound. The sight and sound of Dry Creek Falls are nothing short of magical.
Permit/Pass: A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park.
Type and height of waterfall: Cascading Horsetail Falls | 176 ft.
How to get there: a short walk from the parking lot.
In addition to Multnomah Falls, Horsetail Falls is one of the most accessible waterfalls to see in the Columbia River Gorge because it is right along the scenic Historic Columbia River Highway. It does not require any hiking. You are looking at a beautiful cascading waterfall just a few steps from your parked car.
Given its name, the cascading waterfall is shaped like a horsetail as it plunges into a large pool. At the base of the pool, visitors can inch closer to the falls by standing on a bed of rocks. This is a great photo op or a fun way to feel the the falls.
If you are looking for another waterfall to see that requires a little hike, do not miss out on Ponytail Falls (also referred to as Upper Horsetail Falls). More info on this waterfall is below.
Permit/Pass: There are no fees for Horsetail Falls. However, if you visit from May through September between 9 am – 6 pm, you will need a Waterfalls Corridor (Highway 30) permit.
Ponytail (Upper Horsetail) Falls
Type and height of waterfall: Plunge Falls | 88 ft.
How to get there: 0.8 Miles Round Trip | 20 Mins | 330 ft. Elevation Gain | Easy
Ponytail Falls (or Upper Horsetail Falls) is an extension of Horsetail Falls. After admiring Horsetail Falls, hike the Horsetail Falls Trail #438. It is a short but steep hike with a few switchbacks and breathtaking views along the way.
This is one of the best waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge because you get a unique experience. The trail takes hikers through a basalt half-tunnel and behind the plunging Ponytail Falls.
Permit/Pass: Just like its sister falls, there are no fees for Ponytail (Upper Horsetail) Falls. However, if you visit from May through September between 9 am – 6 pm, you will need a Waterfalls Corridor (Highway 30) permit.
Read Next: A Guide to Turner Falls in Oklahoma
Type and height of waterfall: Plunge Falls | 249 ft.
How to get there: 0.25 Miles Round Trip | 5 Mins | Easy
Latourell Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge because it is the first waterfall en route from Portland to Columbia River Gorge. It is about 30 minutes from the city, making it a great day trip from Portland.
You can technically see Latourell Falls from an observation deck close to the parking lot. However, the best views are a short and straightforward hike to the lower viewpoint. This hike was so easy – we could push our twins in a double stroller along the trail.
Follow the signs to the Lower Falls Viewpoint (to the right of the parking lot). The views from the lower viewpoint are stunning – but for those daring to get closer, you can cross the bridge and make your way to getting soaked by the plunging waterfall.
Type and height of waterfall: Two-Tiered Falls | 620 ft.
Distance from the road: a short walk from the parking lot to the overlook.
Distance to Benson Bridge: 2.4 Miles Round Trip | 20 Mins | Easy
Hike to Top of the Falls: 2.4 Miles Round Trip | 1 Hr 40 Mins | 800 ft. Elevation Gain | Moderate
Of course, you cannot have a list of the best waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge without Multnomah Falls.
This breathtaking waterfall is one of the most recognizable and famous waterfalls in the United States. It is also the tallest waterfall in Oregon and one of the most visited natural recreation sites in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
There are three different ways to see and experience Multnomah Falls – from the overlook, Benson Bridge, and the top of the falls. Each view is stunning, but the higher and closer you get to the falls, the more unique experience you will gain.
The views from the overlook are picture-perfect. It is the best spot to get a full view of Multnomah Falls.
You can also hike up the short hill to Benson Bridge for a closer look. From here, you can see and get so close to the top-tier falls that you can feel its mist. Moreover, you will be standing above the bottom tier of the Multnomah Falls for incredible views of the lower falls plunging into the pool.
For those more daring, you can trek to the top of the falls for an unbelievable vantage point. The trail has a lot of narrow and steep switchbacks, but once you get to the small platform, you are rewarded with incredible views.
Pro tip: if you want to see and capture pictures of Multnomah Falls without the crowds, you must arrive before 7 am. Trust me; it is worth it!
