Trek #20: Multnomah Falls to Wahkeenah Falls Loop

There is absolutely no way my year of 52 treks could possibly be complete without trekking one of the Columbia Gorge’s most popular hike. Hiking from Multnomah Falls to Wahkeenah Falls is almost a rite of passage, really. You get the full Pacific Northwest experience: Two giant, stunning waterfalls (and a few not too shabby ones in between), a lung-busting incline to traverse (no matter if you start from Multnomah Falls or Wahkeena Falls), pleasing, flowing creek sounds following you at least half the journey, peeking views of the Columbia River Gorge, and of course, forest of varied tree species as far as the eye can see.

Multnomah Falls, crowded even at 9am

The other star of the hike, Wahkeenah Falls.

So full disclosure, I did this hike for the first time last fall, taking the route from Wahkeenah Falls to Multnomah Falls. Except it was my first long hike since moving out here and I was vastly more out of shape. The results were a mix of awe and tears. Tears mostly because even with a map, I still had trouble navigating the loop without fear I was going to branch off to any one of the more difficult, longer hikes at any given unmarked intersection (after already being well out of breath from the 1,500+ foot ascent).

This time however was, happily, very different. With 19 hikes under my belt this year (including a few rather intense ones), I was far more prepared physically. This time I decided to take the route from Multnomah to Wahkeenah Falls. I chose this route because even on a Thursday, it’s summer and Multnomah Falls can get extremely crowded by afternoon. I decided to beat the rush (and the heat) by getting a fairly early start. This also meant I had no problem finding parking (which was great, because on my return, when I got back to the lot it was so full people were making up their own spots).

Right from the trail head, you’re treated to an incredible view of 620 foot Multnomah Falls. This is one of two spots to snap all the photos you desire, because once you start making your ascent you’ll be traversing steep switchbacks in the forest. After a 1/4 mile climb, you’ll reach the Benson Bridge where you can snap another set of photos, this time much closer to the falls. As you continue on, you will spend the next 1+ mile climbing a fairly steep set of switchbacks. This part of the trail is paved, so aside from the altitude, it’s an easy climb. Once you reach the final switchback, definitely take the short trail to the right in order to catch the view from the top of the falls. Here you’ll be able to stand on a round, wooden veranda and see the point where the falls drops off, as well as a lovely gorge view and the tiny cars parked down below.

Continue on to the right, where you will continue your ascent along flowing Multnomah Creek. It is in this section you’ll run into other waterfalls:

Dutchman Falls

Wiesendanger Falls. Beautiful!

Keep on climbing as the trail begins to switchback further up the creek. You’ll pass another waterfall, Ecola Falls (which my camera sadly failed to take a picture of). Ecola actually means “Whale” in Chinook, so, interesting name for a waterfall that is not quite habitable for such creatures. After a bit more of a climb, it is here, after 3.5+ miles in on your hike, that you’ll reach a junction of other trails. Keep to the right (going straight will take you to the rather intense Larch Mountain and long and difficult Franklin Ridge). You’ll climb even more through thick forest for a good bit, but this time you’ll be treated to views of the Columbia Gorge to your right through various points. It is here that the trail finally starts leveling off for a bit. I chose this spot to sit on a log to munch on some trail mix and rehydrate.

You’ll continue straight for a while, perhaps 1.5 miles. Then you’ll take the trail junction to the right down to Wahkeena Spring, then left at the Vista Point Trail. It is here you begin your rapid, continuous ascent for nearly the rest of the trail. You’ll also pass by the adorably named Fairy Falls:

Truly fit for mystical woodland creatures.

You’ll keep rapidly ascending down Wahkeena Creek, crossing it twice. It is here that I would advise you to have solid hiking boots, as you’re crossing the water itself at times, and in winter I imagine this is just a slippery disaster with higher water levels. Keep traversing down the rather craggy path, and then you’ll hit the grand finale, stunning 242 foot Wahkeena Falls. It is here the path turns paved, making it easy to trot down to your spot of choice to snap away waterfall photos.

At the end of the trail, assuming you parked at the Multnomah Falls parking lot, you’ll want to locate the return trail to the lot, which is a half mile path through the woods (as it’s certainly too dangerous to walk along the narrow road). Once back at Multnomah Falls, feel free to enjoy some lunch, local fudge, or purchase a postcard from the stone cafe/giftshop area before heading out.

I completed the loop in 3 hours and 35 minutes. In total, my fitness tracker says I traversed a total of 7.59 miles from start to finish. Both of my trail books say the loop is only 5 1/2 miles, but I don’t know if they also accounted for the return trail as well as taking all the look-out paths to various viewpoints. I do know my tracker is spot on accurate, as I test it all the time, but also she clocked the return trail at exactly .5 miles. I also climbed a total of 167 stories, which is just 7 stories shy of the Sears Tower in Chicago (quite taller than the Empire State Building). Those stats make me feel pretty good. I had done all of that solo, without getting lost, no tears.

Both of my trail books also mention that beyond Multnomah and Wahkeena Falls themselves, there are not many people whom actually hike the full, long loop. I found this to definitely be true. Even on a busy summer day, once I got past the waterfall photographing tourists, I mostly had the trail to myself, and probably didn’t pass more than 10 people my entire time out there until I came back down to Wahkeena Falls. This is good to know if you arrive at the trailhead and feel discouraged seeing how crowded it is at the base. Most of your hike will be rather peaceful.

Getting to Multnomah Falls from Portland is rather easy: From 84 East, take exit 31. Park and walk through the highway underpass to the trailhead.

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Treks Down: 20, Treks to Go: 32

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