Triple Falls

Columbia River Gorge / Oneonta Gorge / Multnomah County, Oregon, USA

Rating: 3     Difficulty: 3
Triple Falls

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Triple Falls was definitely one of the more distinct waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge area. While most of the falls in this waterfall-rich area could be all similar in appearance with either a straight plunge or sloping cascade, this waterfall featured a three-segment drop of the Oneonta Creek that pretty much lived up to its name. With a reported height ranging from as little as 64ft to as much as 100ft, it was arguably up there with Lower Oneonta Falls as the most beautiful of the four officially-named waterfalls on Oneonta Creek. Since it was the furthest of the waterfalls on Oneonta Creek, that meant that it required the most effort to reach. According to the signage at the trailhead, the hike was at least 1.8 miles each way (or 3.6 miles round trip) though my GPS logs started becoming inaccurate due to the rugged and steep terrain which undermined the GPS reception in some stretches so I couldn't test the claims made by the signage. The hike also involved quite a bit of climbing with a net gain of over 600ft that was steep in spots and even had a few sections of flatness and elevation drop.

I began the hike from the Oneonta Gorge Trailhead (see directions below), which promptly started climbing a long incline. The trail quickly rose well above the Historic Columbia River Highway as the trail continued heading west before reaching a trail junction at about 0.3-mile from the trailhead. Keeping left to make a sharp turn (essentially making this a switchback), the trail climbed some more as it approached the Oneonta Gorge. At about a half-mile from the trailhead, just when the trail was about to bend and turn into the Oneonta Gorge, I noticed signed spurs saying "Viewpoint".

The spur trail descended to the left and revealed glimpses of the Columbia River Gorge looking west. With a little more scrambling on use trails, I was ultimately able to reach a precarious rock outcrop with a sheer drop below and a commanding view of the Columbia River and its surroundings in both directions. When I had my fill of these views, I returned the way I came, but in hindsight, I realized that the spur trail actually regained the Oneonta Gorge Trail in a different spot than when I got started to complete the detour (which would have saved a few minutes, I'd imagine). Either way, I continued hiking towards the Triple Falls as the trail now skirted along the Oneonta Gorge.

The trail continued to climb, but it was a little more gradual than the steeper incline in the beginning. After about 0.6 miles from the trailhead (or 0.1-mile from the viewpoint detour), I reached another signposted trail junction. The trail to the left descended a couple of switchbacks before reaching a footbridge with the Middle Oneonta Falls just upstream from it. Just downstream from this bridge was the brink of the Lower Oneonta Falls, which I could hear but couldn't see. While there were some sketchy use trails that appeared to scramble closer to Oneonta Creek by that waterfall, I didn't pursue them. Meanwhile, beyond the bridge, the trail would climb some switchbacks before heading east towards the Ponytail Falls and Horsetail Falls. Since I was more focused on the Triple Falls, I turned around and headed back up to the Oneonta Gorge Trail to resume the hike.

The trail continued climbing as it followed a lush terrain flanked by steep slopes with the odd vertical cliff. After another quarter-mile or so, the trail then reachd a narrow and fairly precarious traverse of a rock slide. The rocks here were loose and trail work had been done to flatten out the trail surface as much as possible. I had to make this traverse, which led to a steep and somewhat eroded switchback before continuing on. At this point, the trail now hugged even narrower ledges as the terrain somewhat undulated before crossing a couple of bridges (with Upper Oneonta Falls heard but unseen way down below) at roughly another quarter-mile beyond the slide area.

Beyond the bridges, the trail then ascended steeply up another pair of switchbacks before finally peaking then reaching an unsigned spur on the left at around 1.2 miles from the trailhead. The spur led down to a sloping looking peering right down at the impressive Triple Falls. There was a little wooden plank on the group marking perhaps some infrastructure that was once set up here to look at the falls from here, but I suspected that erosion over time did away with that so now I had to use my best judgement to get the good views while being careful not get too close to the edge as the cliff dropped right into Oneonta Creek.

