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.
Getting to this waterfall is quite straightforward though it can get a little confusing if you've happened to miss an exit or two, and you're trying to find an exit to go back the other way.
Coming from Portland, you head east on I-84 for roughly 20-30 minutes before you have a choice of where to get off. We usually take the Bridal Veil Exit (exit 28) where you can then turn left to continue east on Historic Columbia River Highway to the large car park that sits right in front of both the falls and the historic lodge (you'll be passing by Wahkeena Falls en route).
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.
Finally, if you miss both exits 28 and 31, you can still get off at exit 35 for Ainsworth State Park, then drive back west on Historic Columbia River Highway towards the large car park in front of the falls and lodge (passing by Horsetail Falls en route).
If you're coming from the east (like say Cascade Locks), your choices are limited, which we found out the hard way. The key exit going in this direction is exit 37 for Ainsworth State Park. You then have to drive west a bit on some local roads (don't recall if we took Old Scenic Hwy from Warrendale Rd) before hooking up with the east end of the Historic Columbia River Highway. I don't remember if there was another exit after exit 37 that's closer to the falls.
Finally, here's a bit of advice that we could've used since we happened to miss the desired exits our first time here then were nervously looking for a way to go back the other way! If you're going east and you happened to miss exits 28, 31, and 35, then I believe your next opportunity to go back west on I-84 is at Cascade Locks (exit 44).
If you're going west and you happened to miss exit 37, I believe you have to go all the way to exit 18 (near Troutdale) in order to go back on the eastbound I-84. Incidentally, the Forest Service recommends taking exits 17 or 18 if you're interested in driving the entire length of the interesting part of Historic Columbia River Highway.