Multnomah Falls is Oregon’s most recognized waterfall, one of its top ten attractions, and almost always busy with tourists — for good reason. You can’t help be impressed by its sheer drop and the beauty of its setting. Fed by underground springs from Larch Mountain, the flow over the falls varies, usually at its highest during winter and spring, but always flowing, even in the driest summer months.
There are several routes to get there from Portland, but our favorite is to take I-84 eastbound to the Troutdale exit and follow the signs for the Scenic Loop drive. It takes about an hour to get to Multnomah Falls this way, and a lot longer if you’re with a photographer! Follow the drive along the old Columbia River Highway, the first in our nation to be named a National Historic Landmark. This route takes you up to Crown Point with breathtaking views of the mighty Columbia River (and that can be literally breathtaking depending on the wind!) and winds along toward Multnomah Falls with several smaller waterfall stops along the way.
Coming from the scenic loop drive, there is a parking lot right at Multnomah Falls Lodge (where you cannot actually lodge but which serves delicious food and has great views of the falls from the dining room). From the freeway, the parking lot is just a short walk on a paved path over to the lodge.
The lodge and the first viewpoint of the falls are wheelchair accessible, although it’s a little bit of a steep hill up to the viewpoint. From the viewpoint you see the Benson Bridge and the upper and lower falls. The upper falls is a dazzling 542 feet (165m), and the lower is 69 feet (21m) — still a pretty tall waterfall in its own right. Just a .2 mile hike uphill takes you to the Benson Bridge, built in 1914 by Simon Benson, one of the builders of the old highway. Benson also owned the land Multnomah Falls is on at one time and deeded it to the City of Portland for a city park.
You can continue your hike up from the Benson Bridge all the way to the top of the falls. Here is the info on that hike from Portland Hikers:
Beyond the bridge, the asphalt trail switches up steeply for another mile to a ridge crest. Look for Columbia River views as you ascend. From the top, the trail drops slightly to a junction with a trail labeled “Top of the Falls Trail #441A” on some old Forest Service documents. Today’s signs just say “viewpoint”. The asphalt follows the side path to the Multnomah Falls Upper Viewpoint, a balcony of sorts at the lip of the falls looking down on the lodge and the less motivated people below. Most people take in this view, grab a couple of snapshots and return down the steep hill to that mocha latte thing.
It doesn’t happen very often, but if we have a long very cold snap, the falls will freeze. Well, actually, the falls don’t fully freeze (it never gets that cold here), but all the spray from the falls freezes and it’s a pretty spectacular sight. If you have the chance to go out when they’re frozen, you should definitely do it. But be very careful. If it’s cold enough for the falls to freeze, it’s going to be slippery out there!
To get to the falls directly from Portland, take I-84 eastbound for approximately 30 miles. Follow signs and take exit 31 (an unusual left-side exit ramp) off I-84 to a parking area. Follow the walking path under the highway to reach the falls viewing area. It takes just a little over 30 minutes to get there from downtown on this route.
Whether you’re planning your first visit to Oregon or you live here and have been to the falls many times, this gem of our state is always worth a visit. Enjoy your week or your weekend!