Permit/Pass: There are no fees for Multnomah Falls. However, if you visit from May through September between 9 am – 6 pm, you will need a Multnomah Falls (I-84) permit.
Type and height of waterfall: Two-Tiered Horsetail Falls | 350 ft.
How to get there: 2.4 Miles Round Trip | 50 Mins | 223 ft. Elevation Gain | Easy
The trail to Wahclella Falls is one of my favorite hikes in Columbia River Gorge. It is an easy, fun, family-friendly hike. It also has a bonus waterfall just a few minutes into the trail.
Most of the trail follows a roaring river through a lush slot canyon. There are some steep inclines, but it is generally an easy and short hike. About 3/4 into the hike, there will be a fork with two options. Take the trail to the right (the left is heavily damaged from the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire).
Towards the end of the trail, you will pass a little fern cave and cross a bridge before reaching one of the best waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. A towering open amphitheater surrounds the 350 foot waterfall and enormous plunge poolr.
In plain sight you can see the lower 60-foot “horsetail” falls plunging from a small crack in the canyon wall and into the pool. For better views of the upper falls, scramble on boulders, and see Wahclella Falls in its entirety.
Pro tip: It is not recommended to hike this trail during or within 48 hours of heavy rain and snow, as these events can trigger flash floods, tree falls, and landslides.
Permit/Pass: A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park.
Type and height of waterfall: Two-Tiered Falls | 242 ft.
How to get there: 0.4 Miles Round Trip | 10 Mins | 200 ft. Elevation Gain | Easy
Wahkeena Falls is named after the Yakama (an indigenous language) word for “most beautiful,” and rightfully so because it is gorgeous!
Wahkeena Falls is one of the best waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge for two reasons. One, you can easily see it from the viewing plaza or a short walk to the bridge. Two, the Wahkeena Trail connects with a network of trails where you can see other waterfalls, such as Multnomah Falls, Fairy Falls, Ecola Falls, Dutchman Falls, and Weisendanger Falls.
You can see Wahkeena Falls from the viewing plaza (a short walk from the parking lot). However, I recommend hiking the quick and easy 0.4-mile trail to the stone arch bridge at the base of the falls for the best view. Be prepared to get soaked if there is any gust of wind – we sure did, but it’s all part of the fun chasing waterfalls!
Permit/Pass: There are no fees for Wahkeena Falls. However, if you visit from May through September between 9 am – 6 pm, you will need a Waterfalls Corridor (Highway 30) permit.
1 Day Itinerary for the Best Waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge
If you have a FULL day of hiking and sightseeing, then this 1-day itinerary of the best waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge is doable. We saw all eight of these waterfalls with three children under two years old. So if we can do it, you can do it!
I also recommend staying in Columbia River Gorge or Hood River so you can start bright and early! Trust me; you must begin as early as possible to see these eight beautiful waterfalls.
Alas, if you have two days to hike the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls, I recommend taking the extra day – sspecially if you want to hike the epic 12-mile Eagle Creek Trail to Tunnel Falls.
1 Day Itinerary for 8 of the Best Waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge
The arrival times and time at each waterfall is an estimate based on personal experience. You can choose which waterfalls you want to see and how much time you want to spend at each one. This is only a suggested itinerary to help you plan your trip.
6:30 am – Arrive at Multnomah Falls (1 hr – for overlook and Benson Bridge)
8:00 am – Hike Dry Creek Falls (2 hrs. 10 mins)
11:00 am – Hike Wahclella Falls (1 hr)
12:30 pm – Take a break and enjoy lunch at Multnomah Falls Lodge
2:30 pm – Arrive at Horsetail Falls and hike Ponytail Falls (1 hr)
3:45 pm – Walk to Wahkeena Falls (30 mins)
4:45 pm – Hike to Bridal Veil Falls (45 mins)
5:45 pm – Hike to Latourell Falls (30 mins)
I hope you have found my guide on the best waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge helpful and inspiring. This is honestly one of my favorite trips because the area and the waterfalls are breathtaking. We cannot wait to return and hike some more challenging trails to see more waterfalls!