Multnomah Falls is easily the Columbia River Gorge's most famous waterfall and could very well be Oregon's prime waterfall attraction. And while our visits here have constantly shown that it was always busy here (hardly surprising as it's said to be visited by nearly 2 million people a year), all that was forgotten once we stood before this towering 620ft two-tiered column of water. Thus, we could totally understand its popularity, especially considering it was pretty close to Portland, and we even felt compelled to put this waterfall on our Top 10 List of Waterfalls in the USA. Adding to the waterfall's popularity was its appearance in the wildly popular movie (for the women, at least) Twilight.
Even though we've seen quite a few towering waterfalls of at least 600ft or so, what really made this waterfall stand out was that it seemed to have a bit of heritage to go with it. Case in point, the historic lodge, which was built in 1925, had a classic look about it from a bygone era even though it was currently being used as a souvenir shop, visitor center, and restaurant. There was also an arched bridge spanning across the waterfall's lower 79ft drop. I think it was this bridge that really made Multnomah Falls a recognizable icon.
By the way that bridge, which was built in 1914, was called the Benson Bridge and it allowed us to not only get a closer and mistier look at the 541ft upper tier of the waterfall, but we could've made the steep climb up to the top of the waterfall and eventually towards Larch Mountain whose runoff would feed the falls and its year-round flow.
Speaking of height and year-round flow, we've seen it frequently quoted as the second tallest year-round waterfall in the United States and the fourth tallest year-round waterfall in North America. We'll leave it up to debate whether these claims were accurate because we're also a little skeptical. In any case, we enjoyed the majestic beauty of the falls and it just seemed to make the academic figures irrelevant to us.
As for visiting the falls, it was literally a breeze. Perhaps the biggest challenge was to find parking despite its massively large car park (see directions below). Once we parked the car, we literally just had to walk towards the concrete walkway adjacent to the historic lodge and immediately start cranking our necks to gawk at the towering waterfall.
While the views from the immediate lookout would be pretty sufficient for viewing and photography purposes, we did manage to walk up the well-developed footpath rising above the historic lodge, then crossing the Benson Bridge before going up even more switchbacks that would eventually lead to the very top of the falls. We didn't go all the way up there (as we were content to see the falls from the Benson Bridge about 0.4 miles round trip), but Julie and I would be keen to walk the mile (2 miles round trip) all the way to the top while also exploring a little further upstream on a future visit here.
Julie and I have been to the falls on two separate trips so far. The first time was in the midst of some pretty nasty late Winter storms in late March/early April. As you can see from the photos on this page, the thickness of the Multnomah Falls was quite noticeable. As a result, the viewing area at the base was sprayed with mist so it wasn't easy to take photos from there without waterspots getting on the lens.
The second time we came here was in August of that same year in 2009. While the falls took on a more slender appearance (see the photo at the top of this page), we felt it was just as beautiful (if not more) than the swollen state of the falls that we saw it in six months prior. One thing we hadn't done was to try to photograph the falls with Autumn colors, which I'm sure would add a whole different character to the scene.
Finally, we got to spend a bit of time at the visitor center due to bad weather on our first visit here. That gave us a chance to learn a bit more about the geology of this place as there were pretty cool 3-D models on display, waterfall comparisons with other famous ones, lots of historical and scientific tidbits, and more. I guess in the end, there was certainly many ways to linger here and soak in the experience.
Coming from Portland, you head east on I-84 for roughly 20-30 minutes before you have a choice of where to get off, but we'll just focus for now on the way we'd do it. We usually take the Bridal Veil Exit (exit 28) where you can then turn left at the next intersection to continue east on Historic Columbia River Highway. After a few minutes on this highway, you'll arrive at the large parking lot that sits right in front of both the falls and the historic lodge. You'll also be passing by Wahkeena Falls along the way. This drive would be about 30 miles and take about 30-45 minutes depending on traffic.
However, the forest service says that you can also take exit 31, which gets to a car park sandwiched between both directions of the I-84. I don't recall seeing this when we headed east, but then again, we probably never paid attention to this detail. If you do go this way, you would stay on the freeway leaving Portland and heading east for about 29 miles before taking the exit 31. The off-ramp will be on the left and it will arrive at a parking lot sandwiched between both sides of the I-84/Hwy 30.
Conversely, if you're headed west on the I-84 from Cascade Locks, then you can leave the freeway at exit 35 for Historic Hwy/Ainsworth State Park in 9 miles (10-15 minutes drive). Once you're off the freeway, you can follow the Historic Columbia River Hwy west to arrive at the Multnomah Falls Lodge (passing by Horsetail Falls along the way).
If you miss exit 35, then you can exit left in another 4 miles (13 miles or about 15 minutes drive west of Cascade Locks). That will put you into the parking lot sandwiched between both sides of the I-84.
Finally, if you've done what we've managed to do and missed all of the above exits at one point or another, then be forewarned that it can get a little confusing trying to find a way to turn back and take the freeway in the opposite direction. If this happens while you're heading east and you want to go back west, then my recommendation is to try to exit at Bonneville or Cascade Locks before re-entering the other side of the freeway. Similarly, if you've overshot the falls going west and are trying to go back east, then I'd recommend taking exit 18 near Troutdale. I know these are relatively bigger exits even though there might be other smaller exits that might be able to do the job.
You can use the form below, but if you find our host's interface too troublesome to use (especially if you're trying to upload photos), then just send a text submission anyways using the form, but also let us know that you'd like to attach photos. If you've provided an email address via the form, then we can reply back acknowledging your request, and you can then reply to that email with your photo attachments. We're very sorry about this, but there's not much we can do about SBI's terrible interface.
What Other Visitors Have Said
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
Top of Multnomah Falls Love this place. I'll make this short but sweet.
I've been to the falls twice my self. The first time it was a typical Portland day,slight drizzle,mid …