Although the Oneonta Trail kept going further towards a footbridge just upstream of the falls (which I could see from this viewpoint), this was my turnaround point of the hike. With the exception of a few short climbs, the trail was mostly downhill on the way back to the trailhead so I was able to do the return hike a bit faster than hiking to the falls. When I returned to the car, I wound up spending about 2 hours on the trail hiking solo. And since each time I did this hike was in the early morning, I found myself alone on the trail for long stretches. That said, had I started later in the day when there would likely be more people on the trail. And under those circumstances, then I could foresee moments where I might encounter hikers going in opposite directions where the trail was narrow, and we'd have to work out who would get to pass first while the other party who have to wait.

Finally, I have to make one final comment about this hike. The arson-caused Eagle Creek Fire that started in early September happened before I was able to publish this writeup. From looking at news coverage of the aerial footage surveying the damage, it appeared that the Oneonta Gorge was scorched. Given the steep terrain of the gorge, this trail will probably be closed for the foreseeable future as the lack of vegetation will destabilize the soil, and inevitably landslides undermining the usability of the trail would occur. So until this area finally recovers and the trail may (or may not) get rebuilt or at least re-routed, this writeup will now serve as a reminder of what the area once was.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

This was the precipitous 'viewpoint' a short detour off the Triple Falls Trail looking west over the Columbia River Gorge with the railroad tracks and the Historic Columbia River Hwy below for scaleThis was the precipitous 'viewpoint' a short detour off the Triple Falls Trail looking west over the Columbia River Gorge with the railroad tracks and the Historic Columbia River Hwy below for scale
Looking east from the precipitous 'viewpoint' over the Columbia River Gorge. This view was only attainable after following use trails to the outcrop where vegetation didn't obstruct views to the eastLooking east from the precipitous 'viewpoint' over the Columbia River Gorge. This view was only attainable after following use trails to the outcrop where vegetation didn't obstruct views to the east
The Columbia River Gorge was not far from the city of Portland, which is pictured here from the Japanese Garden looking towards Mt Hood covered with snowThe Columbia River Gorge was not far from the city of Portland, which is pictured here from the Japanese Garden looking towards Mt Hood covered with snow
Oneonta Trailhead and parking right across each other along the Historic Columbia River HighwayOneonta Trailhead and parking right across each other along the Historic Columbia River Highway

Signage at the Oneonta TrailheadSignage at the Oneonta Trailhead

The Oneonta Trail quickly climbed high above the Historic Columbia River HighwayThe Oneonta Trail quickly climbed high above the Historic Columbia River Highway

At about 0.3 miles out, I reached this signed trail junction, where I switched back to the leftAt about 0.3 miles out, I reached this signed trail junction, where I switched back to the left

The trail continuing to climb and hug ledges as it approached the Oneonta GorgeThe trail continuing to climb and hug ledges as it approached the Oneonta Gorge

Sign on a tree indicating a detour descending towards some 'Viewpoint'Sign on a tree indicating a detour descending towards some "Viewpoint"

Context of the informal use trail and the cliff exposure while pursuing the 'Viewpoint'Context of the informal use trail and the cliff exposure while pursuing the "Viewpoint"

One of the views across the Columbia River in the vicinity of the 'Viewpoint'One of the views across the Columbia River in the vicinity of the "Viewpoint"

The Oneonta Trail now entered the Oneonta Gorge and followed along its contoursThe Oneonta Trail now entered the Oneonta Gorge and followed along its contours

This was a look along the Oneonta Trail when I first did this hike in March 2009This was a look at the Oneonta Trail when I first did this hike in March 2009

At the next trail junction where dropping down to the left led to the Middle Oneonta Falls and eventually the Ponytail and Horsetail FallsAt the next trail junction where dropping down to the left led to the Middle Oneonta Falls and eventually the Ponytail and Horsetail Falls

Approaching the bridge over the Oneonta Creek on the short side detourApproaching the bridge over the Oneonta Creek on the short side detour

Context of the Middle Oneonta Falls and the footbridge over Oneonta CreekContext of the Middle Oneonta Falls and the footbridge over Oneonta Creek

Looking downstream from the bridge towards the brink of the Lower Oneonta FallsLooking downstream from the bridge towards the brink of the Lower Oneonta Falls

Continuing on the Triple Falls hike as it followed along lush slopes flanking the odd moss-covered cliff from time to timeContinuing on the Triple Falls hike as it followed along lush slopes flanking the odd moss-covered cliff from time to time

This was what this section of the trail was like back in late March 2009This was what this section of the trail was like back in late March 2009

Traversing a somewhat precarious rockslide areaTraversing a somewhat precarious rockslide area

Towards one end of the rockslide area, there was this eroded switchbackTowards one end of the rockslide area, there was this eroded switchback

Beyond the rockslide part, the trail narrowed even more and clung to steep slopes like this sectionBeyond the rockslide part, the trail narrowed even more and clung to steep slopes like this section

The Oneonta Trail continued to climb the further I wentThe Oneonta Trail continued to climb the further I went

The Oneonta Trail climbed up a couple more switchbacks as the climbing continuedThe Oneonta Trail climbed up a couple more switchbacks as the climbing continued

Patches of snow were still on parts of the trail back in late March 2009Patches of snow were still on parts of the trail back in late March 2009

Some small fallen trees that I had to duck under along the Oneonta Trail, showing the somewhat wild and remote nature of the Triple Falls hikeSome small fallen trees that I had to duck under along the Oneonta Trail, showing the somewhat wild and remote nature of the hike

Looking towards Oneonta Creek somewhere closer to Triple Falls (seen in March 2009)Looking towards Oneonta Creek somewhere closer to Triple Falls (seen in March 2009)

Finally descending to the precarious overlook of the Triple FallsFinally descending to the precarious overlook of the Triple Falls

Contextual look at Triple Falls from the overlookContextual look at Triple Falls from the overlook

Back in late March 2009, Triple Falls with a smaller companion waterfall nearbyBack in late March 2009, Triple Falls with a smaller companion waterfall nearby

Back in late March 2009, the conditions were so moist that the neighboring trees had moss growing on themBack in late March 2009, the conditions were so moist that the neighboring trees had moss growing on them

Here's a before and after series of Triple Falls. This showed the falls in late Summer flow in August 2017Here's a before and after series of Triple Falls. This showed the falls in late Summer flow in August 2017

Here's the before photo where Triple Falls was in high flow in late March 2009Here's the before photo where Triple Falls was in high flow in late March 2009

Returning to the Oneonta Trailhead where there were now quite a few more cars parked thereReturning to the Oneonta Trailhead where there were now quite a few more cars parked there


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Fully checking out the Triple Falls from the precarious lookout


Checking out the Oneonta Falls in every way possible from the bridge


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

The small trailhead parking area for the Oneonta Trail was about 0.5 mile west of the Horsetail Falls parking lot and 2 miles east of the parking lot for the Multnomah Falls Lodge along the Historic Columbia River Highway (or Old Scenic Highway).

Coming from the east, we would take exit 35 (Ainsworth State Park) off the westbound I-84, then followed the NE Frontage Road for about 1.7 miles to the parking lot for Horsetail Falls, then continue the remaining half-mile to the Oneonta Gorge Trailhead. The freewat exit was about 9 miles (15 minutes drive) west of Cascade Locks.

Coming from the west, we accessed the Old Columbia River Highway by taking the Bridal Veil Exit (exit 28) off the eastbound I-84, then keeping left to follow the Old Columbia River Highway east for about 5 miles to the Oneonta Gorge Trailhead on the left. The exit 28 was about 25 miles (about 30 minutes drive without traffic) east of Portland, where the I-84 freeway began. For some geographical context, Portland was about 49 miles (over an hour drive) west of Cascade Locks, 75 miles (90 minutes drive) west of Hood River, 80 miles (1.5 hours drive) east of Cannon Beach, 112 miles (under 2 hours drive) north of Eugene, 274 miles (over 4 hours drive) north of Medford, 173 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) south of Seattle, Washington, 440 miles (7 hours drive) west of Boise, Idaho, and 423 miles (6.5 hours drive) north of Redding, California.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES





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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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